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
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….
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.
Sting: Deep amongst the crevices and tunnels, Smith goes spelunking….looking for bodies…
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….
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…
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.
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….
Warning: spoilers. Also, slightly simplified for ease and communication.
When we first see her, Marius asks Eponine to find his new love, Cosette. Having never known love before, he challenges Love Is For Other Men d6, rolling 3d6 and adds his Relationship, Eponine Is My Greatest Friend in the Whole World d10. Eponine resists with Justice (Thems That Are Rich Deserve Nothing) d8 and her relationship with Marius which is Marius Will Be Mine d12. Eponine has dice on her side but Marius is dead keen and spends a Plot Point to also roll his new relationship Cosette Is The Most Beauteous Creature on Earth d6 and it gets him over the line. Eponine, not wanting stress, runs off to find the girl.
Later, Eponine sees her father trying to steal from Jean Valjean, having realised he can’t go to the police. Threnadier tells her to shut her mouth, she resists. Thernadier rolls Power (Master of My House) d10 and Eponine Will Do As She’s Told d6. Eponine challenges her Duty (Family Is All I Got) so she can roll 3d6 AND challenges her relationship Marius Will Be Mine so she rolls 3d12. Not surprisingly, she gets a titanic success and drives her father away. She drops both her Duty and her Marius stat down by one for the rest of the episode. At the end of the session, she rewrites that to Marius Deserves Happiness Even If That Is Without Me so she can keep it at d12.
Next Act, she finds the letter from Cosette. Even though the two never interact, the GM makes it a contest. Cosette rolls her Love d12 and her budding Marius Is My True Love stat (d8 they only just met), but Eponine rolls Truth (Everyone Lies) d12 and challenges Marius Deserves Some Happiness, rolling 3d12. She wins again and hides the letter. Because she challenged it, it drops, but at session end she changes it back to Marius Will Be Mine, so she can STILL keep it at d12.
Next session, on the barricades, seeing Marius about the be shot. Marius and Eponine challenge each other. Marius rolls Duty (I Must Suffer To Balance Out My Noble Birth) d10 and Eponine is My Best Friend In the World d10 to take the bullet. Eponine rolls Love (Is All That Matters In the End) d10 and challenges Marius Will Be Mine once more, rolling 3d12. She wins once more, and totally totally dies. Marius gives in and hands her the plot point, but she hands it back and deals him stress instead (d12 Anguish).
But she is clever. As she dies, she sings A Little Fall of Rain, relieving Marius’ stress, so he has in fact lost nothing. Eponine is a motherfucking powergamer. But nobody gives a damn because in Smallville, powergaming = drama.
In case you missed it, the Kickstarter for the new Cortex Hacker’s Guide went live 48 hours ago. At time of writing this, they’d already got $10K pledged which is a fanatastic start for what might seem to be a fairly niche product. It’s a great kickstarter with heaps of levels to pledge at, and some great stretch goals. I’m really excited to be a part of it, not least because it’s my first official kickstarter. My own projects have so far used IndieGoGo and haven’t had a cool video to go with them. MWP’s video is great and I got a little shiver of excitement when Dave Chalker listed my contribution – mutant animals – as one of the sections.
It’s also fantastic to see this product come out, after nearly two years of waiting. Marvel Heroic Roleplay sort of got in the way, because hey, Marvel is a 200-pound gorilla of a licence (and one hell of a game). It’s always good when something you’re proud of finally gets to come out (assuming we get the next five grand). It’s also great how MWP have designed this particular KS. Us writers have all been paid our base rate, but anything the company makes beyond costs goes into paying us more. MWP already pays above average for a gaming company, because they are classy, professional people who are joy to work with, but passing on the return to writers takes that to a whole new level. One of the biggest problems with the RPG industry is the market won’t bear price rates that pay authors a fair rate for their work. Until, of course, crowdsourcing came along, allowing consumers to send money directly to those authors. Hopefully, more companies will follow MWP’s lead. We want that because good writers deserve good money, and they go elsewhere if they don’t get it. Letting them make more money on products keeps good designers writing good material for the games you love.
If that alone doesn’t convince you to back this project, let’s talk about the content.
You might not know what a Cortex is. Cortex was originally designed by Lester Smith and others for the first product from MWP, the long-forgotten Sovereign Stone fantasy RPG, then hammered into a full generic system by Jamie Chambers, after which it was used in such games as Serenity, Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica (all great games, btw). I’ve been a fan since the beginning of Cortex’s goals: it’s got a central rigidity like its design-cousin Savage Worlds, but, like Unisystem, is simpler and cleaner because it wasn’t designed to also support miniatures. As someone who finds most generic systems (eg GURPS, ORE, FATE) generally far too heavy, Cortex is right in the sweet spot for me.
Then something really awesome happened. Cam Banks, Josh Roby and Rob Donoghue (and others) came onto work for MWP and produced Smallville and Leverage. Both games started with the very “core” or Cortex, which is roll one die, rated from d4 to d12, for one “axis” (originally your attribute) and one die for a second axis (originally your skill) and add them, plus roll extra dice if you have them, but still just add the two highest. Both games then transformed that central idea by adding some very modern and indie approaches. In Smallville, they replaced the two axes entirely, replacing stat+skill with Emotion + Relationship, to build a completely different mindset. In Leverage, they got rid of hitpoint ideas and replaced it entirely with FATE-like Aspects and some other great ideas. These new interpretations were, as a whole, nicknamed Cortex Plus (or C+).
This wasn’t just great design, it was great modular design. There are at least two key aspects to game design – having numbers that work and make sense, and dressing the numbers up so they communicate the right information while making sense. So far, few games have really looked at breaking those two things down separately. I can only think of FUDGE/FATE as the exception. I’m good at dressing up the numbers but not always good at building the basics, so I was intrigued (not to mention incredibly impressed with both Smallville and Leverage as RPGs as a whole). The first thing I did after reviewing these two excellent games was email Cam Banks and demand to know when Cortex Plus was going OGL. He didn’t have an answer – yet. Instead, he got back in touch about the Hacker’s Guide.
The designers were well aware that with Cortex Plus, the genie was out of the bottle and there were suddenly a lot more you could do with the system, and that the two incarnations were not just great games but great ideas that inspired more tinkering. That rather than split them up into Cortex Plus Drama and Cortex Plus Action, the two could be cross-linked and combined and broken down and rebuilt, and that was in fact more interesting than taking a core system and hammering out a few appropriate Merits and Flaws for your favourite TV show. However good Serenity and Supernatural were, they could be made better by bending things around more, and applying these new ideas. I was already chafing at the bit to do this; I was not surprised to find I was not alone. One such interaction of the two came out soon after, as Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and very nice it is too.
But putting out a whole new game was an expensive idea. Instead, the idea was to bring all these ideas together in one place, in a shorter form. The Hacker’s Guide, on the surface, looks like a shotgun-blast sourcebook, adding new traits and merits to the Smallville and Leverage systems so you can play them in other settings. But it’s a lot more than that. We crossed the streams and relinked the wires, and in the process, teach you how to do that yourself. Some of that teaching is explicit and direct, some of it is implied by seeing our end results. Cortex is one of the most interesting systems around right now, and some incredible stuff has been done with it already, and we’re taking that even further. That’s exciting as hell and something I’m really proud to be a part of.
I knew the moment Cam asked what I wanted to do. My first RPG, the thing that made me love this hobby, was Erick Wujcik’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG. Nothing else I’ve ever seen has ever got right the part I loved so much about that game, which was being able to play almost any animal imaginable. Finding a way to do that – and keep the simplicity which is so important to Cortex – was a huge game design challenge, and I’m really proud of how it came out. It’s not TMNT, of course, (no use of copyright material should be implied!!) but inspired by that RPG and how it inspired me. TMNT holds a special place in my life, and Erick was a hero, and later, a mentor and a personal friend, so this is also my way of giving something back. That’s my personal connection; for you, the point is that if you liked TMNT, my response to it is here, and it a more passionate and dedicated response to that game and its goals you will not find anywhere else in the hobby.
So if you are interested in RPG design, both indie and trad, and where the two meet, if you’re interested in how to take a core idea and expand it and develop it across settings and genres, so as to learn how to do that yourself, whatever your core system of choice, then you should be excited about the Hacker’s Guide. And if you ever liked the TMNT rpg and really feel a need to play any reptile, bird or mammal you can name, then you should be very excited about my contribution. So go out and back it already. If only because I need the cash.
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…
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….
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.
One of the hardest things about Smallville for the GMing style I use is that whenever it’s not Lead vs Lead, it’s Lead vs Feature so it can be very hard to jump right into a conflict with some random guy without doing the long-winded character prep. Which has plenty of its own rewards, and helps you see how best to shape them to be foils, but takes time and may make you tempted to make them take centre stage when that’s not their purpose. But eyeballing a difficultly level sans a Trouble pool increase is not written into the rules anywhere.
Luckily Old Steve The Amazing is here to help with that. Here is the Absolutely Unofficial Quick-Stat Guide To Any NPC a Lead may run into and needs to roll dice against.
Johnnie “Eyeball” McImprovised
Generic Feature – Homme Sous Le Avenue – Suddenly Spotlighted
This is the stuff I really want to do in the game, the stuff that gets me right into the action/story d10
This is a useful back-up if I get off my main focus d8
This is something I really hope you don’t bring into focus because I don’t care enough and you’ll stress me out for sure d4
I have a vendetta with/most care about Lead X d10/d8
I care a little about Lead Y and Z/the rest of the team d6
I can impact the story/world a lot or succeed easily when I’m doing this thing d8
(in fact, I am sometimes so busy being awesome at it, I might get a Plot Point)
I can also do this d6
If I’m around for a whole ep at least/more than one scene, I also have 2d8/2d6 Depth.
Setting stuff established: Those who abandon their children (or do so implicitly by abandoning their spouses) are likened to Zyz, who abandoned his children because of his crime. If such mortal folk do not wish to flee into exile, they may find work and redeem themselves somewhat by becoming priests of Zyz, who are the gravediggers to the priests of Always’ undertakers.
Previously on: not only do we see Ix making the Ixola, but before that, from Episode 2. When Korak drops the defeated Ix into Aristeia’s arms and warned her about him – Aristeia says “he would never hurt me”. OR WOULD HE?
Prologue: The Return again, just as we saw it in Episode 2 – Korak returning from Cold, Aristeia rescued, Kalakaq defeated – only this time it isn’t about Always’ point of view but Ix’s. He watches from the shadows, jealous and confused by his brother’s return. What draws him out is seeing the girl he has brought back, her raiment as wild as his. He greets his brother then without words hands Aristeia the falcon, which until then was just the grouse, it could not fly. The two wild children need no words – Aristeia throws the falcon into the sky and the soars on its new wings – and the troubled girl smiles for the first time.
Skip forward a few years. Ulyuq returned from the Cold to stalk the land. He has been defeated, but given Aristeia’s history, Ix calls her to his forest to show her a gift he has made for her: The Sacred Pool, a strange and magical place deep in the Forst Infinite where Aristeia is invisible to all who walk Godhome, be they God or Kalakaq. Ix promises “No one, not even the stars in the sky will see you here; you are always safe.” To prove it, when the mole dared to poke his nose through the wall of trees around the pool, Ix blinds it and curses it to burrow beneath the ground, never seeing Aristeia’s sky.
PANTHEON, SERIES ONE, EPISODE FOUR: “WOUNDS”
Always awakens in an eyrie. The Ixola does not eat her, but prevents her from leaving. It’s frustrating, but she’s alive. Back on the battlefield, Korak tells Skoh to get his best men so they can go kill it. Skoh wonders how since it may not be trackable and their weapons bounced off it. Korak says “We will find the beast and kill it because it is what I MUST DO.” Damn he’s macho.
In the Forest Infinite, Smith is continuing to yell at Ix. Ix points out that he was going to listen to Smith and his planny plans, but Smith’s plans are stupid, whereas so far, Ix is two for two. Threatening to open the pit exposed Korak’s true motives, and making the Ixola saved Always. Smith explodes with rage and storms out. Ankar arrives soon after, because she, like Smith, thinks Ix isn’t moving things forward. Ix says things are in flux, he is not of Order, he can’t make things all neat like Ankar wants. She tells him to up his game, hinting that if he doesn’t she’ll find another way, and he won’t share in the spoils when Always takes the throne. Ix doesn’t care about such boons, but if he was smarter he might be afraid of what the Lady Order could do to the Wild…
Korak sends word to Aristeia that he is fixing things, and the rain eases enough to begin an ascent into the mountains after the beastie. In the eyrie, Always manages to shoo it away, just in time for her father, Rokan to turn up. He doesn’t quite get the “wager” going on, but reminds her that, mortal or not, she is noble-blooded and should always act like it. Be a goddess, whatever the circumstances. Always is heavily bucked up and sets out to do just that. Moments later, when Korak crests the peak to “save” her, she tells him he really needn’t have bothered – she knows now what she has to do. She has to die as a mortal. Korak doesn’t like the idea but is impressed again by her strength and says “okay, but don’t do it alone”.
Meanwhile, Smith has run to the Endless Plain to see Aristeia (Ix agreeing it would be best for Smith to explain to her about how he meant no harm, although of course Smith doesn’t do that). Aristeia stops short of shooting the messenger, and takes control of the situation, snatching the mind of the Ixola away from Ix. It returns to the eyrie, but curls up and sleeps. The danger past, Aristeia remembers that like ages ago (the start of Ep 3) she was infuriated with Smith for breaking Always’ experiment. Smith responds by inventing humanism: humans are not playthings to be ruled and directed into little games, or owned by anyone. All the Gods should do is inspire them. Smith even admits he REGRETS becoming a god because it was, in the end, only because of a game Always was playing with him.
“So why are you still here?” demands Aristeia.
“Because things are worse without me,” is his response.
Back at the eyrie, Korak takes a moment to tell Always how impressed he is with her (more bucking up). Everything is going swimmingly until Korak realises his men aren’t here yet because Ix’s wild nature caused a rockslide to cut them off….and hey, Ix has just realised Aristeia has left the beast sleeping calmly. He takes over the beastie’s mind and suddenly it rears up, spitting with fury and rage. And before anyone can react, it strikes! Korak’s reflexes mean he rolls clear. Always, keen to help, moves in front of him. The fangs bite deep into Always’ mortal flesh. Korak draws his Korix and chops heartily at the beast’s neck, but it flies away, cowed before it dies. Ix is…somewhat freaked out by hurting Always.
During the fight, Smith appeared and snatched Always away, taking her to her high temple in Yave to be healed. Not just out of concern, of course, but to stop the two of them being together. When Korak turns back from the battle, he finds no sign of his betrothed and assumes she is dead (and her mortal form has apparated).
We return to something completely different from the shocking clashes of before – Dorabus and Lika having a domestic scene. Lika watches her predictable, clumsy husband, thinking about how Smith was trouble but, as he said to her what has her life been without trouble. She makes a decision, and leaves to “go for a walk”….
Korak, meanwhile, finding his wife not in Godhome, fears she has been stolen by some force or is trapped in the Underworld. He storms into the Brass Palace and tells his legions to ready themselves for battle, probably against Sky. Aristeia comes down and Korak demands to know what her creature was doing. She explains it was Ix’s doing. Smith arrives (he was always there) and suggests Always might be in Zyz’ realm of Toleken below and that they go there together.
Before they set off, however, Korak gets word from Inikaya, messeneger of the Gods, about the true situation, because when Korak first went to earth he set Inikaya to watch Smith and Smith appeared as himself when he took Always to the temples. Korak decides to still go with Smith though, thinking that for once he has the upper hand on the Trickster.
We get our first good look at Toleken and the souls within it as the two descend, and they discuss Zyz’ exile. Smith suggests that Rokan was unjust, and broke the five as an unjust ruler, but this offenders Korak’s sense of loyalty. “You talk of reforging bonds, Smith, yet all you seem to do is break them”. Smith explains again his humanistic ideals of leaving the humans alone, and as above, having no ruler. It is better than replacing the Three with an equally flawed Five, which may repeat the sins of the past (ie Zyz).
The reunion between father and son (first time since Smith married Lika) is stifled but not stony. Always is not in Toleken so the topic turns to justice and philosophy again.
Zyz: And what did you do as a mortal, my son?
Korak: I fought a terrible battle! I climbed a high mountain! I slew a great beast!
Korak: I am a powerful god, I was a powerful mortal.
Zyz: But would you be a just king?
Korak: Would any king be just, in your eyes?
Zyz: A rule must be founded on more than strength, son.
Korak: You’d rather it be founded on lies and betrayal?
Zyz flinches. Smith notes that Korak said much the same thing to him earlier. Zyz says he is not a betrayal, and Smith pushes Korak to see that if his father is telling the truth, Rokan acted unjustly. Zyz wonders if his son will let him return to the surface, if he is king. Korak says he cannot unless Zyz explains his betrayal of Rokan. Zyz says he cannot, and so Korak says then he cannot trust him, and leaves to seek his betrothed elsewhere.
(For those who came in late: Zyz was exiled for the crime of stealing Rokan’s chaotic essence. However the thief was actually Ix and Zyz took the blame to save his son.)
Speaking of Always, she wakes up to find herself being tended in the temple. The poison isn’t killing her but the wound is deep. Always insists she go find Yeqawa and fix things, so decides to leave the temple and find her, despite her wounds. It is a dangerous and humbling thing to do, and her piety and dedication leaves an impact on the temple nurse who helps her (Hiamahe). After a while, she gets exhausted of walking and invents riding on beasts, something the Volanyi don’t do yet. She finds an oxen and sets off on its back, back to the battleground.
Back in Toleken, Smith stays to talk to his once-ally. He complains about Ix as a poor ally in his plan to stop Korak’s ambition, but Zyz says he can’t school Ix. Smith presses Zyz to tell him the secret about his “betrayal” but Zyz refuses. Smith says “I can’t intercede if I don’t have the information”. Zyz replies “I never asked you to intercede”.
Denied, Smith goes to leave, only to have the door slam open, hiding him from view, as Ix charges in. After running across Godhome and finding no Always and terrified he killed her, Ix too has come to the underworld to look for her. Their reunion is much colder and is full of subtext. Zyz accuses his son of being too much of destruction and chaos, and nothing of love. Ix tells his father to look around him, and see what love led him to – these dismal caves beneath the earth. Smith wonders what that means, exactly, as Ix storms off.
Korak meets Always on the road and tells her to stop being stupid and become a Goddess again. She tells him it is important. She says he has to make Skoh apologise as well, and he refuses, angry. He storms back to the Endless Plain, frustrated and not understanding. Not understood, Always cries into her cow.
Later, at the Sacred Pool, we find Ix dwelling on Zyz’ words about love. He HAS hurt people, and now is trying to make up for it by sprucing up the pool for its owner. Aristeia appears behind him and he swears to her he meant no offence by harming the eagle, but she refuses to believe him. “What can I do to prove you can still trust me?” he says. “You have to figure that out for yourself,” she says.
Tag scenes: Aristeia returns to sky, comforted by Teyamaq. Always clinging sadly to her oxen. Korak slumps onto the Brass Throne, alone and frustrated. Smith walks back to the battlefield too, taking time out to crush a sapling beneath his feet, no longer willing to ally with Ix. Meanwhile, Ix, finally realising he has Gone Too Far, throws the Ixola into the Pit so it will no longer hurt anyone or offend Aristeia.
Epiologue: At the Pit, vines extend down from when Ix tried to open the Pit two episodes ago. Alongside them, claw marks now score the earth. Nearby, in a tiny village, two guardsmen ponder how suddenly cold it is. And then something bestial and monstrous strikes from the darkness…
The continuing stoooooooooory of some Gods who are wrecking shit up.
Setting information we glean: In the World of the Volanyi, marriage aka Joining is pledged in front of a priest of Always (she being in charge of love and death and all), with hands joined, palm to palm. Marriage is a ritual focussed on child-rearing as opposed to child-BEARING, in the sense that parentage is less of an issue than who will raise the child. Always believes that preparing a child for love and death requires two people (of either gender) not one. Those who create a child that is not protected by such a bonding are shunned, and children who are abandoned often become priests of Always to ensure the mistake is not repeated.
Prologue: We see Smith and Lika having their Joining ceremony, with all the gods in attendance – even Korak and Ix, bristling at the newcomer, trying their best not to tell their younger sister Lika she is making a huge mistake. Then we cut forward to Lika and Smith’s marriage dissolving. Smith says that she knew who he was when they got married, and she says that that’s the problem (I think).
PANTHEON, SERIES ONE EPISODE THREE: SO ABOVE
When last we left our Gods and their mortals, Skoh was supposed to be making the beast with two backs with Yeqawa, but Smith had got their first. Meanwhile, Always has decided that she too will take mortal form to prove she can do it and thus is worthy of ruling the Five. She appears in the market places and sends word to Aristeia and Korak at their respective temples to let them know what she has done. As she is walking the streets, however, she sees “Skoh” leaving Yeqawa’s pavilion…and then sees the real Skoh arriving. Always tries to give chase but lose Smith in the crowd. Skoh responds by calling Yeqawa names and heading straight back to his battlefield.
Meanwhile, Inikaya sends word to Aristeia that Dorabus needs to see her. Poor old Dorabus, the bronzed, muscled buffoon who is in charge of Agriculture, is still chained to his plough, as Smith tricked him to be. This causes some house damage as he tries to clean up for Aristeia, but all he knows is his best girl walked out on him and he can’t understand why. Korak wishes to talk to Aristeia about keeping watch over Always, but can’t find her in the Sky, and Inikaya tells him she’s at Dorabus’, so he joins in the commiserations when he arrives.
Meanwhile, Ix has a visit from Lika. She tells him she’s left Dorabus, he says that makes sense, he was beneath her. Then she says she wants to go back to Smith, and he says that’s stupid because he is ALSO beneath her. Lika says that Ix was always a big bully trying to run her life and Ix tells her to shut up because he knows better than her, which is why he IS trying to run her life because if she was so smart she wouldn’t be here right now talking about how screwed up her life is. Lika slaps Ix’s face and runs away crying. Ix, furious, goes to find Always hoping she can talk some marriage-sense into his sister.
Always isn’t on the Endless Plain so Ix heads over to see if Dorabus has seen her, and encounters Aristeia and Korak. Ix and Korak (once again) have a massive argument about who is going to go and see Always.
Korak: I’m going to see Always!
Ix: No, dammit, I’m going to see Always!
Korak: Well, we’re BOTH going to see her then!
Ix: Don’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!
Korak: I’m not telling you what to do, you’re telling ME what to do!
Ix: No I’m not, I’m just saying I’m not going with you!
Korak: Well I’m going to see Always!
Ix: Fine, well you can come with me if you want to, but I’m not going!
So Korak goes to find Always, fearing she might be in danger on the mortal plane. Even more furious, Ix goes back to his forest to brood. Smith shows up and Ix decides not to tell him Lika is in the forest. The two scheme some more about how they are going to hurt Korak, now that he has become mortal, and once again, Ix says he has plans and tries to hide the giant monster he’s been building behind some trees. Smith again appeases Ix’s Stress, but the jig is up when Aristeia comes looking for Lika and Ix proves to be a terrible liar. Aristeia goes and comforts Lika, telling her about how terribly Dorabus misses her. During this conversation, they talk about marriage and how Always is down on the mortal plane. Aristeia says she can never do that, bound as she is to sky, but Lika, Goddess of Knowledge and Tradition, assures the sky goddess there is a way.
Smith then joins the ladies and takes his ex-wife to the Endless Plain to reminisce – and to send her back to where she belongs, which they both know is with Dorabus. In the end, they understand each other pretty well. Meanwhile, Always has gone looking for Skoh to fix this terrible situation. She joins a band of men heading to the front of Skoh’s empire building, and we learn more about how the Volanyi fight and prepare to fight. That night, Korak joins the men and women around the fire and he and Always have a brief chat about all sorts of things, including Korak trying to explain to Always about how battle works and how to bind wounds. They begin to actually fall for each other, rather than just being betrothed.
Next morning brings the battle, and Korak and Always realize they’ve made a terrible mistake: Skoh is leading the OPPOSING army. Very soon, now-mortal Korak meets his greatest champion on the battlefield. Sensing a test, Skoh attacks in full fury, and Korak, finally learning a lesson about humility, decides to not kill his champion and tells his warrior to stand down before anybody gets killed. (This act impresses the hell out of Smith and Ix who are observing, although neither of them want to admit it.) Skoh takes the moment to inform his God that the thing about him visiting Yeqawa was wrong, she was with another guy, and the Trickster at that. (Skoh, like all of Korak’s champions is charged to hunt and kill the Trickster, wherever he may lurk, a holy charge each champion approaches differently). Korak begins to see that Smith’s idea of a fair experiment is pretty askew, as indeed might be his idea of a fair challenge.
Meanwhile in Godhome, Smith, Aristeia and Ix only know that their siblings are in battle, and begin to panic – although for different reasons. Smith is worried that without him there to mess things up, Korak might be doing a good job of being a mortal and impressing gods and mortals alike. Ix and Aristeia are worried that Always could get hurt. Aristeia decides to fly down and keep watch, bringing up wind and rain. Ix, fearing for the half-cousin he always idolised being crushed in what he now realises is half his plan, decides to Solve Things directly – he takes his giant bear-snake monster and – snatching an eagle from the sky for the magic – gives it wings, and sends it to the battle field to scoop up Always and save the day.
Of course, Ix is master of all things that run and crawl – he is NOT the master of the birds of the air, and taking wings off an eagle makes Aristeia FLIP OUT. A gigantic storm breaks on the battlefield, and a terrifying monster – the Ixola – swoops down through the darkness and lightning. In the chaos, it escapes with Always. Korak swears vengeance as it flies away. Always screams in fear and passes out. Aristeia screams in rage at her realm defied. Smith screams in anger at Ix for ruining his plans. And Ix smiles, because he fixed everything…although, looking down at the eagle in his hands, he is given a moment’s pause.
Stinger: Yeqawa summons her high priestesses and says “Fetch my instruments. The one who shamed me must die!”
A gigantic post today. Will try to hide it behind the cut.
Setting info established: Korak’s Champion, aka The Warlord King aka Skoh chi Wahatenne, is born to that role, ala Heracles. There have been several over generations, the current one is kind of like Alexander the Great with some Darius – he is uniting the kingdoms with military genius. Each of Korak’s Champions is charged with a sacred quest of finding and killing Smith (when he is in mortal form) but that holy quest can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Meanwhile, Always’ Champion, The Most Beautiful Woman In The World (currently Yeqawa) is more like the pope – she is elected by her church for her faith, duty and piety, and becomes more beautiful upon taking on the holy role. Nothing is particularly special about the current one – yet.
Prologue: Skoh’s birth. We see a young male baby and the prophetess tells the father that he belongs to Korak. Later, as a young boy, his father drills him in defeating a dozen men twice his age. Before he can shave, he is leading great armies on the battlefield. And not long after, he sits on his iron throne and hears that he now leads five great tribes. “Good”, he says, “now we can begin”.
PANTHEON, EPISODE TWO: AS BELOW
We see Always as a young girl, impassive in the mirror, as her mother Ankar dresses her in finery, for today she is to be presented to her betrothed. Korak is just moments back from resucing Aristeia, the conquered Teyamaq at his feet, and while the parents seem enthused the young boy and girl find it all very awkward. Behind the two nervous kids, the two parents look on, planning a future, and behind them, sits the rescued Aristeia, ignored again.
In the modern day, wearing much the same expression, Ankar sits with Aristeia anew. She apologises that she’s never been much of a mother to her half-daughter, and wants to know if Aristeia is okay, if she has any concerns about the marriage and the rule. Aristeia says she thinks Korak is worthy, and if he is to rule, then so be it. Ankar asks about her feelings for Ix, whom Aristeia says “is also worthy”. Ankar suggest that she be more than friends to Ix, fulfilling her promise to Ix from last episode. However, Aristeia has no idea what Ankar is talking about, and leaves confused.
Meanwhile, Ix is in the Forest Infinite, teaching the young hare how to run. But Smith interrupts him, to tell him that things are moving forward, and they need to come up with a plan to stop Korak. Ix says he doesn’t plan, he is the wild! Smith holds back the insult and explains his plan: he wants to suggest to Korak that in order to prove himself worthy, Korak should go down to the mortal realm. Once in Smith’s territory (well, more Smith’s than anyone else) Smith can mess with him, and prove he is unworthy to rule. The problem is, Smith can’t suggest this idea to Korak because Korak hates and distrusts Smith, so Smith needs Ix to suggest it. Ix loves this idea, and wonders how it must be to have a head so full of plans. Smith smiles and wonders about strange bedfellows.
Cut to the Brass Palace. Always approaches Korak and they have their first proper talk about the marriage and the ruling. Always – as always – is very placid about it all, and is surprised that Korak is troubled. Korak wonders about the wildness of Ix, but then again, he is his brother, and will see reason through familial respect. Korak worries more about Smith. Always suggests they come up with a test to prove they are worthy that will surely get all the gods on side. She tells him she has a plan in this regard, and he wants to know what, but the plan isn’t finished yet and Always hates being pushed, so tells him no. Korak throws down and demands, as his wife to be, she not keep secrets. Always declines, but is quite insecure as a result. As a peace offering, she finally shows Korak her true face, but in the end it only highlights how little the two know each other.
Things are interrupted when Inikaya turns up and tells Korak that Ix has planned to summon the gods. Ix meanwhile, after telling Inikaya to do a general announcement, has gone looking for a pretext for summoning the gods. He’s gone down to the Pit itself, a huge cleft in the top of a lonely mountain, wherein Ix and Korak threw all the terrible beasts of the wild to make the world safe. At the top is a stone hut, home to Anehute Silent-Bear, who is a long-lived, god-touched mortal who serves as Master of the Pit, guarding it lest anything escape. Of course, Ix is hoping something might have escaped or there’s been a ripple or two to get his pretext but there has been none. So Ix decides if he can’t find a pretext he will make one – distracting Anehute so he can let something escape. That way, Korak will desperately need his advice and strength to fix the problem, and realise he cannot rule alone. However, despite trying his best, Anehute refuses to bow to anything which would take him from his post, and Ix becomes infuriated at uppity mortals who get in his way. His mood does not improve when warhorns blare to indicate his brother has arrived.
Ix: What brings you to see one of my servants?
Korak: Oh, no, I’m here to see you.
Ix: Oh, I’m HONOURED.
Korak wants to know why the gods have been summoned. Ix says well he left early at the last meeting and thinks things still need to be discussed about whether it’s actually a good idea and all. But Ix wants to talk about this AT THE MEETING not now.
Korak: I know it’s your way to be wild, and consider all possibilities, even those that might be considered unwise, but even you must acknowledge the right of our betters to determine the fate of our world. Do you challenge the wisdom of the Balance?
Ix: They declared you should be wed, but that your ruling was simply an obvious idea. But this is a new age, with new paths. And as I said, we will talk about this later.
Ix walks off, causing the forest to build around him so he can lose himself. Korak is enraged at being dismissed, especially when he was coming to take Ix down a peg, so he hews down the trees as fast as Ix can make them. In response, Ix rouses the forest at twice the speed and thickness. Korak yells “come back and face me, you’ve always been a COWARD!”. At that, Ix stops and
And asks him what is so damn important.
Korak: Why do you challenge my rightful place?
Ix: Because your rightful place is not cast in stone.
Korak: No, it is cast by my POWER.
Ix: So now we see the truth: you seek to rule through power, not through being WORTHY
Korak: I rule because of what I have done and can do. Need I remind you of my deeds?
Ix: Need I remind you of MY deeds? Of my responsibilities? If I wanted to, I could loose everything in this pit against you, and then where would your strength be?
Korak: THIS is why you must never rule – the only power you have is to sow disorder!
Ix: Oh disorder? Yes. Disorder IS my strength. But disorder is part of the balance, part of the world. And if you are so strong, disorder should be no threat to YOU. So I shall open this pit – and if you are strong enough, try and stop me, BROTHER. (Demand: Let me open the Pit)
Ix drives his heels down and the rocks shake and the Pit trembles. Korak is tempted to prove his brother is an idiot and have a jolly good scrap (and not back down in front of his brother), but just earlier was telling Always how much he likes the mortals and doesn’t want thousands of them to die, so challenges his glory to stop this. He swings his blade, Ix grabs it, and they scrap back and forth. Ix challenges justice because it’s never been fair that Korak was the favourite son and adds Savage as he becomes bestial, clawed and thorned. It’s not enough, and Korak wrenches the blade away and slams his brother with the flat of the blade, knocking him unconscious. Lifting his brother onto his shoulder, he walks off.
Elsewhere…on the Horns of Dusk, the massive western mountain range that stops the Volyani from moving west, Always walks. She has sought a high place to talk to Sky, and has come to the mortal earth to do so because that is the topic of discussion. She has explained to Aristeia her plan: to test beyond a shadow of a doubt that her match to Korak is well-made by bringing together each of their champions – to cause the Warlord King, Skoh, to fall in love with Yeqawa, the most beautiful woman in the world. Always wants Aristeia’s help because she sees all on the earth. Aristeia doesn’t think it will definitely work, but figures they can give it a try.
Korak takes Ix to the Forest Infinite, where he is intercepted by Aristeia – who is aghast at the bloodied body of Ix. Korak explains he was wild, but Aristeia says she will take charge. Korak says “be careful”, Aristeia responds “he would never hurt me”, and the GM pushes the FORESHADOWING BUTTON!
Later, Ix wakes up in the Sacred Pool, cradled by Aristeia. She asks him what’s going on, and he says it is none of her concern, which of course is NOT what he should have said. Ix is forced to explain that, having heard his brother admit that he will take the crown by force, he wanted to make his brother prove that – “My wounds are a testimony to his madness”. Aristeia asks him to promise he will not open the Pit again and Ix makes her roll for it before he promises. And then she tends to his wounds.
Korak returns to his Brass Palace to find Always waiting to explain her plan. At this point we establish that no gods are aware about the prophecy of Skoh – that if he knows Love, he will die (he cannot touch one part of Always without touching all parts of her). Korak and Always decide it is a good idea to try the experiment, and they will send their champions to the marketplaces of Yawe. They descend to the High Temples so Always can command Yeqawa to unite with Skoh. Yeqawa obeys without question but asks for something in return – to have issue, despite her barrenness.
The next target is Skoh – who is out fighting on the plains. The Gods visit him invisibly so Always can see his mind and know what he wants for a partner and what he wants as a partner for his God. Skoh sees Korak as the great source of order, unity and strength, taking his sense of truth and authority from Korak. This tells Always he wants to see what Korak would want, so she demands, for once, that Korak tell him actually what he wants to see in a lady. He dodges the question and just tells her to appear as a general. Korak says he must ally with Yeqawa, as well as unite with her, but at that Skoh blanches, because for him, allegiance makes his quest worthless. He asks if his God will release him from the burden of being the Warlord King if he obeys him regarding Yeqawa. Korak says “your destiny will always be as you make it”, and the two leave.
We have a flashback so the prophecy is clear to the audience – Skoh being told by the scryer that he will fall if he fails to deny the Inevitable. Skoh nods and says “I shall be great – and then I shall be greater”.
Back to the modern day, the two Gods walk out of Skoh’s tent only to be accosted by Smith, who, disguised as a God, heard the whole thing. He mocks their “experiment” but says he is …interested in seeing how it goes. Korak tells him he should stick around here at the battlefield to see REAL greatness. Smith laughs darkly. Then Inikaya appears to summon the Gods to Ix’s meeting (Inikaya secretly works for Korak so gave him the heads up long in advance).
Smith zooms over to the Forest Infinite to make sure Ix is still on track with the plan of bringing up the mortal form idea. Ix says its gone beyond that now; Korak is clearly a threat and it might be time instead to figure out how they can stand against him. Smith says we still need to throw down the gauntlet to them, and not show our colours or start a war. He asks Aristeia to stand with him (and Ix) in not supporting Korak until he can prove his worth. Aristeia, having heard of the experiment, thinks Smith makes sense. Ix says that then they don’t need him, wanting to sulk in his Forest, but the two remind him that without him, Always and Korak won’t be out-numbered. Ix bristles at being told what to do AGAIN and tells Smith he must face Korak in his own way. Smith’s rage at the world rises, so Aristeia tries another route, just asking quietly and we get our first hint that Ix is sweet on Aristeia as he complies quickly.
And so they go. “Clearly the reign of the five will be one of strife,” says Ix, sullenly. “That is our choice,” says Korak, but Always says “It is not Inevitable”. Smith points out that things with the Balance were very strife-stricken, and thus we need a new plan. Ix stumbles forth what Smith has tried to school him to say, that this is a new world, a world of the Five, not of the Two, and things are different now, so we need a new plan. Smith heartily agrees, which is interesting since the two rarely get along.
Always assures Ix they have taken steps to prove they are worthy, first by examining the union. The pantheon IS different and more reflective of humans, so Always does agree that things need to be tested. Everyone agrees, and Always says the bickering is wasting time. Smith says they need to also ask others beyond the Five and Always also agrees, saying that the other gods should make suggestions as to what Always and Korak could do to prove they are worthy for them. Ix likes the idea of challenges. Smith wants everyone to meet back after an interval, with all the gods in attendance – it’s like a committee meeting, boring the wilder gods. But again, Always says fine, whatever, send Inikaya to get challenges from the gods, and dismisses them, because she and Korak have to get back to the battlefield below.
After they go, Ix points out how agreeable Always is and how SHE would make a fine leader without Korak. Smith thinks that is even worse, of course. Ix says it’s important they prove themselves individually and prove the marriage, because Always might be fine to rule, but with a much better husband. Aristeia says “You mean like you?” cross that once again her younger sister seems to get everything. Smith finds that, although for different reasons, he agrees with Ix.
Ix says he is going to go and find a way to test Korak’s mettle, and runs back to his Forest and grabs some primal clay to shape a terrifying beast. Smith goes off to plan to get all the minor gods to suggest challenges which secretly favour Smith. Out loud, he says he has to go see his ex wife. Aristeia realise she is left to watch over the whole mess. She ascends to the sky and watches much more actively.
Back at the battlefield, Korak and Always chat. Always says the idea of trials are ridiculous, but they will pass them because they are obviously worthy. Smith may try to trick them, but that is his way, and it will not matter. Down on earth, Korak appears in his temple doorway and looks at the marketplaces, and Always’ temple opposite. As he leaves, Always appears in her doorway – and her arm is bumped to show the audience she is mortal. As she steps back, Yeqawa comes past out the door, heading to the marketplaces. We see Skoh walking quickly down the road back to Yawe. Then we see a man in armour much like Skoh’s walking through the marketplace, but his face is Smith’s…and then he raises his arm to adjust his helmet, and the face becomes Skoh’s…
Stinger: Anehute sits in his shack…still shocked at Ix’s actions. “He was going to open the Pit…what choice do I have? …. Do we still have our deal?” We pan across to his interlocutor, who nods – and it is Ulyuq, Lord of Cold, greatest of the Rimebloods, and most terrifying prisoner of the pit…