Scorpion Void

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(Periodically, we include short fiction here relating to some of our intellectual properties from the developing books and games. Please enjoy this one!)

The Bioverse was the sum total output of trillions of biological nanobots and sensors inside the bodies of all humanity, projected graphically and acoustically around a one-seater deck that looked like a flight simulator but was so much more. This is a story of its golden age, of an intelligent and wildly mutating plague and the daredevil CounterBiotics pilots banded together against it in this manufactured universe of information.

Blind to whose bodies they sailed, mercilessly raiding clusters of increasingly deadly and sophisticated microbes, the CounterBiotics pilots were the final hope in a desperate time…

I was there that day, at Scorpion Void…the day we saw its face. I still see it in quiet, lonely evenings when I’m locking up, and something flitters just in the corner of my eyes. It’s outside the windows, even on the second floor where I keep my bedroom. It’s at the foot of my bed as I drag up the blanket. It’s behind my eyelids.

The Void.

I was there, and I can tell you what I saw. But you won’t get it unless you know what we expected, what was supposed to be there. You need to feel the thunder in your bones like we did, because we used to laugh back then. We were cocky and funny, with nicknames. We thought we were chasing cancers and novel viruses, unrelated super-bacteria immune to medicines. Until Scorpion Void, the plague had a thousand names, and it was an undirected force of nature subject to our phage torpedoes and morphosomes. It was a day when we lost our ignorance and our innocence.

There were three of us: two Americans and a Frenchmen, not that it matters when you’re inside. The mission was to investigate an anomaly in the data. The Bioverse was blank where it shouldn’t have been, entirely empty. You’re not able to know whose body any part of the data comes from, so the Void could have been in a dancer on a stage or inside someone choking on a hospital bed. Whoever they are, they made it. The crevice and ridge are still there; I’ve been back many times to be certain.

‘My torpedo is infected!’. That’s what I remember the Frenchmen said. It was impossible, of course. We uniquely designed the phages based on what we saw. Nothing remote like this could have adapted to us. Yet there it was, inserting its code directly into our arsenal’s genome.

When I looked into that canyon, that black precipice into nothing at all, I saw the plague. I saw it, lashing and snapping at me. Genes I’d seen all across the Bioverse were nested there in a tumor. It still bore the code from a thousand outbreaks, a sick library of pandemics. Impossible. All of it was impossible. And now, our own weapons were compromised. If we fired, we’d only make copies of our enemy.

I saw the plague’s face that day, friend. And it’s a raging, gambling beast looking to kill us all. There’s one thing about seeing a face though.

You know you can find it again.

(c) Grailrunner Publishing

A tale of the Bioverse.

 

 

Clueless In The Sunless Citadel

map and firebeetle

A couple of weeks ago, to pass the time in quarantine between the escalating parade of conference calls, I pulled my old Dungeons & Dragons starter set off the shelf and cracked open a book I got for Christmas (Tales Of The Yawning Portal) from Wizards Of The Coast. Obviously, most D&D packaged adventures are for groups of people and are designed to be led by a dungeon master. I hammered out a few guidelines for converting them to solo dealie-o’s and wrote about that here.

It was such a surprise how things turned out, and when the characters started to pop for me, I thought it would be fun to write and illustrate a short pdf of how the adventure turned out.  It was a far wilder ride than I’d anticipated, which is a rock solid testament to how powerful the D&D system really is and why it has such a special place in so many hearts.

The kind folks at NaturalCrit have graciously made available a tool able to publish documents that look almost exactly like the Wizards Of The Coast 5th edition D&D materials. It’s here, you should give it a try if you’re into that. It’s what I used to format the document.

There are over 20 custom illustrations inside, mostly done in Daz Studio, Photoshop, and a little Blender.

The adventure I chose was ‘The Sunless Citadel’, so the setting,  three of the characters, and the encounters are all drawn from that book. Not mine, and property of Wizards Of The Coast, completely.

The story though, that was pretty much all the roll of the dice. Sticking to the rules I’d outlined, I only read descriptions of rooms once I’d decided to enter. The dice decided whether something worked or not, and who lived or died. Seriously, things just went nuts with this.

For my very first game of Dungeons & Dragons way back in the day, my buddy was as clueless as I was about how to play and gave me my character’s name: Firebeetle. That’s the elf that led this delve into the Sunless Citadel.

surrender

I hope you like this adventure, as it was a pain and a joy to put together. I wish someone else was writing Firebeetle now, because he cracks me up, and I’d like to know where he goes next.

Maybe you can tell me.

Here’s the link to download Clueless In The Sunless Citadel.

Till next time!

 

Solo dungeon crawling in the quarantine: The Sunless Citadel

Sunless citadel image

Just getting this out of the way now, I don’t really know how to play Dungeons & Dragons correctly. I played a couple of times when I was a kid, and I’ve messed around with my own kids a couple of times. So there – no comments about how a 1st level whatever shouldn’t be able to cast doomahickey.

However, I saw this cover last summer as I was puttering around:

Portal

Guys! Come on. That’s just good art. Intrigued, but no use for the book, I passed it by. It inspired me to shoot for a little more grotesque imagery in the art I was putting together for the Salt Mystic game though. Like this guy:

Isolated storyteller

I listen to a lot of nerds on Youtube when I go running though, and came across a terrifying dungeon the game’s creator, Gary Gygax, concocted back in the day called ‘The Tomb Of Horrors‘. I guess Gary’s idea was to put veterans of his new game in their place and make it pretty much impossible to survive the adventure due to traps and false endings and tricks. Honestly, such a cool guy, that Gary! You should hit up Youtube on that sometime to hear stories of guys who were there at those early cons trying to survive Gary’s machinations.

When I came to realize that tomb had been reproduced in the same book that had caught my eye, I added it to the Christmas wish list and lucked out. My wife is pretty cool that way. And it sat looking cool on the shelf until now. Quarantine for COVID19 and, to be honest, no real connections out there that play the game anyway.

I was thinking recently, though, about how to take solo adventures between conference calls. It struck me that without a real clue on the rules and without a dungeon master telling the big story, that this would be hopeless and sad. I tried some random dungeon generators online and found them repetitive and lifeless.

So I cracked open the ‘Tales Of The Yawning Portal’ and read up on the basics of the game from an old starter set laying around. There is a starter adventure in there called ‘The Sunless Citadel”, designed for newbies to level up quickly.

I’ve just finished a wild ride that, if I’m honest, went places I hadn’t expected and took crazy turns…was kind of nerve wracking at times…and ended in an interesting place with popping tension for a follow-up. I might write it up and post it here as a pdf just to make my point that this really wound up looking like something I’d planned when I absolute had not.

I didn’t even cheat. Much.

Anyway, the point of this post is really to share some guidelines I came up with to re-engineer a packaged adventure from Wizards Of The Coast intended for group play facilitated by a dungeon master into a solo adventure that’s surprising and interesting.

Sunless citadel map

Principles:

  1. Carefully build the character sheet with all the spells, inventory, and weapons you intend to use without cheating and adding things later when you need them
  2. Since you won’t have companions (at first), think through what challenges you’ll face and add items and skills to deal with them (I figured I’d need to pick locks, so brought along tools for that)
  3. Pick an adventure that has decent maps and plenty of rooms to explore, with a story that adds purpose to what you’re trying to do
  4. Don’t read ahead in the book, only the description for a room or corridor after you’ve decided you’re entering based on the map and the story
  5. Once you’ve entered, deal with whatever you came across without cheating (I accidentally reanimated some skeleton archers and almost got toasted)
  6. If the adventure doesn’t already require it, find a roll table for encounters (on-line or in the Dungeon Master’s Guide) and make the occasional surprise roll
  7. Follow whatever side adventures are offered (I wound up making a daring raid into the goblin side of the citadel to recover a little dragon they wanted back) and be willing to deviate from the original plan
  8. If a character offers to join you, let them. You’ll need help when things get rough.
  9. Try and get in your new companions’ heads and determine what they might actually do in these circumstances, then deal with that (one of my guys would more logically say she was joining me but turn her back on me as soon as she could).
  10. Journal out the entire story, including dialogue if you can. Things get muddy and dull unless you can reflect on where you’ve been, what you were thinking, and you lock things down tangibly.
  11. Don’t cheat. Don’t cheat. Don’t cheat. The rolls are the rolls. If the lock won’t open, the attack doesn’t hit, even if you’re killed. Don’t cheat.

So maybe give it a shot yourself, if you’ve never tried. In my case, the final scene was a cliffhanger: I suppose the mission was accomplished, but the little dragon is furious with me, the lead of the kobolds is chaining me up, and my other companion is missing. Plus, there are some pretty ticked-off goblins who are probably coming for all of us.

And also those weird noises coming from the lower levels…

Be safe, guys. Till next time.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Bioverse

Bioverse cockpit

We’re super close to wrapping up a flash fiction collection for publication; and it seemed timely to bring you into the loop a bit on some of the key ideas tying them together. One of the biggest ones had nothing whatsoever to do with COVID19 or any global pandemic because I started writing the dang thing two years ago.

It’s a little creepy now, though.

I was just was thinking along the lines of global outbreaks and mutating diseases…and what fantastic but maybe plausible mechanisms might science fiction offer to do something about them. In the collection, you’ll see much of the world’s population hit very hard with a rogue prion that triggers wild mutations. The resulting cascades of diseases appear with thousands of faces over a hundred years; and humanity forges an incredible approach to face them down.

It’s called the Bioverse. Let’s head inside to see what it’s all about. Here’s a short piece of flash fiction. It’s called THE CHASE. I hope you like it.

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You can tell yourself the Bioverse is just a visual representation, a rippling and illusory curtain of data. You can steady yourself against the deck’s cockpit and acknowledge that it’s not really sailing anywhere physical. Look around if you like – maybe you’ll catch glimpses of the walls or lighting or soundproofing panels.

More likely, you’ll black out or vomit into your lap. It’s a lot to take in.

The aggregate input of quintillions of nano-scale machines and sensors embedded in practically every human alive throughout the globe has been rendered in this artificial universe for specially trained CounterBiotics agents like you to sail its front lines. New viruses and exotic bacteria are evolving at rates never before seen, in seconds rather than days. Rogue proteins and phages stalk the world, triggering DNA mutations that launch into the wide world in a matter of hours. It’s a devastatingly dangerous time.

And it’s a very good thing you’re here to do something about it.

Those images are data. You’re rocketing through actual people out there, who might be at the grocery looking through apples or coughing their last breath in a hospital bed. You’ll never know who they are; that’s hidden from you. In fact, you’ll hop seamlessly from one person to another like crossing an undefended border. It’s the chase that matters. Only the chase.

Imagine a ski-slope shaped chart, a pareto. The highest bars on the left are the people with some nasty disease that we’ve set in our sights…something that steals away pregnant mothers and single dads and wide-eyed little kids who can’t understand what’s happening to them. Imagine these diseases, these plagues, as hungry prowling beasts drooling in the shadows. They’re scary, aren’t they?

But we’ve built this miracle place. And we’ve tasked you to chase these beasts from their highest concentrations down to the last gene somewhere that’s coded for it. And we’ve tasked you to be merciless and slay them all, right where they hide.

It’s the chase that matters, my friend. Only the chase.

 

(C) Brian Bennudriti

Grailrunner Publishing

Nonlinear adventures: the mind-twister for Coronavirus lock-down

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I hope everyone is staying as safe and locked down as possible till the COVID19 issues are a distant memory. The hope is that in no time at all, we’ll be looking back proudly at how well we weathered this whole thing and how we pulled together as families and neighbors.

Meanwhile, it’s a great time for projects, right?

When I was a little nerd, I was a huge fan of the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style books branded ‘Endless Quest’ that let you dive into Dungeons & Dragons worlds and set your own course. Battles and mysteries and spooky beasts…I was really into that. Here’s one I used to read:choose own adventure

Around Christmas, I poked around in a few Cthulhu solo adventures, which brought those old books back to mind. I still have a few on the shelf; but they don’t really have the same oomph from back in the day for me. So I wondered is it time to try and write one?

Well, no it’s not. Obviously. I have a short story collection to finish, a novel that’s 3/4th complete and in ramp-up mode, a wargame and merchandising to finalize and market, and a sequel to write. It’s obviously NOT time to start another project.

But still…

My house is chaos sometimes. My wife often asks from across the house, “What’cha doin’?” Two teenagers need a lot of attention. And they eat a lot. And two dogs need stroking and wrestling. So now as we’re cooped up together in the house, it’s kind of nice to slip down to the basement to the little cafe table beside the wargame stuff, leave the lights a little dim, and bust out some words on something completely different from what I’ve been thinking about for years now.

And that’s where this nonlinear thing comes in.

So Twine. Check these guys out here. This is software for writing branching narratives that leave decision-making up to the reader. You can install it as an app or build it from your browser. I’m seeing that it’s a lot easier to learn than I’d thought. Here’s an example I pulled from a kind soul named Sara Stern:

SaraSternTwine1

The post-it note thingies are individual web pages where your text lies, accessible via links the reader is clicking as they make their choices. All you do is put a “[[ ]]” around your choice options; and it creates the new pages for you. Seriously, super easy. Tutorials on this abound. Twine 2.0 is my preferred brew, the default Harlowe format. You can add images, even background images, and sound and video if you want. Though you probably shouldn’t do those last things.

The tricky thing here, as I’m learning, isn’t the technical piece of engineering an html file for posting which contains your adventure. No, not even a little bit.

The tricky thing is chasing a particular decision out and building your beautiful, intricate plot development out along the resulting bunny trail, then realizing that maybe they didn’t pick that option.

Ichiwawa!

Anyway, there will be a new Salt Mystic adventure out hopefully in a couple of weeks…the first non-linear story. Here’s the branding we’re going with:

Salt Mystic Interactive Adventure

It’s called AT THE MOUTH OF THE ROTTING GIANT. You’ll be crouching and scraping your way inside the corpse of a long-dead fallen giant to speak with an ancient piece of artificial intelligence. And you’ll be armed.

You’ll need to be.

See you soon, guys. Stay safe!

(c) Grailrunner Publishing

 

 

 

The long history of the Salt Mystic universe

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Here at Grailrunner, we’re building a storytelling framework we call ‘SALT MYSTIC‘. You can get the point of it here. If you’re going to call something an “immersive storytelling engine”, it needs to have some long legs, right? So we had the idea that it might help to have a reveal of some of the history that led to the software-haunted ruins, screaming statues, and city-sized war machines in which the main storyline is unfolding.

Here’s the familiar setup:

Two thousand years ago, a withered old woman stumbled out of the salt flats declaring her vision of the forces of history, and how to harness them to shape human events.

Naraia was the name they gave to the world-spanning democracy that arose from her teachings, encompassing countless thriving civilizations on land, floating on the seas and tethered to the sea floor, and tucked into pockets of artificial space called oriels. All of it shattered into a thousand pieces a generation ago in a terrifying and almost supernatural conflict called The War Of The Rupture.

But so much happened before!

How could a worldwide nation be possible unless they had seen the anarchy of centuries of soul-destroying war? Where did such miracle machines come from that could serve a civilization this mighty? And what mad travelers and philosophers and generals lived in the hearty days before these shining towers whose lives could feed the kinds of stories the Salt Mystic would weave into her powerful myths?

Let’s take a look at the broad strokes of ten thousand years:

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First Era:     Misty Antiquity

A muddled time of legends and fables. Many themes of these stories include an ancient technological Singularity, where humanity’s machines rocketed beyond their own understanding and reprogrammed the very matter of their landscapes.  It’s probably just a story.

The most popular figure among the legends of the era tell of Rendel, a mischievous trickster engineer. Typical of his confusing rants, Rendel was famous for asking whether this is the first and original universe in which we live, or if it too began as an oriel.

Second Era:     The Brewing

A wild era of exploration and settling where many of the familiar cultures of Naraia developed their own cultures and identities as enclaves or small nation-states.

  • The Red Witch Annex was carved out to isolate and contain their vile ways of seeing the world
  • The first people settled in the barren Salt Flats, hunting with their traditional bladed kites the high flying whitebird
  • In the ancient settlement of Alson high on the mountain plateau, the hallucinogenic algae wine called sana was first brewed
  • The first ball lightning carbine was crafted by a gunsmith whose mysterious lover asked him to bring her a mighty storm in a box

Third Era:     The Merchants’ Wars

The largest conflict in history to that day, when the various enclaves came to realize their bankers and merchants had leagued together across the world in a secret shadow government. Theirs was a lost generation, who learned in the burning wakes of ever-escalating war machines to trust no one at all.

It was a time of devastating economic and psychological warfare where propaganda was brought to its highest effectiveness. Many of the cruelly manipulative stonewisps, artificial intelligence agents of chaos haunting statues and masonry elements, date to this period. It’s noteworthy that this was when the seafloor empires arose in The Tethered Cities, its early peoples fleeing from unrest on the surface.  

One ironic result of all the chaos and fury of the Merchants’ Wars was the planet-wide system of shipping, trade routes, and banking infrastructure that later made Naraia possible.

Fourth Era:     The Philosophers’ Parade

This period in history was notable for the seemingly endless parade of new religions and philosophies, where it was said any stray book casually left in a plaza would sprout a temple from its pages. The superstitions of the Mountain people especially spread like wildfire due to the popularity of their algae wines and wildly inventive folklore.

Although well understood now, it was unknown to the people of the time that many of these belief systems were being engineered for the purpose of uniting the world’s enclaves under one ruler. It was an attempt to conquer without blood or treasure, since previous eras had proven that neither war nor commerce could unite everyone.

One unremarkable nomadic enclave called The Rauchka dramatically lived out their protests of these bloodless coups by transforming into a roving race of jesters, mocking without regard for power or influence. This is important because these prancing, nose-tweaking jesters would later be charged with the important responsibility of humbling those wielding terrible authority under the world government. They were declared untouchable up until the time of Old Man Talgo during The War Of The Rupture.

The end of this era is marked by the arrival of The Salt Mystic, who stumbled from the Salt Flats with a history-shattering vision of the forces of history.

Fifth Era:     Naraia

Within a hundred years of the Salt Mystic’s arrival, a united and mighty civilization arose, spanning from the mountains to the seafloor, across countless pockets of artificial space, and deep into crevices in the earth. This remarkable and unprecedented society was built upon a number of foundation elements:

  • The Augur, a collective hallucination maintained by attendants and providing oracles based on the Salt Mystic’s philosophy
  • Recorders, people chemically and genetically modified to remember every sight, sound and scent they encounter and used for almost supernatural consultation
  • The Malthus, enigmatic errand runners and assassins, able to weaponize the Salt Mystic’s philosophy to shape human events. It was said a single Malthus could not just destroy a city, but make its own people do so.
  • The Rauchka jesters, ever humbling those in power

This pinnacle era of history lasted for almost nineteen hundred years before it decayed from within. By its end, the Augur and its puppet copies were hotbeds of secret files, intrigue, statecraft, and meaningless power plays devoid of wisdom. The Malthus were all but wiped out, with only a handful in hiding in the Trapmaster City under the Yagrada River.

Sixth Era:     The War Of The Rupture

Libraries are filled with reasons for the War Of The Rupture, perhaps the largest possible war ever to be fought. It’s said a billion people died in this nightmare, a conflict of practically everyone against everyone else. The most terrible war engines imaginable blanketed countless battlefields. It was the golden age of war.

The most important figure of this period was known as Old Man Talgo, a minor military figure who rose to unimaginable heights of influence due to his ferocity and battlefield innovations. He was a cruel and vicious man, who pitted his sons as officers in battle against each other for competition and refining.

The Old Man made a bitter enemy of the last clan chief of the Rauchka and swore to erase his people from history, eventually beheading the chief. Strangely, Talgo was said to have gone to the Augur afterwards and hung himself at what he heard there. It was after this that the Rauchka made their sad, desperate pact with a general named Tienna in the Great Valley Cemetery to transform into cyborg engines of war.

Seventh Era:     The Guardian Age

The current era is a time of roving armies and miraculous war machines, scattered like maple seeds for anyone to seize. It’s a time where some of the old legends from the war still live and carry enormous influence, and old grudges. And it’s a time of very old mysteries.

The era is named for the most important myth ever told.

It was said in hushes and whispers throughout the terrible conflicts of the war that the Salt Mystic had foreseen what would become of Naraia. Because of it, she had injected cunningly engineered stories into the folklore and myths the people pass down, ones capable of possessing a person’s soul. Foreseeing the wars and injustice that could emerge, she hid tripwires in these myths that inspire world-shaking guardians when they’re needed the most.

A guardian arises maybe once in a generation. It changes everything.

And it can be arise in anyone at all.

(c) Brian Bennudriti. All rights reserved.

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe. Read more here.

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Blinkstrikers: In Broad Daylight

Blinkstriker profile versus blue backdrop

If asked to describe an assassin, most of us would imagine someone who skulks in shadows and creeps about at night in desolate places. It’s not just to dodge being caught plying their deadly trade; no one paying for assassinations wants trails leading to the buyer! Assassins slip in when you’re alone and do the deed quietly.  No witnesses.

Blinkstrikers are a breed of assassins in the Salt Mystic universe who, you might say, thumb their nose at this idea of skulking at night. You earn that distinctive black hood only one way: a very public, broad daylight execution of an extremely powerful person with at least a thousand witnesses.

Imagine a summer day, crossing a crowded street in a swarming mass of people. Everyone’s laughing or rushing, munching a sandwich. All around you are people and businesses and street cameras. You blink your eyes. That’s where the name comes from. It isn’t the shadows or the night where the Blinkstrikers work. It’s that moment when you simply blink your eyes.

Someone walking beside you falls dead to the ground.

You can stop everyone in that panicked crowd and lock down the city if you like. Everyone will have a story. Everyone heard something. Everyone saw something. None of it will lead anywhere. In fact, it’s like someone almost set things up so the eyewitness information makes things even more confused.

With procedurally generated morphium face masks and clothing, they never look the same twice. Many of the people in the crowd that day were observed and manipulated for days before that moment. Ideas were hypnotically or neurolinguistically implanted to shape what they would say and experience at that moment. It could be that even the target for the hit was manipulated into turning left or pausing at a particular moment by some random and forgotten experience days ago.

Someone in the crowd did it. And you’ll never catch them. Never.

The hardest thing to face about such a person is you have to stop your life and hide away in the shadows to shield yourself against them.

And that’s where the other assassins are!

ascensia

Ascensia: “Half a million people watched my guy fall when I earned this hood. And I’m still here!”

Nampo image2

Nampo: “I sleep fine. These people are animals.”

(c) Brian Bennudriti

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe. Read more here.

When You’ve Heard Every Story, It Changes You

Questforged-revised

Recently, we introduced a new class of beings in the Salt Mystic universe called ‘The Questforged’. Not sure yet just where these guys will lead us, or in what other formats they’ll make their deepest mark. But one thing that strikes me as particularly useful and meta about the concept is that they’re based in a very real way on high impact storytelling, just like the world of the Salt Mystic. That’s what the enigmatic figure of the Salt Mystic herself was doing way back when she stumbled out of the flats mumbling about her vision of history…

telling stories.

In her case, she had a vision of the forces of human history and saw what malicious things would arise from our coming together in a world-spanning civilization, the terrible shattering wars that would arise. So she buried powerful stories into the myths and folklore people passed down, ones capable of virtually possessing very unique people. And those people, as arisen guardians, would go on to inspire change on a global scale.

I see the Questforged as almost the opposite of all that, or more properly a balance to it. In their case, the stories they’re fed are what drives them, much like a guardian. But these poor, sad souls don’t seek out this inspiration. They’re enslaved by it. They don’t find beauty and majesty in unpacked jewels made of myths. They find an opiate.

Here, read a little flash fiction to get to know them better.

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They called them ‘The Questforged’ because you steered the beast-men by piping alternate realities into their feedstream. If revenge was your guy’s thing, you gave it to him in a genocidal-apocalyptic sort of way. If it was rescuing baby lordlings, then you gave him that in a future messiah storyline. But for every one of them, there was a tailored fiction that could drive them to frenzying heights of annihilation.

Hey, whatever it took to keep them going away from you and not towards you, right?

But there was a balancing act to this storytelling. If your plot was thin or contradictory or marred with a hole in its logic, if your setting failed to mirror a reality of the land which your beast-man knew, or if your characters spoke unnaturally in the manner of someone forcing advances in the narrative, then there was always the terrifying chance to see them turn on the storyteller.

Some part of these hybrid abominations, fused with their lightning weapons and wall-climbing vortex crawlers, wanted to be fooled. Something about slipping into dreamtimes where things were very black and very white in full contrast maybe smothered their own nightmares. That’s just why the whole system ever worked at all. It’s just that after some time, you’ve heard every story. And when you’ve heard every story, it changes you.

It’s a sad and funny thing to know then, that the most revered and honored Questforgers in those days were runted little kids…often the ugliest and most cast out of them. Those were the ones who dreamed the hardest. In even the fiercest of night raids or tower assaults, it was a common yet curious sight to see a tiny ragged child perched inside a nook of the beast-man’s machinery.

They told the stories they needed to, just to belong somewhere. Like all of us do.

 

(c) Brian Bennudriti

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe.

 

The Stories Make A Riddle

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Anybody that’s managed the exhaustive and maddening feat of completing a novel can relate to the weirdness that sets in as things wrap up. A core part of who you are, paper people you lovingly crafted and hid little bits of yourself into are being tortured and dropping like flies. Loose ends you thought were pretty awesome back in the day two years ago jump up out of their hidey holes during your re-read and mock you for forgetting they existed. Cool, shiny objects you’ve been chasing the last couple of months turn out to completely contradict the thing you were planning on having happen.

And so on…

Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you’re the reader that catches those sorts of things when they’re not completely patched up and you savor your find. That’s cool too, you’ll still relate I bet. You’ve wrapped things up and felt a little whisper suggesting you stretch things out a bit, like kids in a pool begging their mom standing there waving her car keys:

“Just a little while longer. Pleeeeease?”

Anyway, this thing has taken longer than I’d anticipated. Like they always do. For almost three years, I’ve been at this collection of short stories, bundled with chapter endings that collectively unroll clues behind a connecting riddle. Sure, I’ve been working on other stuff, wasting too much time goofing off with fascinating time sinks like Warmachine, One Deck Dungeon, and Grimslingers. If you’re not clear on what these are, it’s probably best if you just leave it lying there. Or risk your soul (at least your free time!).

So I’m at 58,000 words roughly. All the stories are locked in place.  Fourteen chapters total. I’ve got four more chapter endings to write, each of which are maybe around 1,200 words apiece. It’s easier now that everything connects; and I know how the larger story ends. I know what happens to everyone. It’s no longer tempting to shove explanations into people’s dialogue, which is a soul-deadening outcome if I’ve not managed to mercilessly extinguish all the times I wound up doing exactly that.

I’ve been incredibly careful to ensure the riddle at the heart of this set of tales has enough clues for someone who’s paying attention to actually solve, but not have it be obvious. I also have in mind the notion that anyone choosing to read through a second time once they know the riddle’s solution would be rewarded in a meaningful way. And I want that solution to be important. I’m intrigued by tapping into the power of how fiction works in our minds to take a targeted shot at making an impact on the reader’s life.

No pressure, right?

So the idea, much like you do with your life, is to turn and shake the daily grind till the time to finish this project falls out of its pockets. Time…a quirky and unpredictable beast, that one.

Wish me luck. See you on the other side.

 

 

 

 

Introducing: The Tomb Trappers

Trap on door

If you’ve ever been entertained by tales of a daring adventurer dodging terrible traps and solving rune-based puzzles to avoid being impaled by spring-loaded spears, then you’ve probably wondered at some point…

Just who designed and installed all these traps, anyway?!

In the Salt Mystic worlds, there is an entire class of devious engineer called the Tomb Trapper. You can always recognize them by the worn leather trapmaster bag they carry.

Tomb Trapper Laughing

You don’t buy a trapmaster bag; and anyone caught having stolen one is quickly found in glowing ash piles once word gets out. Inside that bag are wonders, no doubt: computronium sensors and morphium canisters that spring to programmable shapes, intelligent stonewisps downloadable into the very masonry of an ancient wall capable of generating riddles…

But the true genius of a Tomb Trapper lies in what they learned deep in the labyrinth city below the Yagrada River. That’s where the Tomb Trapper guild once kept a gloriously malicious school of trapmasters, and its deadly proving ground.

brian-bennudriti-fargo-tomb-trapper

Anyone carrying that bag studied under the most twisted minds who’ve ever built explosive-dusted halls or wound rune-covered clocks or poured oil into flaming statues. They were a wicked, but torturous geniuses, those shadow-haunting monks of the labyrinth city. Anyone carrying that bag not only studied under such people, but also won the labyrinth they built.

To be clear, one didn’t win the labyrinth by escaping or just by sealing away all of your opponents also seeking to graduate. Yes, you had to do those things. It just wasn’t enough. You had to trap one of the guild monks as well.

In fact, that’s the irony of the dead labyrinth city now that it’s abandoned and full of cobwebs and echoes.

They had some excellent students.

Tomb Trapper Cypress

(c) Brian Bennudriti

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe

Learn more about Salt Mystic here.