Zorro Means Fox

The exaggerated exaggerations of a daily life.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sci Fi RPG Musings

So whatever the case, for a space RPG you need some way to get multiple places within close reach. It's no good going Bladerunner since that only gets you two planets/moons to work with. No, you need many. There are a few options here.

1. Many Planets and Moons

Which is totally possible if you fulfill certain circumstances. You need planets close to the star so that they are multiple and many. You need planets with roughly the same orbits as each other, which is the difficult part. Otherwise travel is seasonal dependent. You also need powerful engines and cheap, reusable fuel sources. I'd go with Solar Energy on this one. Though I have been thinking about one other energy source no one has thought up. Say in the future, solar energy becomes incredibly efficient, thanks to... let's make it a global disaster like oil running out. This isn't actually so much of a stretch these days.

Now with that kind of efficient solar energy converter, why not alter it to work with Cosmic Background Radiation (which is everywhere. It's like the static your tv picks up when you're tuned out. And it's the remainder of the Big Bang.) That would work as an efficient energy source. But it takes an important consideration from the world, fighting for fuel. There's no dilemma when you aren't using something you need to buy.

So you have a solar system with multiple planets and moons, all terraformed to be green and lush and oxygen/nitrogen balanced. And so these planets need to be slightly volcanically active and warm in their cores. It took a billion years for our planet to cool enough for life. And it's still cooling. Now if those planets are stationary, you have multiple platforms from which to start your RPG. And the ships to move around it.

2. FTL Travel

Whether using flash drives, dimension dipping, real or abstract faster than light travel, this allows for the moving around to all the planets, etc. Small problems here. It takes light around 4 years to reach our nearest stellar neighbour. Of course, who says we need to start in Earth. But still, that's 4 years. Going twice the speed of light still takes you 2 years to travel between solar systems. I'm thinking it should take around a month between systems, or better yet, two weeks. That means you're going... 64 times the speed of light. And then slowing down before you smash into the star. 64 times is quite a substantial number, considering you could escape from a Black Hole using that speed.

What about different methods? Flash Drives that teleport the entire ship instantly short distances overcomes the problem with FTL, but then how does this teleportation work? Does it send radio signals? Oh wait, it has to be FTL. Dimension dipping involves different things. One is piercing through the fabric of the universe and reappearing somewhere else. Plausible in a strange sort of way perhaps? Or not. The other is to shift into a different dimension and 'pop' out again in your proper one. Assuming that being in another dimension causes so much 'wrongness' the universes try to reset themselves by sending you back with enourmous force. With string theory, this is more and more possible.

The most efficient way perhaps, is Wormholes. Travelling through one to reach the other. This one, I think might work best in conjunction with 1. since it allows for only a relatively small number of places to go. Wormholes, as I've thought of them, appear when incredibly strong shockwaves tear through the time-space continuum. This could happen with the first humans in a war of some kind perhaps? I'm thinking that the humans in my RPG would originate from a ship which fell through a wormhole in some kind of battle. This allows for a greatly theatrical beginning, as a lone battleship and its crew struggles to find somewhere to live. (Hmm, rather Battlestar Galactica really.) But of course, that's just the beginnings to the creation myth for the humans in the RPG and explains how they got to where they are.

3. Starslip?

Something from Starslip Crisis, a drive which searches through all possible dimensions, and finds one where a copy of you and your ship exist where you want to be, and they want to be where you are. So the two of you 'switch' dimensions. Problem here is like said in the comic. The computer has to round off, since there are infinite dimensions. So there are always discrepencies, and those aren't good at all for RPGs.


So that's all for now, really. That's a new origin idea for humans. A battleship, complete with crew and a temporary downloaded data of every technology Earth had. And some heroic figures in the form of Engineers, Pilots, Officers, Doctors, etc. A huge battle near Earth using concussion torpedoes causes a tear in the fabric of space, and the ship activates a certain drive or something that causes it to teleport, causing everyone to go, "wait, wtf happened to the war?" They all moan, and wander for generations, and Earth becomes a myth. They approach a star in the distance, and watch it get closer for another seven generations. Then they go populate on the closest planet there. Then spread from there. Some split off into a section in the darkness of a meteor belt and separate from the government.

I'm aiming to make this RPG a mix of all the different Space genre Sci Fi things. So as I can see it... Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, Zap!, Battlestar Galactica, Red Dwarf, Dr Who, Saga of Seven Suns... thinking of more later, or when I see them crop up in my reading.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

MMORPG Musings

I find this to be far more important to me than the other things ANYWHERE in an MMO. Plus it is incredibly orignal.

Looking at the description of Guild Wars, it says that the thing that matters is "skill, not hours spent playing". I want something like this. I wondered for ages about how to do this without putting on a max level cap. I came up with this:

Any Soul Caliber fan knows a lot about combos. They win you the games in fighting games. What I love about SC is that the combos can lead onto more combos and there are things which you need to do (eg. Stances, soulcharge) to do certain combos.
What MMO's have been missing is COMBOS. Integrate fighting games with MMO's and you can have an original system which can hopefully spawn a whole range of Fighting/Arcade MMO's.
I don't mean to set it up like an arcade game. What I am suggesting is that you move like you normally do, such as in GW or WoW. You choose first person or third person.

Normally when you level up, you can put points into a skill. The more points the better. What about if, when you level, you get skill points, and can spend them with Skill Trainers, like in GW. However, you can have unlimited skills at one time, and there is no 'super skill' which you can only get at level 99 or something. Instead, there are a range of skill-trees which eventually reach a really good skill at the end.

To use skills, you must do a combo on the keyboard (eg. Q, W, E, R gets you ready to cast Fireball). This loads up a skill in a little box in the top right of the screen (from now on called the CURRENT SKILL box.) After a few seconds, (this time window is smaller for higher level skills) the skill disappears and you need to do the combo again to load it back up (from now on called the SKILL WINDOW.)

To 'cast' the skill, you click a button (eg. Shift) which is chosen in the Options menu. This 'casts' the spell in the CURRENT SKILL box.

I mentioned before that there were skill trees to get higher level skills. There is no level limit on skills by the way. To use these higher level skills, you must have the one above it on the skill tree on the CURRENT SKILL box to use it. For example, one string on the skill tree goes as such:

Fireball (Q, W, E, R)
Firebomb (T, Y, Up, F)
Vortex (G, H, D, J)
Inferno [really powerful] (K, T, V, M, Up, Left, T, M)

So you click Q, W, E, R to load up a fireball. Lets say the SKILL WINDOW is 30 seconds. You therefore have 30 seconds to either hit Shift to cast it, or type T, Y, Up, F to load up firebomb. This repeats for the other skills with a smaller SKILL WINDOW each time.

I really like this system because it means that:
Wizards - makes sense. They spend more time chanting to cast a better spell, or they can rapidfire the lower level skills.
Priests - same
Warriors - this stops them from spamming super skills. They can use the normal Attack key, or spam low level combos, or if they see an opening, they can use a combo and do some serious damage.
Rangers - more concentration = takes more time, pulling back further = more time
Thieves - more concentration, more complex abilities.
Mana - this removes the need for mana as it requires skill to use rather than large amounts of mana.

Overall, I think that this is a great system. Not only does it remove the need for mana, as well as making sense, it:
- stops the higher levels from spamming their high level skills
- gives newbies with skill some advantage over oldies who have been away from the game for a year
- adds more enjoyment to the game as it is not only spamming the Q button to cast spells but it also is challenging
- will look great
- will encourage people to use their high level skills only as a finishing attack or to start the combat
- means that every skill is useful and remains useful. eg. Fireball will still be useful to spam, even at level 99.
- means that skill rather than time spent will give you a better character. Although time spent in the game will increase your experience with it and thus this will not alienate gamers who love to powerlevel and be the highest level
- means that, due to the different skill levels of people (eg. a highly skilled typist could use Firebomb as often as someone else using Fireball) there would be no 'Super Build' which everyone uses. Instead, each build would be original to the skill level of the user.

Most people tend to use the WASD movement system rather than point-click (morrowind anyone?) and this is taking it to the next level. As far as I can see, it isn't that complicated, and if you supplied numerous skill trees, than the people who are used to hotkey-madness can just spam the lower level skills quickly. Who knows, it could be a tactic, like how in Jedi Academy you can have a fast style or a slow, powerful style and each are as good as each other.

You can have one spamming, dodging 'build' whilst someone else gets a slow 'tanking type' build. The idea behind it is that each character is tailor-made to its user and that anyone else using the character wouldn't be able to use it as well as the person who created it. I feel that this will encourage originality in skill set ups as well as making sure that no newbies just end up following someone else's build, which is no fun. Originality is the way of the future.

And you know how, after a certain time with an MMO, you know where your hot keyed spells are on the keyboard, the more time you spend playing, the better you remember the keys? This just pushes it to the next level.

If you don't feel like you can do it, you can simply use the weaker 'attack' button instead of combos. The point of combos is that you see an opening in the enemies attack where you have time to use a combo, you can use one. The combo stuns the enemy, long enough to let off another one. Etc.

Yes, it appeals to the hardcore gamers, but it means that instead of having a skill trainer who says...

"You learned: Fireball"

you may actually have to learn the spell, and maybe pass a test at the end to learn it properly. And there would be no time wait after pressing the keys, it would instantly load it into the CURRENT SKILL box. This means that for two spells that are: QWER and TYUI as combos, you can either spam QWER or spam QWERTYUI and take that extra time to cast a bigger spell.

The more times you pull off the spell, the more 'experience' the spell gets. Eventually it levels up, with a max level of 10 or so.
But a level 10 fireball will never be as powerful as a level 5 firebomb for instance. This way, not only is skill tested in terms of remembering the combo, but people who do spend ridiculous amounts of time leveling up are rewarded.

You have just chosen to become a mage/wizard/whatever. To become one and start the game you must choose an elemental spell. Fireball, Shard, Lightning. Then, you can either, go through a course to learn movement/attack, or skip it. Then you go into another place where you must learn the combo on your chosen skill.

For example, you choose Shard, an ice spell. You are taught the combo: S, E, D. You must then go through a mock course where you use it. Eventually you pass the course and you are able to enter the world. If you fail, you can rechoose your element and try again. But you really shouldn't fail.

The same thing would happen with other skills. To use them in the real game you must go to a skill trainer and actually be taught how to use them.

Situation 2:
You begin as a warrior. You then must choose Vertical Slash, Horizontal Slash or Counter. Same thing as above, you choose Vertical Slash. They teach the combo 5, T, G, B. You must pass a course where you can use ATTACK or 5TGB. At the end, you can pass and go into Anathema.

Warriors are given the option to attack or use combos. Mages must use spell combos. Maybe give them a weak long distance Magic Spark or something to use.

This gives the players an option between a quick "Q W E R T Y A S D F H" and the much more complicated "Q W E R T Y H N J I K L 7 U J M".
Follow those combos on the keyboard with your fingers. They make sense. It kinda replicates the Nintendo DS in casting. You could summon a box by casting: "Q W E R T Y H N B V C X Z A Q".

And what about not telling the players that some spells exist, and let them figure them out by experimenting? Of course, some of those spells are like, Self Destruct or something.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Black Abyss #1

Started working on my own forum, a sci fi version of Galadoria. The working title is Black Abyss Online, but there are a few games already out called Black Abyss (and a band. Go figure.), so I might need to change the name. Note that anything I point out in this is a working title or name, and some of them are just there to help me remember stuff. Like the Faeros are fire guys, but that's not their final name. (Faeros are a species which live in stars in Saga of Seven Suns.)

So, I might as well track this in my journal. It's meant to give me something practical to apply learning php to. Follow this journal for more info or for when the Beta comes out. (A long time away yet.)

Humans - come from Earth or a planet like it. They are slightly curious but most adept at ingenuity. Jack of all trades and masters of none. Humans gain wormhole gate travel on Earth after a planetary war. The weapons detonated in space ruptured certain parts of the spatial web. To repair itself, the web linked with other ruptured sections across the universe. The humans found a way to make a jump through these wormholes, using vast amounts of energy. However, because of this, they only had enough energy to send ships one way through the wormholes, hoping the ships would emerge safely on the other side. The energy is expelled on the entrance to the wormhole, and is often collected and reused. So when humans establish a wormhole on a planet, they are able to move back and forth between wormholes. They also developed a system where they could 'dial' a wormhole, much like a stargate.

The humans we are interested in came on Pioneer Ship Olympia long before the story starts. They were on a one-way flight, since even if they found energy on the other side, there was little chance they would be able to find the right wormhole exit again. They appeared around the Hector System in the Olympia Galaxy. But they arrived in the midst of a battle. Luckily for them, their crippled ship was picked up by the Faeros, who soon became their allies. The Faeros and Arboreals (the Tillian Alliance) took humans and settled them on a safe planet, Pollux IV.

Now we are many years down the track and the humans are a staunch ally for the Tillian Alliance. They have their own system, a battle fleet, colonies scattered, and have perfected their wormhole technology to the point where they can now travel throughout the system perfectly.

Human classes:

Fighter - adept at boarding parties, the fighter is best with powerswords, but he can use guns if he needs to. He is strong in DEX and STR. (Stats and their equivalents are works in progress.)

Soldier - adept at using all forms of guns, but useless when caught in melee. Can use all types of guns. These are either foot soldiers or they board after the fighters. Strong in INT and DEX.

Pilot - can't use guns, but can use powerswords in a tight spot. They are best used in their fighter craft, and a crossclassed Pilot-soldier is an ideal dogfighter. Pilots also pilot and work the computer systems of Battleships and other ships in the fleet. Strong in DEX and AGI.

Mechanic - uses guns and blunt weapons. They can repair stuff, and MacGyver up something in a tight spot. Strong in STR and VIT.

Scientist - Like the mechanics are the scientists, and technicians who operate the Wormhole Gates. They carry experimental weapons, which are prone to exploding but fairly effective. Strong in INT and AGI.

Medic - Heals people, and rarely uses weapons. Medics keep people healthy as long as they don't get hit. They can use weak guns, but are generally frail. Strong in INT and SPR.

And a shot of the banner:

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Magic - Part 4

Sirus searched through the bodies on the ground, retrieving his knives and tucking them back into their sheaths. There wasn't of course much time that night before Sirus' target got back into to the safety of his house. In fact there was a pretty small time gap between when the target left one house to enter his own, and Sirus intended to be there.

A wolf howled in the distance and Sirus shivered. He'd hoped there wouldn't be any werewolves around town. He looked warily to the full moon, ever conscious that he couldn't outfight or outrun one of those. Well it looked like he had less time tonight than he'd hoped for. And the longer Sirus, or 'William Damasque', stayed in town, the better chance his target had to discover that. Two good reasons to hurry up.

Doubtlessly the footpads would be robbed blind by the time the night was up. Served them right though, robbing innocent people, even girls, even if she is a neko. Sirus knew he should have felt guilty for killing them. The followers at least were no guilty than a dog ordered to hunt down a thief. Still, he couldn't help feel nothing but contempt for them. He'd dealt with thugs like them for years: they preyed on the weak. Nothing like assassins. Assassins went after anyone, and that was what made them special. Sirus occasionally took a job that required him to kill someone. It was a simple fact that any bounty hunter had to face at some point.

Sirus was on his way to pick up his target, the son of an elderly lord in the oligarchic council of Taria. The boy was a 'regular' of bounty hunters. He'd run away uncounted times from his duties as heir-apparent on various missions of peace keeping or conservation. Sirus himself had had the honour of carrying the kid back to his folks twice. They knew each other almost by first name by now. And now Sirus had to find and collect him again.

The night hadn't changed at all, and another wolf's howl broke the silence. In the distance Sirus could hear the faint sounds of a tavern brawl, laughing, the occasional broken glass or yelp. He set out, his long cloak sweeping back in a chance breeze channeled down a nearby alleyway.


Huh... for some reason I can't exactly get my mind around writing.

Sirus is basically a character who I've been tossing up for a while. He's a kitsune with no skill in illusions at all. This is pretty weird, since very few high kitsune can't use it. A high kitsune is basically a pure-bred kitsune, normally the purest strains are royalty. They come from the land of Tamryn. Sirus instead concentrated on fast movements and agility, becoming a soldier and following his father's footsteps. With no particular patriotism, Sirus left the army during a stay for a diplomatic mission in Taria. He joined the police force, hoping for a better career in a less crowded job.

Gah, I can't concentrate on this.

Anyhow, Sirus quit the police force after reaching the position of Detective Investigator. He found that working in a group wasn't to his style. So Sirus became a Private Investigator, working only on cases that interested him. He was mildly succesful, though eventually he got into some trouble with some cultists, owed more money than he was earning, and ended up taking on jobs a little less savoury to earn it. With a backing in the police force he knew how to avoid them and leave no trace. He adopted a pseudonym of Darius Lacrain and lived a double life, Darian the assassin and Sirus the P.I. He was even asked to take on a few cases where he was the suspect.

Anyhow, that's enough for now.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Magic - Part 3

"I don't have time for this," Sirus sighed. First I get sidetracked to rescue a maiden in distress, now I find out she was less than distressed. Gah, I always do this! He was absentmindedly chiding himself. Every time he was set to work on a serious mission a good looking girl came along and distracted him. It was just his bad luck this time that the girl happened to be of a race which his own actively despised.

Sirus caught a hold of himself to see Siarra leaning over to take the purse from the fallen bandit leader. "What are you doing?" He asked.

"No sense letting this money go to waste," she said with a grin, dropping the formal accent. Sirus tried not to notice her feline ears or her fine curves under her cloak. Her hood had fallen to around her neck, looking like a scarf in the night. Strange eyes peered out from under long bangs: purple and gold irises blended roughly together. "It's not as if this man will need the money. Indeed, most fortuitous it is that it should fall into my possession, owing to the fact that I require such prizes." As she 'aquired' the bandit's posessions, Sirus caught sight of the twinkle of a green gem in the dark. Siarra seemed intent particularly on this prize, studying it in the moonlight before pocketing it in a deep fold.

"I have to go," he said, turning his back on the neko. "I trust you can find your way back home safely?" He didn't know much about magic, especially destructive magic. But from what he did know, it was obvious that she wouldn't have any power left to cast more spells. But she had other ways to survive; sneaking for one.

Siarra looked guilty for a second, then looked about to argue but decided differently. "If you want it that way," she said, kicking the bandit leader before taking off into the night. Sirus shook his head. A strange encounter, but that night he had more to do than contemplate meetings.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Magic - Part 2

Sirus took care to lock the door before he chose his equipment. It was almost night and the sun was falling fast, but he had to be careful not to be spotted that night. His target would surely have friends who would seek to follow the kidnapper and do harm if they knew who it was. Also, the foxtailed man knew his target would be 'home' by the time the sun lost its battle and was swallowed up by the horizon. He waited the appropriate amount of time in contemplation of the evening. His horse, and a second mare, were stabled below in the inn's stables. Sirus had paid the stableboy a visit, and knew the horses would be fully saddled and ready to go by midnight. When the sun finally dropped and darkness decended, Sirus unlocked his window and opened it. The cool evening wind washed through the room, blowing back the blinds. It was a refreshing breeze, erasing memories of the previous night, a hot, sticky evening completely at logical odds with the geography of the area.

Sirus paused to open the drawer below the table then quickly changed from his imperial robes into more comfortable attire. The number of knives on the table had doubled to twenty four knives now resting within arm's reach. Donning his tight leather boots, more appropriate for a trapeze artist or theif than a bounty hunter, Sirus began fitting his knives into various hiding spots on his body. One fit easily below each wrist, two in each boot, two on each thigh, six sat in two careful rows on the right side of his belt. Six he tied spaced out to the strings on the base of his cloak. They hung down like feathers while the cloak lay on the back of a chair. The kitsune was ever mindful of his tail, and he made certain to tie the last two knives to his tail, making it more a weapon than a distraction. He fastened the two swords to his left side, wrapped the face mask around his mouth and over the arc of his nose, through a wound rope over his shoulder, picked up the hand crossbow in one hand, the javelin-like spear in his other hand, and departed through the open window into the black night.

Darkness would have been his friend in such a position as he now found himself in, but the moon had decided that the night would be a good time to shine like a bloody demon. It was one of those nights of magic, when the Wild Hunt would ride out through the lands, scaring peasants and reaffirming that yes, fairies still existed. Stories like that were just legends up north, but where Sirus came from in the south, they were fact. He marvelled silently at how quickly fact became legend when it seemed too extraordinary to contemplate. Not only was the night almost as bright as day, but the moon rose in all of its proud glory, a full moon. On a distant building a cat stood admiring the scene. Sirus scowled at it, his kitsune instincts kicking in. He didn't like cats or neko anymore than any others of his race. But eager to be on his way, and with the full moon in mind, he silently hoped, as he dropped from the rooftop, that there were no werewolves this far north.

He dropped his spear before he hit the ground, letting his cloak act to slow him and his knees crumple to absorb the fall. Kneeling, the kitsune looked back and forth to make sure no one had spotted him before picking up his spear and sprinting down the length of the street. This late at night, no one was out. They would be eating dinner, dicing in the taverns, maybe even frolicking with one of the maids, but wouldn't be on the streets. Only a madman or a brave man went walking the streets on a full mooned night like this. Thanks to superstition, people wouldn't even look outside their windows that night, afraid they might somehow attract evil's attention. Sirus couldn't have timed his strike better. Yet always when a character starts thinking thoughts such as these, something comes along to spoil it and prove them wrong.

Sirus caught the noise of a gang around the next corner, and the moonlight glinted blue-toned from a series of violent looking weapons. This won't do, Sirus thought unhappily. His plans had been spoiled for the night and he would be late thanks to this. It appeared, upon putting his head around the corner, that a group of ruffians had cornered a cloaked figure, a girl probably no older than Sirus himself. They were proposing rather indecent suggestions, as well as your standard run-of-the-mill, "Give us yer money, girl, or we'll cut yer throat!" speech. There was an easy way to deal with the men, then there was a theatrical way. Sirus had always been fond of theatrics though.

He stepped into the light. "Now now, gentlemen. That is no way to treat a lady." The villains turned as they heard the courtly accent. All that faced them seemed to be a shadow, a black clothed kitsune as they could spot from his ears.

"Haha, son," the oldest of the group said. Scarred and crop-cut, he looked like the leader. "You're goin' to want to back away nice an' easy. We don' want no trouble from folk like you. An' you don't want no trouble from us." The others grunted in a form of gutteral laughter, or snickering. Sirus wasn't sure which. Another of the bandits had snuck up close to the back of the kitsune, thinking himself hidden from view. He obviously wanted trouble from 'folk like Sirus', though the leader had specified otherwise.

Tipping his head to the side, the kitsune cocked his eyebrow, "alright then, have it your way." He spun on his left heel, cloak and tail spinning out and slashing the closest bandit in the shin. The other criminals were slow to react, yet moved immediately out to encircle their attacker. Still using the momentum of his spin, Sirus threw his spear straight and true, impaling one of the bandits before stepping close to another and slashing at its throat. The bandit let out a low gurgling sound and fell to the ground, suitably chastised. Sirus flicked out his arms and two throwing knives spun through his fingers before being launched at the throats of another two bandits. Now there were four left. The leader drew a hand crossbow from his cloak, aiming it not at the bounty hunter, but rather at their victim. The girl stood perfectly still as the bolt trained on her.

Crossbow in hand, the bandit leader smiled though Sirus was poised to throw a knife at another bandit. "Well, well, well, looks like we've got ourselves at an impasse." He spoke the last word slowly, sounding out each syllable. Sirus guessed that the leader may have been a scholar, driven out by hard times, resorting to street gangs. Or of course, he could just be a bandit leader who picked up the word by chance, probably from an 'impasse' with a now dead noble.

It was a dilemma certainly. Sirus had no want to kill the leader, though he would undoubtedly prove trouble later on. But he also wished to save the girl, who was not in the most fortuitous of circumstances at that moment. Ironically enough, it was the girl who broke the stalemate, saving herself and Sirus. While the bandit leader was busy concentrating on Sirus, the girl had been working her hands in the air. It looked as if she was scribbling, or drawing, or something. Sirus had barely half a second's warning as the place the girl was scribbling grew bright as the sun and shot out, blowing the bandit leader into the stone wall of the building behind him. Fine mortar powder trickled onto his head as he coughed up blood and fell in a heap. Sirus was stunned. The girl is a mage? And of destruction magic too? She's more rare than she looks. Though of course he couldn't see her face, hidden as it was by a heavy hood. From the rest of what he could see though, she cut a fine figure, especially in skin-tight cloths. Silk perhaps?

The other bandits were not so 'rooted to the spot stunned' as Sirus was. With frantic calls of "Witch!", "Devil spawn!" and "Demon!" they ran screaming down the street, turned the corner and were soon gone. The girl turned back to Sirus. He half expected her to destroy him where he stood. Instead she laughed. "Thank you stranger." Her voice had a strange, musical quality to it. "You saved my hide just then. I'd run out of power and those men happened to think it would be a good time to take advantage of the situation." She pushed back her hood, revealing the most beautiful face Sirus had ever seen. He almost felt enchanted by her beauty, and he was wary not to fall into any trap she might have laid, using the bandits as bait. He still had enough enemies to occasion a look over his shoulder every so often. "My name is Siarra," she said, "and yours?" She pushed the hood off of her head and Sirus couldn't, wouldn't believe what he saw. Couldn't believe his bad luck.

Siarra was a neko.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Magic - Part 1

Sirus chuckled gaily to himself as he flicked through the papers in his hands. Each was an 'official' document, 'signed' by the Lord Imperior himself, stamped with a small wax blob holding the image of a well forged signet ring. They were papers naming Sirus as William Damasque, a wealthy noble on a diplomatic mission to the Hawk Aeries in the mountains of Niral.

The guards looked warily at Sirus as he left the council chambers. He didn't blame them. He was about medium height, with green eyes, a sharp nose and high cheeks. His eyes were constantly moving, reassessing the area. And his most prominent features marked him out as a kitsune. Two fox ears poked out of his ruffled hair, their orange, white-tipped fur in contrast to his black, unkept hair while a single fox tail swept nervously behind him. He was dressed in an imperial uniform: a close-cut black robe buttoned on the side, sweeping in the street below him. Gold trims raised the shoulders, and a single sword was fastened to his left side. The collar on the robe was high enough to brush his chin when he turned his head, a perfect imitation of this season's 'in fashion' clothing.

Yet though he was dressed as a noble or imperial agent, the guards remained wary. Sirus knew it was because he was a kitsune. Though they were not a rare sight, there was a certain amount of racism towards them. They were considered sneaky, cunning, and untrustworthy. A generalisation to be sure, but then again, Sirus had always believed in perpetuating stereotypes. Further, the guards were wary because of the power 'William Damasque' might hold with the local council. Who knew what he was doing in town besides himself.

Tail turning, Sirus flicked a gold coin from his sleeve towards the guardsmen. They blinked in surprise before dropping to the ground to fish the coin from the mud, cleaning and examining it. Probably that was a week's wages to them. To Sirus, it meant the guards would be less likely to stop him and more likely to side with him were events to turn against him in the future. He grinned at the guards happily clucking and cooing over their coin and continued his way down the street. By the position of the sun, he guessed it was late afternoon and he was heading in a northwards direction. His aim was a house in the north-eastern quadrant of Callan, but first he had to go back to the inn to change.

The streets were clearer now than an hour ago. Merchants with precious cargo who could afford to pack up did so and went home to their wives and strongboxes though Sirus wasn't sure which of the two they loved the most. Many of the town labourers had gone home, replaced by their evening-shift counterparts. To the east, the council had decreed a new bridge be built over the Kinnean River, and its construction was putting Callan into an economic boom. On the sides of the streets the beggars left, knowing they would get no more charity now that the visitors in town had returned to the inns and taverns. The homeless would head to the inns for handouts after dinner, or to the back alleys looking for prime real estate: a nice, warm place to sleep. Others would head back to the Beggar's Guild to pay tribute. They shared what little they had; communism working in practice.

Sirus ducked to the side as an inflated pig's bladder wooshed over his shoulder, kicked towards him accidentally by a child playing. Laughing, they scattered to their hideaway spots. Hoping to curry favour with them, Sirus kicked the ball back to where it came from. A young kitsune jumped out to stop it from heading too far the other direction, staring at wonder at the lone adult who had inadvertantly joined their game. The kid scooped the bladder into the air and kicked it towards his companion, a young human girl. The game it seemed was simple: the aim was to kick the bladder into the face of another player. There was enough water within the primitive ball to give it weight, though it wouldn't hurt on contact. Sirus, his child years long passed, smiled sadly in nostalgia and continued walking.

Three blocks down was the inn, The Troubled Fox. Lit up by torches within metal casings, the inn was one of the richer establishments in town. Before the heavy oak door was a stone archway flanked by ionic columns. Hanging by a chain on either end, the sign showed a comic looking fox struggling vainly to grab a grape from a vine high above it. Appropriately, The Troubled Fox catered rooms for the largest number of kitsune in town. Neko, people with similar attributes to kitsune, but cats rather than foxes, rarely visited the inn due to the rivalry between the two race's gods. But though The Troubled Fox held many kitsune, it held fewer foxfolk than it did humans, who outnumbered every other species in the city. Sirus stayed there not because he was in need of the company of his own race; he was used to being alone. No, he slept there because he needed to be unnoticed, and more importantly because it was the closest inn to the house he was to find that night.

Sirus pushed open the heavy doors and immediately his ears were met by laughter and polite talking. The inns and taverns differed in many respects, and Sirus normally preferred to stay in taverns. The raucous boasting and swearing, shouting and catcalling, were all familiar noises to him. Taverns were noisy places full of drunks, pickpockets, hardened veterans and whores. By comparison, an inn was almost like a tea party. Besides, inns didn't serve Oapos, the hallucination-inducing kiwifruit wine. Instead they only had sour wine, the 'drink of the gentleman'. Sirus didn't know how courtiers and imperial agents managed to survive on that.

He walked through the waiting chamber to the stairs, heading to the second floor, down the hall and through another side passage to his own room. There was nothing of great interest in the clean wooden hallways. Though kept meticulously clean, the inn usually held a great number of mice. Maybe the lack of cats in the establishment allowed them a certain amount of freedom. There were no rats in the inn. As far as he knew, there hadn't been a rat in Callan in over a century. He'd heard fragments of stories of the Pied Piper variety, though thankfully the townsfolk had taken warning from the previous stories and actually paid the fellow. Rats were no more and the town had managed to keep a firm hold on their children. But that was before Callan became the main merchant city where the Silk Paths from the east crossed the Kinnean River coming down from the mountains to the north. Since then it had tripled in size, and not a single rat.

Sirus had reached his room. He drew a key from inside his left sleeve, fitting it into the well oiled lock and twisting. The lock clicked and the door swung open slightly to admit the kitsune. He swept the room with his eyes, then stepped in. On the table lay his collection of weapons: a hand-sized repeater crossbow with five shots, twelve spare throwing knives that wouldn't have fit into the clothes he was wearing, a spare sword, a polearm and a scythe. Inside the cupboard he found his other clothes, a close fitting black leather outfit and a large, thick, black, hooded robe. He didn't travel light. One couldn't afford to travel light when one was a bounty hunter.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Magic - Prologue

As so many fantastical stories seem to begin, this one began with a pact. Normally, it is the story rather than the plot which begins with a pact. You usually don't find out until further into the book, probably halfway through, that it was indeed a pact which began said book. You wind through many a page of hopeless dialogue, red herring love stories, insane villainy and even more daring heroes before you even get a glimpse at the idea that there may have actually been a pact through which the events of the remainder of the story have unfolded and will then unfold.

But this isn't a normal fantasy story like most. The pact it begins with is just as important to the story to know about, it is no form of dramatic irony, though it happened in a secret meeting. What kind of pact is it? One of those 'I'm the demon, give me your soul I'll give you anything' sort of pacts.

In the deep, dark corners of every castle lies a villain. He may not be exactly the kind of villain you'd guess would be lying in the deep dark corners of a very drafty castle. Unless you normally have thoughts about mice being the villains in stories. Well actually, I lied. This mouse wasn't even a villain. He just liked to tell himself he was because it was the only way he could ever get a feeling of self importance. I mean, come on, he lives in a giant, drafty castle with deep, dark corners. Who wouldn't start to feel a little insecure after a while?

But this mouse was luckier than your common mouse who lived in deep, dark, drafty castles. He happened to live in a fantasy realm filled with magic. And sooner or later magic will cause animals to gain some kind of self-awareness. Apart from the mind-jarring realisation of his life wasted, this mouse then found he failed at communicating with the other people in the castle. Mice ceased to be interested in his mindless consideration of politics and philosophy, humans and their ilk understood little.

So that was why he was standing in a pentacle inscribed on the stone floor chanting a summoning spell on another larger symbol before him. The symbol was a pentacle incased within a circle, small tildas and doodles surrounding it. Magic was a complex affair, especially summoning Greater Demons. The mouse was stupid to try something like this copied from a scratching on a bit of leather he happened to come across whilst wandering the halls. But this mouse happened to be unnaturally lucky. Normally, failing to draw the etching properly ended in horrible things which varied from losing one's spleen to a simple Armageddon disaster. Thankfully it didn't do anything like that.

"Why are you summoning me?!" The large entity spoke finally, summoned by the persistent squeeking. "Ah, a mouse..." it seemed puzzled, searching in its vast memory for any time where a mouse had summoned a demon. He vaguely remembered a fox doing this centuries before, and that was when the kitsune were formed. But a mouse gaining any kind of intellect was curious. The demon had already found a weakness in the pentacle; he could, if he wanted, escape and vaporise the castle and its occupants. But something held it back. A thought in the back of its mind which questioned, what would a mouse possibly want from a demon?

But then came the even more difficult, and slightly embarassing moment. How was one to communicate with a mouse? The demon conjured up a chair and sat contemplating, watching the squeaking and dancing of the summoner. He couldn't make sense of it. Eventually, from concentrating on the frantic gestures of the tiny rodent, the Greater Demon understood what he wanted.

"Ohhh, you wish to speak? Why did you not ask so in the first place?" The irony struck him as funny enough to comment. It seemed the mouse could understand what was spoken, but had little ability to form the sounds for itself. Since he was bound only by a faulty pentacle, the demon was free to do as he wished. Unfortunately, he could not touch the mouse as it sat within its own pentacle, perfectly formed. The protective symbol stopped the demon from attacking the mouse, but also stopped the summoned creature from gifting his master with speech. He tried an old trick, "Step outside of the pentacle and I shall bestow it upon you." Any summoner with brains would identify a trick like this and stay the hell inside their symbol. As long as the symbol was unbroken the demon was bound. The mouse was innocent though, ignorant of the tricks played by any demon to achieve freedom.

It stepped outside of the pentacle and instantly was given the power to speak rather than just squeak. The demon chuckled to itself. It was free now. No symbols contained it, no summoner could send him back without high-level magics, there was nothing left to do but run before the mouse got smart and sent him back. With a pop, the Greater Demon vanished. Most likely he headed straight to Bermuda or Hawaii, or whatever the tropical paradise was called in this world. I know I would if I were a newly free demon. Within days, the demon would begin to lose the ability to freely shapeshift and settle into whatever form he chose. Most likely the demon would choose a human. They always went for the cliche 'tall, dark and handsome' figures.

And he left the mouse standing quite unsure of itself outside of a pentacle. The mouse looked around. He seemed to see things with a new light. The mouse was grey, with brown wings hinting around his ears. He had dark, black beetles of eyes, and now a voice to match his blossoming mind. He looked younger, and felt stronger. Whatever the demon had done, it had done more than asked.

"Bloody hell, what've I done now?" He asked himself, wondering what mischief the Greater Demon would get up to.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Winternest Part 2

The guildhouse door burst open as the young kitsune barreled his way in shoulder-first. He spun on the handle, using his weight to push the heavy door closed again. Sirus' feet strained as he pushed against the floor. He held the pot out with one hand while the other pulled the heavy bar into place.

He slid to the door with a sigh. The guildhouse appeared silent, but behind each wall was a trained assassin, a guard of the highest eschelon of the Theives Guild. They each carried a chained knife, a hand crossbow and enough poison to knock out an entire city. Hopefully it would be enough to stop whatever was chasing him, though how long he might live after this was over he wasn't sure. But the Theives Guild prized the ability to turn invisible and it looked like Sirus would have to do just that.

He moved slowly through the lobby to a side door. Through the door was a long, beige coloured carpetted hallway leading to a second door. Behind the door was a staircase leading downwards to the city's underground. The guild was like any Theives Guild; it put on a simple exterior, a pretty gameface, and the promise of a deep, dark secret.

Down the staircase was another room: a lobby where the entry level thieves gathered, where the leader of their section had his offices. It was well hierarchically set out, probably, ironically the most organised in the city. Sirus walked down the corridor holding onto his prize. This was his goal, the item he had to steal to rise to the next level in the guild. He'd been told to find a piece of pottery from a rich man's home, and he had the bad luck to pick something that murderers were out for too.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Winternest Part 1

The city was asleep at this time of night, even the lanterns had burned low. Guards rarely walked the streets anymore and it was anybody's game. The occasional cloud passed over the moon, extending the shadows between the buildings until nothing could be seen of the murky dirt road, patched by pavers, riddled with wagonholes.

Sirus kept running.

The ten year old kitsune boy ran flat out, tail and robes swinging behind freely. He gasped as his robes caught on a wagon spoke, tearing and making a noise ill-fitting in the dark. He sucked his breath in and tried not to yell from fright though some kind of monster was on his trail. Every loud noise grew to his ears, every small crack of sticks in the path he'd clearly blazed with heavy footfalls shook his nerves. Goodness knew what would happen if he were caught.

The half-fox boy kept a tight hold on his prize: a blue pot, red rimmed and covered in gold decorations. He had no idea what was in it; all he'd done was take what he'd been told to take. That was before the man helping him was killed.

It seemed whomever these monsters were, they were after the same pot. And they didn't even flinch at killing to get it. Sirus knew he'd been lucky to get away. He briefly considered dropping it, leaving his troubles behind. But he knew that whatever was chasing him wouldn't stop with the pot. It would want him dead. It was a simple rule of the underground that no one saw you take anything, and if Sirus knew who had the pot he could tell someone. That and Sirus had been witness to a murder. That sort of thing doesn't bode well when one is running from the killer.

No, it was best to hold onto that container harder, keep running faster, and never stop. Once he got to the guild house he would be safe. Safe from whoever, whatever, was chasing him.