Queen For A Day: A DramaSystem Session

“The difference between you and me is I want to be the guy, and you want to be the guy the guy counts on” – The West Wing

Despite contributing to the immense Hillfolk kickstarter (by setting appears in Blood on the Snow, the companion volume), I have never had a chance to play the Drama System contained within – until last weekend. Even better, it was with five amazing players and a brilliant, unexpected set up: instead of a setting, we were given the lyrics of all the songs off Queen II, an amazing concept album of fairies, ogres, white and black queens and the seven seas of Rhye. With that as our palette, we painted.

I took the role of The Master Marathon, and decided that I wanted to be a character who had what everyone wanted – or wished he did. I decided he was the keeper of the power of Endurance, that all who wished to Suffer And Go On owed homage to him. Another player crafted Mother Mercury, also an elemental power, but in charge of hot and cold, now lost in an endless winter from which she seemed unable – or unwilling – to awaken, despite her need to be rekindled. We soon learned she was the ex-lover of the Fairy King, ruler of all the lands of fairy, but weary of his throne and eager for his son to replace thim. That sond was Sir Tristram, a young prince called the Killer of Queens. He was cursed to love the White Queen while the prophecy spoke that if he married her, she would die. Last was General Grimtooth, the King’s trusted long-serving general, also keen to retire so he can spend time with his grandchildren. King and General and Mother and Son, all waiting, all wanting things to finish forever, or start at last, but stuck in time until then, and Master Marathon keen to sell them suffering so they needed him more…

Convention Rules for DramaSystem involves setting up each character via introductory scenes where they ask another character for what they want from them. We began with General Grimtooth asking the King if Grimtooth could train his successor. Grimtooth’s player asked if the King had a name, and someone – doing that fantastic ingame improv worldbuilding that works so well – said “If you knew his name, you wouldn’t have to ask for freedom”. Boom, world creation. The King, by the way, said, in his usual wishy-washyness that it was okay but there had to be contest first to make sure Longfang was the best choice.

On the verandah of the King’s hut, styled not unlike a viking longhouse – Master Marathon begged Mother Mercury to make winter go on forever, for cold men need endurance. She said maybe, if there were other ways to awaken her senses – and what she meant was a rekindled love from her once-husband, the King, but though she begged by the frozen stream’s side, he could not give it. Meanwhile the King begged his son to either marry his love or cut her loose, so he could take the throne unhampered, but Sir Tristram refused, not while the curse hung over him and the Black Queen was still at large, plotting. He went to Grimtooth’s cave to ask the ogre for an army to crush the Black Queen, but Grimtooth refused.

Generally, as is the way of DramaSystem, everyone was being a dick.

DramaChar

Master Marathon, a god who just wants you to want him and needs you to need him

The GM lit the fuse by announcing the Black Queen was coming to seek alliance and continue the ongoing peace, and in the King’s ear she whispered that this would be best sealed by her marrying Sir Tristram his son. Looking down on the two royals meeting in the throne room, Master Marathon whispered to Sir Tristram that what instead was being said was the words of lovers, and Sir Tristram should urge his father to love the Black Queen freely. On the other balcony, knowing the King would visit the Black Queen to cement the peace, Grimtooth demanded Mother Mercury – for her own safety – be his spy within the Queen’s Obsidian Castle. She agreed, fearing too that the Queen would steal her King. To guard against that, she begged the King to let her accompany him in his private pegasus-drawn carriage on the journey, but he said propriety would be violated. And since he was now committed to affairs of state, seeing in their settlement a way out of his eternal agony, he summoned Sir Tristam and told him once and for all to choose the Black Queen or the White Queen, or no longer be his son. Tristam promised to choose by sundown tomorrow.

Huffy and annoyed, Mother Mercury and Sir Tristram made plans to ally against the Black Queen. Mother Mercury then found herself summoned by the White Queen, who begged Mercury for her Winter Touch to end the love Sir Tristram has for her. She had already asked Master Marathon for a gift of strength to lend Sir Tristram which he gleefully gave (for Master Marathon wished Sir Tristram to be slain by the Black Queen, causing his father to be heirless and be forced to go on forever enduring). Sir Tristram, having pledged to choose Black or White needed to ensure he would, if he wed his White Queen, not take her life, so the next morn as the procession of pegasi flew to the Obsidian Castle, he ordered Grimtooth to promise one act of total obedience when called upon. Grimtooth promised his obedience, but bristled at the order.

Seeing his bristling, I (Marathon) suggests that to protect a king’s life, it is no treason to kill a prince. Grimtooth is not at all happy about that, either. Scurrying for protection I decide to ride by the King, who orders me that, when instructed, I pass his Immortal Heart to his son. Pretty sure that the prince will be dead soon I promise to do so. Grimtooth leaves the travelling party and seeks out Longclaw, his best soldier, and orders her, if he moves to strike his masters, to stop him any way she can.  Longclaw knows the only way to stop Grimtooth is with the Sea of Winter, one of the Seven Seas of Rhye, held deep beneath Two-Way Mirror Mountain, and he sends out the Blue Powder Monkeys to find it.

Having reached the Obsidian Castle, Sir Tristram walks the gardens in his grief for his terrible choice – marry the queen he loves and be sure to kill her with his hand, or marry the queen he does not and kill his love with a broken heart. But the White Queen appears and tells him his pain will end if he kisses her. He refuses, even though she says he does not love her if he denies her. Then Mother Mercury joins the party and tells her step-son to kiss for his stepmother, if not for his love.  Forced to it, he kisses his love and Mercury’s spell cools his ardour. Cut to him in his father’s guest chambers in the Obsidian Castle: “I will marry Black” he swears.

Night falls and the silver moon makes the Obsidian Castle shine with black light. I find Longclaw on the parapets awaiting word of her Blue Powder Monkeys but the truth is, I tell her, that I possess the Sea of Winter. Marathon launches into a big thing about how Longclaw will dance for him but Longclaw is a soldier and just beats up Marathon and takes the chalice. Marathon however is not without back up plans, and in the Throne Room that evening he demands either Fairy King or Black Queen deliver justice against uppity ogres who dare assault his regnant person. Sir Tristram gives his Black Queen a proposal gift of Longclaw’s head, after taking it from Longclaw’s shoulders. The Black Queen accepts. Grimtooth grimaces in agony for Longclaw was his daughter

Grimtooth now begs his King for release so he can turn on Sir Tristram. I point out that Grimtooth has no successor now and her soldiers are unruly savages who attack their betters, so the King cannot let his servant free. Grimtooth loses his shit at the traitor Marathon and begins beating the living hell out of him. The King begs us to stop and I see my moment and tell Sir Tristram that Grimtooth will never be his obedient servant when he is so wild and urge Sir Tristram to establish his new kingly reign with proper justice. Sir Tristram challenges Grimtooth to a duel – and uses his promised favour from earlier to force Grimtooth to comply.

But Sir Tristram wonders if the bloodshed is too much and hesitates in battle. Grimtooth smashes the young prince’s sword and mortally wounds him. Seeing his son dying, the King orders me to transfer his Immortal Heart into his son, and I must obey. I lose the chance for the King to go on enduring, but perhaps the now scarred, dark, immortal Prince Tristram will need aid in his endurance. Determined never to harm a Queen with his hand, and shocked at his murderous ways, Prince Tristram adds to his stigmata by ordering Grimtooth take his victory prize by severing Prince Tristrams hands. Grimtooth obeys, but having harmed his prince, ignored his king and lost his daughter, Grimtooth then cuts off his own head.

In a lake of blood, the lack-handed but immortal Sir Tristram marries the smiling Black Queen, free of his curse but shrouded in blood and darkness, and with Master Marathon as his mentor.

But not all is sadness. Freed of his Immortal Heart, the King’s heart of flesh beats anew. And he leaves the Obsidian Castle arm in arm with his old love Mother Mercury, leaving the responsibilities of immortality and reigning behind to love her again. Mother Mercury is reborn, the snows break, and winter ends. What then, of the summer to come?

Perhaps that tale will be told elsewhere.

 

Little Bit Of Smallville Chargen

I do love chargen: you start with a blank page and you end with a story. Or in this case, several intersecting stories. Our setting idea was some sort of grand shadow-government alien-fighting conspiracy. Like the kind of people investigating the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Top Men are working on it. TOP MEN

The Cells Episode Two: Drink To Remember

“I just bring you ideas. I leave the execution to you.”  Agent Quiver

The Citadel at night. A sepia tone tells us it is the past. Young Zak and Umbrito are boosting rundown tenements. A siren rings out and the two burst out of the door of their target. As they run, Umbrito yells “If Mok ever finds out this was you, you’re dead”

Roll credits.

The same street, maybe, but the time is now. A spirit of Carnivale lingers on the streets of the Ditchers, still recovering from the Band-Aid-esque event. “What’s Up, Ditchers” t-shirts wave in the wind – and the face on them is Zak, who walks the crowd with his white suit and his bodyguards. Zak is spreading good will and food tokens, a new system to try and curb the abuses of food banks, and Zak is the perfect face to hand them out to ditchers. But then there’s Umbrito and Joanne on his arm. They embrace and Umbrito says they should go catch up. Zak throws his remaining food tokens into the air and ditches his security in the fracas – the party boy is still here.

Back at Central, it’s also a bleary early morning. Hal and Kate sit in the dining room, having Awkward Pauses for breakfast. If their marriage wasn’t perfect before the war, and before the cells, it’s gone into a kind of shock now. Kate directs the conversation onto the suffering of the city, and how, although Hal has done some good work so far, a city has to do more than just survive but thrive, as Pavani had said at the press conference (before rushing off to find her girlfriend, or something – quick cut to Pavani finding an empty room and a left note). Hal takes this as a personal slight, and decides Kate is suggesting he resign. He ponders a sense of fated failure and stares at the bottle of bourbon on the kitchenette shelf.

Close up on the bottle, now with less in it. Reverse to show sitting opposite is now Quiver, in Hal’s seat (ahem) talking to Kate. Quiver is trying to deal with the PR SNAFU that Hal retiring would cause and asks her if she can change his mind, because their secret could push him over the edge. Kate demands he stop thinking about PR for once in his life and give a damn about her, about their future, and until he does, she will be elsewhere. After she leaves, Quiver slams his palm down on the table and the glasses clink. It’s the first time we’ve seem him anything but worried or oleaginous.

The glasses clinking mixes over to the same at Zak’s impromptu party, which has turned from a reunion of old friends into a warehouse festival. Zak is the returned hero, festooned with women and flunkies. The 37s – as they are known – are flying high: their favourite son is running the city, and there’s talk of them being deputized like other gangs to help with keeping order. On the other hand, this doesn’t look like a very upstanding gangland. There’s an extra roughness to it. We pivot from a 37 tattoo to the same sign spray-painted onto a house perhaps not far away, where Knight-Father Paige is leading a new Citadel Police Force in dealing with gang activity. The dialogue indicates that there’s been a rash of murders turning up in the Ditch and the 37s are believed responsible. Paige dismisses his crew saying he’s going home, looking at a house at the end of the street.

Back at the party, the big black cars pull up and Quiver enters, uncomfortable and unable to hide his anger as he jostles through the crowd. He tries to be polite and get Zak to cut things short before the press turn up but Zak can’t go against the flow of so much belonging. Quiver snaps and tells Zak he’s being a child and he’s sick of cleaning up after a spoiled brat. Zak gives him a push to suggest he calm down and Quiver pushes back. Zak falls off his seat and Zak’s crew respond by jumping Quiver and beating him down. Zak stumbles up, looks at the situation, and decides to go with the flow and let Quiver suffer, suggesting the gang go hoist him up a flagpole. Umbrito smiles and tells Zak to follow him. Zak grabs a drink and does so, only to be jumped from behind and thrown into a car boot.

The thump of the boot matches to the thump of the door of Paige’s house closing behind him. The house is domestic and tidy. Polished. To the point of being unlived in. The pictures on the wall show a family – Roland and his husband Alex and their daughter Joanna growing up together. Then Alex’s ashes. We follow Paige through the kitchen where he grabs a bottle of bourbon into the bedroom where he sits and drinks and pulls a picture from the nightstand and starts to talk to Alex in a broken voice.

From the quiet to sudden noise: a room full of movement and noise. Computers churn, printers bubble and data is mined. The extent of cameras and maps reveals the true extent of which the city is under surveillance. And being given a guided tour of Central Data is Lazarus Moore, who has spent the last few days finding this place, a place kept secret from the five by the General. Who sits amongst it and succeeds mostly in hiding his displeasure of seeing Lazarus. The two trade barbs. Lazarus reveals he is decades older than he appears but the General is not cowed by this and buries Lazarus in pointless data, leaving him to slip off and be briefed about the mysterious vial.

Zak’s kidnapping ends at a danker, nastier, more crime-purposed warehouse and he is dumped in front of Mok, a more tattooed and more pierced 37er than we’ve yet seen. He accuses Zak of killing his brother, but Zak says he loved Mok’s brother much more than he ever gave a damn about Mok, and suggests that Umbrito did the hit because Joanna also loved Mok’s brother. Umbrito spits daggers at Zak but Zak sells it – when his life is on the line, Zak will sell out his old friend to save himself. The gunhands turn their attention to Umbrito and a haunted-looking Zak slips away.

Meanwhile a haunted Hal drinks in a seedy bar – the seediest bar closest to Central, anyway. He finds a one-armed veteran to talk to and tries to reconnect with the city and its people, but they get stuck in the same veteran’s loop of being able to do nothing but share war stories.

Back to Zak, he runs into the street to find Lazarus in a Big Black Car waiting for him. Zak seems changed, subdued now his old life could get him killed. He apologises and confesses to Lazarus, who is playing the confessor and mentor. Zak directs the car to retrieve a bound and gagged with tape Quiver, who is being hoisted by a crowd. Zak tries to connect as the ganger of old but the wind has gone out of his sails and – on Laz’ advice – sends in the government goons to clear them out instead. Desperate for new friends in his guilt, Zak becomes the government man.

Back at the house, Roland hears someone enter and draws his gun reflexively – but it is Joanna and Umbrito, on the run and arguing. Roland dismisses Umbrito and has a big old shouting match with his daughter. He’s trying to make it what it was, but to Joanna it was broken then anyway, because she got the parent she didn’t like raising her and the one she did absent, and it certainly can’t go back now anyway. Roland accuses her of forgetting her values, her religion, her upbringing, and that of course, is her point too: she’s a different person than he wants her to be. She leaves, with no sense she will return.

Back at Central, Lazarus pours Quiver a drink as the nurse finishes his stitches. Lazarus is curious as to why Quiver is tense and offers himself to hear a confession. Quiver tries to hedge around the details but then it all comes out, the truth about him and Kate. And in the end, Lazarus offers no help or absolution, just enjoys the new information. Quiver storms off and runs into Zak. There is a soulful apology and reconnection. Zak says he’s ready to play ball. Quiver says he’s on Zak’s side, that’s his whole job. Zak says there’s a man called Mok who has taken over the 37s and needs to be stopped. Quiver says that revenge by the ex-bad boy looks bad, but suppression by the saintly soldier Roland looks good. Quiver assures Zak that the best story of all is a redemption story, about people who have done bad things but are more than their sins. He’s not talking about Zak.

Lazarus provides – somehow – a lock on Mok’s location. Quiver takes his idea to the bar where Roland has joined Hal to drink. Hal says it has to be done by the book, with a trial. Quiver says “We will make sure we have all the evidence we need” because Quiver loves double meanings. Roland likes it, he wants order. The decision is made. Quickly we cut back to Lazarus working angles, and meeting with the Cardinal (who gets a first name now, Erasmus) – he’s found out the General’s secret. We cut to the General recruiting someone explaining he has a special demolitions job for him.

Back to the operation, which is shot in parallel with Quiver performing another insurgency: a romantic dinner and seduction of Kate. A search light flashes on, and Quiver lights a candle. Roland and others point at maps, Quiver sets the table. Roland gives the “go” signal, Quiver presents dinner with a flourish. SWAT teams move in, one places a finger on his lips, and Kate does the same to Quiver. A 37 goon guard is taken out with an arm around his neck pressure hold, as Quiver moves his arm around Kate from behind. They cut the lights on the gangsters, and Quiver flicks off the light. A gangster gasps as a shot takes him in the chest, and Kate gasps for different reasons. And then an interlude.

Later, Zak stands outside the jail as the perps are led in in cuffs. Zak has moderated his rebellious white suit with an official flak jacket. Mok is the last to walk in, and the two lock eyes and stare. Back at Central, Hal pushes open the door and locks eyes with the man in his wife’s bed.

Roll credits. Zak’s theme here is Sabotage.

Next time on The Cells:

  • Quiver blinded by the flashbulbs of the press, raising his hand in defense.
  • Behind a chain fence, a protest reminiscent of Occupy shouts and marches. A reporter is heard saying “Jason King has galvanized the ditcher community”
  • Quiver arguing with Mr Grey. “Dammit, these are good people.”
  • Zak strutting in Central, in a grey suit, looking at home with power. He comes into his room to find a woman holding a baby and his jaw drops.
  • Mok threatening Joanna across a prison meeting table. “This goes further than you know” he says.
  • A building explodes in fire.
  • Livinia standing at a grave. She says “I’m still going to go through with it”
  • The General stands in a hospital room. “I might have found a way”

The Cells Part One: Starting Our New Prime Time Adventures Game

So I’m back in the player-saddle for a campaign and it’s time to talk about it here. We’re using the clever (and even better mechanically now in 3rd edition) Prime Time Adventures, an RPG which emulates television shows mostly with a mechanic that focuses everything on “screen time”. If it’s an episode about you, you get to do more. If you’re peripheral you get to do less. Simple and elegant.

The nature of the series though is left open, and our GM has taken an interesting approach to that, above and beyond what the rules suggest. As a result, we’re playing a game with more player input in setting than I’ve ever done, and a setting so obtruse it has an almost anime feel. Also, the process we took to get there has been as interesting as the game itself, so I’m going to record that process as well.

Our GM started by asking us to name one or two stories we enjoy. The focus was on television, or comics because they are also very similar serial media, but could be anything. The list we generated was quite awesome, and I kept it for homework to watch and read all the things on it that I hadn’t yet. The list:

  • Locke and Key (Comic)
  • Ergo Proxy (Anime series)
  • Shade the Changing Man (Comic)
  • I, Claudius (TV show)
  • Rome (TV show)
  • Blake’s 7 (TV show)
  • Firefly (TV show)
  • Saga (Comic)
  • Rat Queens (Comic)
  • Desperate Housewives (TV show)
  • Pleasantville (Film)
  • Dark City (Film)
  • The Americans (TV show)
  • Black Sails (TV show)
  • Vikings (TV show)
  • The Prince (Book)
  • Interstellar (Film)

We also talked about what particularly we liked about these shows, and we developed some key themes that kept coming up over and over again in this discussion, such as:

  • Power of families and cultures effecting individuals
  • Multiple viewpoints on agendas and missions and duty
  • The mundane, human elements brought to the central focus of fantastical or cinematic stories
  • The normal, small, everyday and human becomes critical to larger, epic, superhuman stories
  • The facade and pretence of cultures and environments, which can even extend to brainwashing or near-as
  • Facades to the point of false memories and unreliable narrators, creating great mystery
  • People being caught between two worlds, or travelling from one into another, returning to their home

With that list of seven things (for six players and one GM), the GM asked us each to write one sentence. Not quite a pitch, he didn’t want us to be that specific, but just an idea to explore. Our sentences were

  • With the last chance of humanity in their hands, every decision has the weight of history
  • An OId West town with divided power is thrown into greater turmoil after the discovery of an alien artifact
  • A boy-band is about more than just fame when they are all metahumans
  • Civil servants must maintain the facade under mad or absent masters
  • Teenagers are forced to carve their own path when their parents or mentors vanish
  • After peace is declared, opposite sides must work together to preserve it at all costs
  • People are randomly paired up and forced to share a cell for a year to experience other viewpoints

What happened next was a strange discussion where we tried to jam as many of the ideas together to create an idea. The last idea really captured people’s imaginations, and we were able to combine it with the peace and the weight of history and the civil servants and the lost mentors. The Old West and the Boy Bands fell, but we kept the idea of spooky aliens and metahuman powers. We decided on a political thriller show, not unlike Kings or Homeland – mysteries, intrigue and human foibles in the face of holding humanity together – but in a world very different and very confusing, which makes me think of anime but then there’s stuff like Orphan Black too.

We decided to call it THE CELLS. I went away and made this picture to sum it up. The GM went away and came up with our pitch:

The war ended in a flash of white light. That much we’re sure of.

There was a flash of white light and then everyone on Earth lost a day of their memory. And when they came to, they stopped fighting. They had to. Most every weapon of war in the field had melted. Every piece of body armour had burnt free of its wearer. Every drone and war jet had crashed. There was fire everywhere; the casualties were astronomical.

Some places were luckier than others. Some people fought the fires, even though they have no memory of doing so. Some saved important supplies and infrastructure though they have no memory of doing so. Some pulled wounded soldiers from burning tanks though they have no memory of doing so. Some were heroes though they have no memory of being so.

Then the word came down from Global (the Global Alliance High Command but no one calls it that). There would be no more war or the white event would happen again. The remaining military would enforce order for a period of one year.

During that year, those who wished to contribute to the running of their city-state were required to submit to a year of defactionalisation, spending the year in confinement with members of competing ideologies. From this pool of willing prisoners would emerge a new generation of leaders into a world without war. Or else.

The willing from the Cells.

Smallville: The Exciting Conclusion!!

 

Darkness. Then, snow. A blizzard, eternal. This is The Cold. Where the Rimeblood rule. Ankar, Lady of Order, mother of the first peoples, makes a deal with someone unseen. Later, Zyz questions her judgement, but she says to trust her. She will see it through, because she wishes to have more children, and would not see them devoured as the Rimeblood ate her first children. But Zyz wonders, what could Ankar possibly give Ulyuq in return for him agreeing to free the world from Cold? Ankar stares into the sky knowingly. An aurora shimmers…in the sky….

CREDITS! 
PANTHEON: SERIES ONE, EPISODE SEVEN: AVALANCHE

Fade up on a desolate battlefield, thick with slaughtered dead. The carnage was terrible. The tracks of impossible beasts walk through it, into the distance – where their howls and feeding can still be heard. Inikaya, messenger of the gods, takes it all in. For this, ultimately, is mortal slaughter, and Gods are busy elsewhere….

Not far away, Korak, Ix and Smith are where we left them. Ix collapsed on his knees, downcast. Korak fuming, unable to speak. Smith victorious. Korak orders his brother to leave because he cannot stand to look at him. Smith objects, because he wants Ix to deal with the consequences for once. Ix sulks but will not leave for now. So Korak says, fine, wait here for justice.

At the Pit: Aristeia and Always both try to protect the other, which sums up their whole relationship – both sees the other as the little sister. Always, more and more sure of herself as Adelos, wins. But the world reacts. A frost runs across the earth,  and every flying thing feels Aristeia’s fear, and rushes to the pit. But Ulyuq is no wild beast, but always the bargainer. He is conciliatory, demuring.

Feeling the fear of the Sky, the boys realise something is up. Smith sends Inikaya to get Zyz from Toleken, the underworld, and Smith leaves to get Dorabus. Korak and Ix look at each other, remembering that moment last ep when they recalled past alliances. They both run to the pit. Ix, faster, wilder, gets there first.

Snow falls across the edge of the Pit. Ix moves to rescue Aristeia, but finds Anehute blocking him. Ix realises Anehute has gone off the reservation. Smith and Dorabus arrive and Smith starts telling everyone how he so knew this was going to happen. Always tells him to sit down and be quiet, and for once, he does. Korak arrives next and he and Ulyuq swap barbs about the last time they battled. Ulyuq says he is just here to talk  – to talk to Always.

Always says okay, everyone else clear out. Smith pretends to. Ix, trusting in his instincts, grabs Aristeia and runs. Korak refuses to budge and the two have a massive awesome domestic about who is in charge. Korak, as God of War, believes this is his domain, and she should respect that. He wins, but Always stays to help. A concession that only this new, wiser Korak could have made.  Ulyuq explains he is here to talk business: if Always or the Five is to become a new Balance, then Cold belongs within it, it is part of that nature.

Always leads the accusations against Anehute, but the mortal says he has only freed a few beasts and Ulyuq cannot leave. He thinks he’s a genius. Smith disagrees. Anehute says he’s better than Smith because he will become a God and wed a mortal without going through all those hoops and all he had to do was borrow some of Ulyuq’s strength. Always wonders if she could take some of Ulyuq’s strength herself. She is tempted by Ulyuq’s offer perhaps. Smith reminds her – as he knows so well – that it’s not about strength, but manipulation. Leverage. Ulyuq is up to something – but Smith has a plan….Korak says he’s going to get his armies to finish this, so keep him busy.

Meanwhile Ix thinks the only safe place for Aristeia is to go below, to Toleken. She agrees but will only go if Teyamaq accompanies her. The three go below – and with the sky and the moon gone, the whole world plunges into a solar eclipse.

Always thanks Smith for his council and tells Ulyuq neither she, the gods nor the world needs him any more. He is of the old world and does not belong. Ulyuq aquiesces but says he has another matter to discuss – he wants his property back. You see long ago, he was given the Sky in exchange for a truce, and then the Sky was taken from him by force, which hardly seems fair, does it? Always, shocked, runs to Ankar and Rokan to confront them about this revelation. Smith left behind at the Pit decides to work out Ulyuq’s game, using all his cunning.

In Toleken, Ix tells his father that the gig is up, and he is here to do a swap. He will take Zyz’s punishment and stay in Toleken, and Zyz can be free. Zyz says that firstly, it doesn’t matter if the gig is up, he’ll still take the punishment for his son’s sake, and anyway, nothing matters until Rokan forgives him – it is the anger of his brother Rokan that Zyz needs to see rescinded before he will leave. Ix nods and leaves. Aristeia, worried, follows.

Always tries to ask Rokan and Ankar about their daughter but doesn’t get far before Ix, mad with rage and furious speed, storms in. He confesses to Rokan and demands he release Zyz. Rokan refuses to believe it, and says it doesn’t matter anyway, Zyz is still a betrayer. Ix nods and moves on, he didn’t expect much else and already has another solution. He says Smith was right – we can’t move forward because we come from something broken. After he leaves, Aristeia arrives and begs for mercy for Zyz. At the tears of his oldest daughter Rokan relents – he will speak to Zyz and soften his heart. And so Aristeia runs after Ix, back to the Pit. Always, finally, can talk to her parents about everything – about Ulyuq, which really matters, about the deal. Ankar says she’ll talk to Ulyuq and Always says no, tell me NOW. Ankar and Rokan are taken aback.

“You raised me to lead,” she says, “Now WATCH ME”. Ankar smiles, and congratulates the new queen. But warns her, there is always a price to leading….

At the Pit, Korak arrives with his armies. Smith says he did everything he could to make Ulyuq leave and he didn’t so the big guy must be stuck – whatever he gave to Anehute has made him too weak to leave. No doubt Ulyuq is waiting for Korak or Ix to kill Anehute for his rebellion leaving Ulyuq free. Korak smiles and advances and demands Ulyuq return to the Pit. Ulyuq says he will leave when he has his property.  Ix arrives, storms to the edge of the Pit – but isn’t here to see Ulyuq, but his brother.

Ix demands of his brother: “Do you care about Rokan’s justice, or do you want to forge a new one?” Korak says he will forge a new one. Ix demands what that rule will be like  – has he sinned? Does he need to be punished? Korak says absolutely. Smith says no, dammit, no more punishment, but fixing things, dammit. The boys argue.

Back at the Rokan and Ankra’s yurt, Ankar confesses: that she gave Aristeia to the Rimeblood in exchange for ending the endless winter. Rokan can’t believe it. Always pauses, ruminates, and accepts it. It’s in the past, it’s something of Ankar, and, as she says: “You don’t matter any more”. Ankar smiles, her girl has come of age.  She takes off her crown and passes it to her daughter. Meanwhile, it finally hits home to Rokan what his wife did to his daughter. He bellows with rage and goes to strike his wife – but hits his daughter by mistake! Always brushes it off and reminds the feuding couple that they were once brought together by love, founded by love, built Always on love, and now Ulyuq threatens that love, and so do you. Rokan doesn’t listen. He shatters the balance and storms off. Always says “How do I fix this?” Ankar replies that she doesn’t know.

Ix says if he is to be punished, then let him be punished. He kneels. Is he waiting for Korak to kill him…or is he going to offer himself to Ulyuq in his cousin’s place? He looks into the Pit. But then Aristeia runs in and tells Ix to stop. But before she goes any further, Anehute grabs her and tells her she will be his now. Ix nods, thinking that might be right when he’s gone. But Aristeia screams no and pushes Anehute away. He falls into the Pit screaming as he dies. The cold of his heart flows back into Ulyuq. Always, now assured and wearing a new mask, built from her mothers and hers, showing her as now the Balance in full, runs and runs to the Pit. But Ulyuq rises and rises. Ix knows he only has one chance and leaps at Ulyuq. Suddenly Korak realises his brother could die and leaps to save him – too late. Always arrives too late.  Aristeia yells for Ix. And Ix locks his arms around Ulyuq’s throat, and Ulyuq’s claws begin to tear the God apart. But it’s Ix’s Pit. Always has been. He can open it and he can close it – forever, if need be.

The mountain explodes, the earth shakes, the rocks fall, the avalanche rains down…and the Pit is filled and Ulyuq is gone.

We pull back slowly. The eclipse ends. Aristeia weeps and rain comes down for her. Always wants to comfort her, but she cannot, for she is no longer love. Smith reminds them they must tend to the wild beasts. Always says “yes, we must remember our duty.” Korak nods “As my brother remembered his.”

The music comes up. Montage. Dead Can Dance’s “Fortune Presents Gifts Not According to The Book” plays as we see each of the four reacting. Smith walks the earth, aching for the dead mortals. He sees the corpse of a carpenter, hammer still in hand.

Korak sits in the throne at the Brass Palace, brooding, remembering.

The church of Always and the church of Zyz reconcile, now that Zyz has been redeemed, the gravediggers are part of the church once more.  Yeqawah also dons a new mask.

On the hills of a dying, denuded forest, recovering from cold, starving wolves howl.

Teyamaq carries the weeping Aristeia back home to the sky.  And the credits roll over total silence.

 

THE END.

 

Sting: Deep amongst the crevices and tunnels, Smith goes spelunking….looking for bodies…

 

Smallville Pantheon Episode Six

As we go into the two-parter finale, we recap the entire series:

 

Ankar and Rokan announce their resignation
Ankar tells Ix that she wants Always to rule alone
Ix and Smith in the Brass Palace, agreeing on dethroning mighty Korak
Always conceiving her experiment
Always and Korak, now mortal, fighting amongst the humans
Korak saves Always from the Ixola
Ix and Smith becoming enemies over the Ixola issue
Yeqawah is betrayed – and then takes her revenge
Smith talking to Lika about the past
Smith freeing Dorabus from his chains
Lika lets it slip to Smith that she knows more about Ix’s crime
Ix and Korak at the edge of the Pit – Ix tries to open it and Korak stops him
Ix and Korak in the underworld arguing with Zyz
Ix and Korak in the Forest, and Korak is swallowed up by the earth
Back at the Palace, Korak is tended by handmaidens
Always summons Kiate, Maiden of Dreams and tells her to watch over Korak
Smith telling Korak he is impressed by him, now realises Ix is more dangerous
Ix, alone in his Tree that Reaches The Sky, sees Aristeia and Anehute together
Aristeia promises Anehute she will be his, if he prove worthy. Anehute makes a decision….

 

Blackness.
A roaring wind. Fade into a corridor of ice – track through to Aristeia’s prison. Teyamaq, smallest of the Rimeblood, pleads for mercy for Aristeia, but Ulyuq, greatest of the Rimeblood, pushes past him. In her cell, a tear rolls down Aristeia’s cheek as the monstrous Kalakaq touches her. Ulyuq tells her there is no reason for them to be enemies because soon Cold will rule everything anyway. Now that Cold owns the Sky itself, Cold is invincible and will always win. At that, Aristeia’s tears stop, her eyes go dead and her jaw clenches into pure defiance…

 

CREDITS!

 

PANTHEON: SERIES ONE, EPISODE SIX: DRIVEN SNOW

 

Back to Skoh’s camp. A cold morning. Frost in the air. Then suddenly three-headed leopards leap onto the scene and devour men before they can even stir. Bloodshed and screams.

 

In Godhome, Always takes her morning bath in the Brass Palace. When Korak awakes, she tells him it is time for him, at last, to know her true name: ADELOS, and see the face under her mask. Unfortunately this only leads to more awkward conversation about what next. Always wants to leave but Korak doesn’t like the feel of that. She returns to his bed – but puts her mask back on.

 

In the Sky, Teyamaq tells Aristeia that she should not make promises to Anehute for he is a mortal and they are always trouble. Aristeia tells him she didn’t ask his opinion, and storms off. Unseen then, on the world, the beasts’ numbers swell, as Jends and Gashens swoop down and swallow men whole. Suddenly the earth itself erupts and swallows hundreds of beasts. Rock shards strike through leather hides and slash jaguar-throats. Ivy curls and swallows around ravening claws. In the centre is Anehute, glowing with power. “Your lord of war may have abandoned you,” he yells to Skoh’s army, “but I am here!”

 

After all, only a God can woo a Goddess….COMMERCIAL BREAK!

 

Not everyone is missing the show. One of the men who does not cheer for Anehute’s rescue slips away, takes off his helmet and reveals himself to be Smith. Smith runs to the Palace and breaks up the second round of fun between the paramours, telling Korak at the Effluent has Hit the Turbines. Korak sees that Ix’s servant, Anehute, has been lax in guarding the Pit and sets out not just to kill beasts but to remind Ix’s servant what duty means.

 

Always does the same, running to the Forest to school Ix on being sooo crazy. Ix says he stands against Korak for her, because – as pointed out in the last ep, before Korak arrived – she deserves to be queen. He calls her foolish for not taking the throne and getting caught up with bad blood. She tells him that Ix has Korak wrong, and now she has come to love the God of War and the match is good. At those words, Ix snaps and grabs her, shaking her with fury till she comes to her senses and stops saying stupid things like that she loves Korak. Always does what she does best – be unshaken, and much as in the first episode, reduces Ix to a shadow, mewling at her feet. She tells him she will marry Korak and Ix can just shove it, because why is it such a big deal anyway that she rule alone? Ix bursts out, broken, that she has to be queen because otherwise there will be nobody to protect him from Korak. Deep down, Ix is terrified of his big brother wiping out forever. Always says she will broker peace between the two, if Ix follows her lead.

 

Smith now goes to Lika and puts the hard word on her – time for the truth to come out. Lika says she will only tell in front of both her brothers. Smith says fine and heads towards the battlefield. In the Sky, Teyamaq alerts Aristeia to the carnage below, and they both head down. At the battle, Korak manifests in a crack of thunder and an exploding Targrur Horde.

 

Anehute tells the people that Korak abandoned them and even late, is not better than nothing. Korak says shut up, puny mortal, or I’ll kill you next, since it seems your master won’t discipline you. Ix arrives in time to hear this and tenses up at the insult but Always keeps him from exploding with rage.  Korak and Ix begin to face off, so Always – ever practical, decides Anehute is the problem and moves to take him down. Attacked on two sides, Ix responds instinctively and knocks Always to the ground with a savage blow.

 

COMMERCIAL

 

Meanwhile, Smith and Dorabus have arrived. Smith, seeing there’s a lot of arguing and not enough killing, teaches Dorabus how to yoke a beast with his own chains, thus inventing the chariot. With a targrur yoked, Dorabus begins to unite the people in a defensive line and resist the beasts.  From now on, Dorabus gains a sense of the god of strength and endurance.

 

Meanwhile Always gets up and says she’s not going to protect Ix if he can’t control himself and since Korak won’t deal with the actual problem, suggests they’re both as bad as each other. For half a second, Ix and Korak find themselves on equal footing and familiar ground – the last time they were friends was when they drove the beasts into the Pit when the world was young. They begin fighting, remembering that old friendship when suddenly – Lika runs up and says she has to end the lies. Ix begs Lika to be silent but the others demand she talk.

 

Meanwhile, Always and Aristeia are at the Pit trying to identify why the beasts escaped. Always, Goddess of Love, asks Aristeia about her new pledge to marry Anehute. Aristeia, still basically the infant captured by Ulyuq, is just marrying because Anehute seems worthy of it. Always, from experience now, tells her older sister she should marry for love. Aristeia doesn’t know what love is. At this point this conversation and the one with Lika begin cutting back and forth every two sentences. It’s awesome but hard to translate.

 

Lika reveals the truth. Smith nods, it is as he said  – the balance has always been broken, and emulating it in any way with the Five would be insane. Ix confesses, and says he did it because he was jealous, for his brother had everything, all the glories, and he had nothing. Korak says he got those glories because he deserved them. Ix says doesn’t he deserve something? Korak says it’s not about deserve, you took something that was not yours to take. Ix says “Yes, I learnt that from you.”

 

Always explains love to Aristeia. Aristeia nods and says that sounds like what Anehute said. Always, knower of hearts, decides to see what lies in Anehute’s heart. She looks inside him and sees nothing but ice. Pure capital-I Ice. Now she knows why Anehute is more powerful than he should be, where he got the power to be like a God. He must have taken it from something as powerful as a God, or more. But all the Rimeblood are far away under the Frozen Sea – except for Ulyuq, who Smith tricked into falling into the Pit…into the Pit…..

 

The girls turn in time to see a column of steam and ice rise from the Pit. A gigantic clawed paw grabs the rocky spur. Filthy ice-draped ramhorns break through the smoke and eyes like cold death smile through the fog…Ulyuq Has Returned….

 

DUM DUM DUM!

 

CREDITS!  What happens next? Tune in next time….

 

Smallville Pantheon, Episode Five

Apologies for not posting this earlier….for the zero people who are following this game. Building towards a climax (ep 6 and 7 will be the two-parter season finale), episode five has another battle between Korak and Ix, but meanwhile Ix’s secrets begin to come out and Korak finds that people like him after all.

 

Prologue: We see Yeqawah come to visit Skoh. All smiles, but behind her back she carries a dagger…

ROLL CREDITS!

PANTHEON: Series One, Episode Five: “Scars”

 Catching up with folk, we see the Master of the Pit, Ahenute, tending his fire. In the sky, Teyamaq leaves the moon to come and visit him.

Meanwhile Always, on her ox, finally arrives at the battle camp, hoping to stop Yeqawa from making a terrible mistake.

Korak on his throne finishes his brooding and decides there is only one solution to a brother who tried to kill him with an ixola: fuck his shit up and burn down his forest. He begins to summon his armies.

Smith raises his visor, sees the planning and scoodles off to warn Ankar.

Ix, meanwhile, after throwing the Ixola back in the pit, has gone back to the battle camp to check on Always, following the ox along as a dog. Always reaches the camp and Ix waits outside the tent as she barges in and explains everything to our two love birds – how they were part of an experiment by her and Korak and how Smith ruined everything.

Ix, seeing that everything is completely fine, goes back to his forest to work out how to make things up to Aristeia, and decides the best idea is to build a tree so tall it reaches the sky so she can come and go more easily. He leaves just before Always says something important he really needed to hear, but I forget what exactly.

Smith, meanwhile, knows Ankar can’t talk sense into Ix and wonders if anyone can. Perhaps his ex-wife Lika? He asks her to do so, and she leaves. Then, as a favour to his “buddy”, Smith unlocks Dorabus from his plough. The plan seems to be to turn Dorabus against Ix, perhaps? It’s wheels within wheels.

Meanwhile, Aristeia goes to see Anaheute who tells her he loves her. Aristeia is cranky about Ix and all the fighting, and is kind of angry about Anaheute bugging her about this. But she tells him she will think about it.

Meanwhile, Always is still bleeding from her terrible wounds so she commands her servant to kill her “if the sky is dark” (it would be a signal from Aristeia). When Inikaya tells Aristeia that Korak is marching on Ix, the sky DOES go dark, and Yeqawa sends Always back to the Endless Plain of the Gods. Stab!

Korak marches into the forest and begins burning everything. Ix allows Korak to find him but as usual, has no time for his brother’s silly games (he’s making a tree that will fix everything). Korak demands to be taken seriously, and for Ix to either fight or kneel. Ix tells him to Go Fuck Himself. Korak pulls his axe and Ix reminds him where he is standing. The ground itself opens up and Korak falls down a giant pit.

But before Ix can gloat, Aristeia shows up and tells him to knock it off. Always and Smith are close behind. Ix explains that this marching into the forest thing proves – as Ix said – that Korak wanted only obedience, and would take it however he could. The obvious solution, therefore, was to put Always in charge, since she had the rightful claim but was not nuts. To Ix’s horror, Always rejected the offer, and Smith and Aristeia agreed with her reasoning.

Ix told everyone that they could shove their pantheon and went away to sulk. Always carried bruised Korak back to the palace. Aristeia and Smith have a few moments together. Smith admits he may have been hasty about Korak – he might actually be the Lesser of Two Dicks in the long run. Aristeia asks Smith about mortals loving gods, and Smith says it happens all the time.

Back at the palace, Always tries to sooth Korak but it doesn’t work, he remains bitter. Meanwhile Lika finds Ix and chides him again. Ix is exhausted by this – he’ll take it from the others but not his little sister. He tells her to shut up and she says if he keeps going like this he’ll do something stupid and someone will get hurt, just like with their father. And Ix suddenly realises that LIKA KNOWS HIS SECRET.

Always leaves Korak sleeping but wants to make sure he remembers the important parts of being mortal and their growing affection. She calls forth Kiate, the goddess of Dreams and Memories, a strange child figure, and charges her to make sure Korak remembers what he needs to. (This establishes that in the world below, people see dreams as a place of memories, but not necessarily your own. Plus lots of other juicy stuff about culture.)

Korak does wake up to find Smith watching over him. Smith tells him his opinion of him has changed (challenging Smith’s relationship to Korak) and bucks him up. Aristeia also makes a decision and tells Anehute that if he proves worthy (as Smith did) she can see no impediment to them being together. Climbing up his enormous tree and finding the sky empty, Ix looks for Aristeia, sees her with Anehute and wonders what could possibly be going on. Has everyone abandoned him?

Always prepares herself for something important. Korak sleeps again, and dreams of his bride-to-be, as she wished it. And Smith? Smith is build a harness. A VERY SPECIAL HARNESS, with a very special purpose….

ROLL CREDITS

And the stinger…Yeqawa and Skoh make their peace…and then Yeqawa stabs Skoh in the stomach. And Anahute, seeing his love within his grasp, tells Teyamaq that the deal is struck. The plan is in motion.