Hidden 2 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Thanqol
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By god, I'd rather slave on earth for another man—
some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.

- Achilles

It is the 250th year of the reign of Empress Nero IV Acontecimento Azurius. All of humanity is imprisoned upon the prison-ecumenopolis of Tellus. Here they shall be made to suffer until they come to recognize their suffering in others.

Axiom: Glory Flows From The Gods

This technological terror you have created is insignificant compared to the power of the Force.

All power, all glory, all success and failure, flows from the will of the Gods upon Olympus. This is not a metaphor or an exaggeration or cosmic injustice to rail against. It is a fact as eternal as gravity. An armada of ten thousand starships, armed with particle lances and electromagnetic flux weaponry will shatter if Athena denies her blessings. A child born of Zeus will arise as a champion and overthrow kings no matter what elite security services, facial recognition software, or legions of killbots are sent to check her rise. No general will raise her sword in anger until the augurs confirm that the gods approve. All the vast infrastructure and paraphernalia of a glorious science-fantasy future abounds in every direction but the wise never forget that the gods can burn even the most sophisticated empires to shadows and ash for crimes of hubris.

The gods are not threatened. The gods are not rivaled. Man will never and can never surpass them. Artificial intelligences will not take their place. There are no other pantheons. Nothing needs to be taken on faith alone. Worship of the gods is a practical consideration.

Axiom: Humanity Are The Precursors

In ancient times, men built wonders, laid claim to the stars and sought to better themselves for the good of all. But we are much wiser now.

It was humans who first took to the stars. It was humans who sowed life, built marvels, created ancient wonders and monuments. It was humans who created clades of servitor races - specialized biological or technological species purpose-built to perform servile functions. It was humans who tamed the stars, and humans who sent the stars to war. In the shattering catastrophes of the ages since much was lost - great civilizations were destroyed in wars, or annihilated by the gods for their sins. Across the galaxy, humanity has dwindled to a remnant - small villages and communities or even lone survivors standing amidst their servitor creations, wondering if they shall ever rise again.

At some times the works of humankind were transcendent, inspired, and soul-aching. At some times their works were base, financial or militaristic. With the veil of time, mystery and power it can be impossible to tell which is which.

Axiom: Technology Is Arcane and Brutal

And when at last he came upon the vehicle, he perceived the distress of the engine therein and forthwith struck the rune and it was good. Thereupon the engine ignited and was filled with strength...

The ELectromagnetic Flux (ELF) is a small weapon typically attached to the shoulder or mounted as a small nodule upon a ship. With a shimmering electrical arc of lightning it will overload and destroy virtually any electronic component, blow out lightbulbs, and cause such an explosion of signal distortions that renders radio communication impossible. A child could build one in a garage out of spare parts.

The abundance of ELF weaponry has done more than anything to shape the technology and aesthetics of this universe. Starship cannons are aimed by hand by teams of muscled deckhands. Gunnery calculations are done with slide rules and mechanical computers. The bridge is lit with candles and scattered with maps hand-drawn by scribes. Combat is done within the range of the human eye, and often hand to hand, with swords - possibly within the cockpit of an armoured mecha suit known as a Plover. There are no force fields so all battle is done to the sound of crashing metal and sundering armour.

But this is not to say that the future is primitive; there are some areas of design which are spellbindingly advanced. Materials science is indistinguishable from magic - paints that never run dry and change colour depending on how they are spoken to, armour that can absorb the impact of a railgun hit and dissipate all that energy harmlessly into the air, mechanical computers of such size and complexity that they can replicate human intelligence - albeit with a processor the size of a house. Bioscience and medicine are beyond sophisticated, giving every human the innate ability to breathe any atmosphere, reverse the flow of years, change their gender at a whim, regrow severed limbs and so on.

And, of course, glory flows from the gods - singular craftsmen are blessed to produce wonders for the ages, each one a masterpiece that must be studied as scientists of previous eras studied entire disciplines. Barring divine intervention, though, advanced technology is still bound by sweat and muscle and the mark 1 eyeball.

Praxis: Humanity Is Ruled

Lordship for many is no good thing. Let there be one ruler, one king.

Empress Nero, in the wake of the fall of Emperor Molech, decreed in her wisdom that the distance of the stars was perilous. Apart, humanity became strangers to each other. Too many people creating, evolving, changing, unknown to one another. When they met again they looked at each other and thought themselves alien. In such forgetfulness wars were born. So it was decreed: one planet, one home, one place where all the million forms of humans would be gathered and made to live as one once more. And so the Grand Armada scoured the galaxy, procuring every human they could find - destroying their civilizations if they had to - and bringing them all back to Tellus, a planet-city where they would be neighbors once again.

Tellus is a tyrannical regime, a prison world with the people packed in shoulder to shoulder enduring squalor and misery. Such is necessary, says the Empress, who could end their deprivation with a snap of her fingers - their shared misery shall build shared empathy. Her reign has endured two hundred and fifty years of absolute control and still she declares that humanity is unworthy of freedom.

Praxis: The Gods Are Immanent

Think not to match yourself against gods, for men that walk the earth cannot hold their own with the immortals.

There is no celestial realm where the gods gather on stormclouds and drink and revel, apart from the concerns of mortals. They are here. Now. Everywhere. Zeus will physically appear to witness an oath made in her name, and she will wield the lightning bolt that strikes down the liar with her own hands. In a battle you may find yourself face to face with Ares himself, who will engage you with sword and spear. When you are alone and weeping, it is Hera who will place her hand on your shoulder and whisper words of understanding. They come and go as their domains dictate but they are entirely within and a part of the world, never separate from it.

Though all gods are for all people as depending on their circumstances at the time, the gods do have their favorites. Each character will pick two gods who have a personal interest in their fate – perhaps they love you or hate you, but those two will be directly relevant to you always.

Praxis: Machine Intelligence is constrained

The whole of arithmetic now appeared within the grasp of mechanism.

Artificial Intelligences are not gods, nor do they ever resemble gods. Machine intelligences are not geists of quantum programming, they are the product of enormously complex mechanistic functions performed by elaborate Rube-Goldberg machines. The digital path of technology was a dead end – it turns out the Difference Engine and WW1 fire control computers were the future all along. Machine intelligences are enormously complex clockwork brains that run on levers, gears, and pistons. And as they scale poorly these mechanical constructions need to be large to rival human minds.

To obtain full, human intellect you need to fill a large room floor to ceiling with machinery. On the uppermost scale, you can reach the intelligence of a great sage with a machine the size of a house; such constructions tend to be built into starships that intend to forgo skilled navigators and celestial mechanics. Intelligence can be produced on smaller scales but have intellects akin to uncomplicated animals – go here, defend this, load this, and so on.

Praxis: Space is Cluttered

He wrongly accuses Poseidon who makes shipwreck a second time.

Space is not an empty void. It is full, as full as the Aegean. Everywhere you will find planets, everywhere you will find life. Look out into the void and you will not see black but greens, blues, swirls of colour, islands and ruins and wreckage and voidfaring life. Humanity has been long at work on this galaxy and even the empty places between contain miracles and monsters.

So too are storms. Poseidon is the god of the void between, and his storms are terrible and dark. Passage without his favour is suicide. His children are monsters and entire worlds vanish into the dark as the children of the Earth Shaker descend.

Leptomereia: Prayer is Meaningful

Some of the words you'll find within yourself. The rest some power will inspire you to say.

When praying, always use some variation of the following structure: "Zeus, if you will grant me victory in this battle I will shatter my spear in your honour." Who you're addressing, what you want, and what you are offering. This is important. A prayer is a bargain between you and your deity, a specific exchange that - if the god accepts - she will expect to be honoured. It is important to include all these elements because the gods are not mind readers! They are vast, cosmic forces and have a lot on their minds. An ambiguously phrased prayer - or worse, one where you ask something of a god without offering something in exchange - is more likely to draw a curse than anything else. Children's stories all throughout the galaxy are full of people who offend the gods through haphazard prayer. You may offer future promises, immediate sacrifices, or appeal to past offerings, but respect is due. I do, that you might do.

It is acceptable to speak informally to the gods when they appear. If Zeus is having a conversation with you no bowing or scraping is necessary - in fact, you have likely crossed paths with the gods dozens of times throughout your life to this point. However, no matter how casual the banter or how carelessly the gods bait you, never claim superiority over them. The gods regard hubris as an exceedingly severe crime and have destroyed galactic empires over it.

You may still make such mistakes - those stories have to come from somewhere, after all. You were, however, warned.

Cursing by the gods works in much the same way. “Hera damn your eyes” is the kind of thing Hera might decide to act upon, so be cautious when invoking them. Invoking a god’s name as a general exclamation of surprise is generally acceptable.

Leptomereia: Life has Value

"Hateful to me as the gates of Hades."

The Emergency Declaration has placed the preservation of life as the highest priority of the Imperium. War is to be muzzled. Hades is to be shunned. All shall be sustained regardless of their will. The bloody handed will be sought and punished. Human life is precious above all, but it is not the only thing which is precious. Moreover, the act of murder – unsanctioned, illegal death-dealing without performing the rituals of warfare or the hunt – renders one unclean before the gods.

It is not to say there is no death in this setting, simply that there exists a strong cultural force pushing against it, along with a formalized understanding of the rules of surrender. Even factions outside the Empire tend to pay at least lip service to the importance of life after several extremely public examples have been made by the Grand Armada. Slavery is a widespread institution.

But people die all the same.
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The procession came through the darkened corridors of Astraxum Subcontinental Plate II, a mass of muddy saffron yellow. The devotees were swathed in their robes, thick and concealing by design, letting no hint of their deviant bodies show through to the unsullied masses who watched their advance. Though they could conceal the surfaces of their unnatural forms they could not conceal their shapes - while the crowds that watched their advance came in every colour of earth and sky, their diversity was nothing to the bizarre morphology of the devotees. Some stood three meters high, spindly tall, having to bow their hooded heads to avoid impact with the rusting ceiling, tripod legs visible in sharp edges with each step. Some were clanking behemoths, engines cast over with fabric like clothed locomotives, the sound of grinding tank treads clattering out from beneath their veils. Some were childlike, tiny things that seemed to roll or scuttle or crawl. The masses of humanity all stood within narrow bands of height, weight, with regulation numbers of limbs. Not so the cast of the procession, who strode in all the shapes and sizes of the animal kingdom's foul coupling with a construction yard.

Many held or wore candles - not an unusual characteristic, for never had the vast mechanical world of Tellus ever seen the spark of an electric light. The corridor itself was lit with burning braziers as a matter of ordinary operation. Some held flags or banners - all dyed black. The Empress may have begrudgingly deigned to allow these strange creatures to march through the vaults of her perfect world, but she would not permit them to bear colours other than hazard stripe yellow and black. Colours of danger. Colours of warning. Colours to remind the population that these creatures were subhuman and to be shunned. So the devotees had dipped their holy flags and banners in black dye, to be returned to their original glory once they were safely returned to their own realm. A few held relics. Strange wooden boxes - wood! Inconceivable here on this world of metal and rust - rested in arms, tendrils, or stranger appendages, the arcane miracles within hidden from the sight of the unworthy.

These were the Priests of Hermes. God of Travel. God of Trade. God of Technology.

They were not loved.

The crowds standing by the sides of the bestial processional was not there to cheer or celebrate the work of heroes. Parents had brought their children not as reward, but as punishment and threat. Be good or you'll be sent to join the Hermetics. Be good or they'll turn you into a monster. Be good or it'll be you shuffling underneath a saffron cage. Others were here as militia. Weapons were forbidden by order of the Empress, but every spare spanner, rolling pin, or kitchen knife happened to be conveniently in the hands or bags of every man or woman of fighting age as they watched the procession rumble past. Gangs stood in close proximity. Here and there could be seen the intimidating, black-armoured shapes of the Invigilators, the mailed fist of the Empress, but even they kept their distance from the procession. They did not want to be seen defending the freaks.

The path was blocked.

The procession ground to a halt.

The Red Titans gang had placed themselves in the centre of the causeway, standing just before the bridge that crossed a heat spire channel. They had gone further than the casual armaments of the others - bricks, bats, bottles with oily rags crammed down the necks, and improvised armour made out of the wreckage of a train. Their leader, the one-eyed meat-faced woman named Gavid stepped forwards, holding up a hand. "Back, freaks. No further."

Tension flowed through the crowd. Concealed weapons made their way to hands. Invigilators shifted nervously, sensing danger and shying from putting themselves at the centre of it. But the Hermetics of the procession remained still and silent - for as chaotic as they were in form, each exhibited an unnatural stillness now that they had come to a halt.

Finally, one spoke. Its voice was not the monstrous sound one expected from the beasts - it was soft, feminine, almost kind - but with an accent none of the humans would ever share. "We have dispensation from the Empress. We are here under her protection."

"You aren't," snarled Gavid, "taking our children."

There was a silence for a moment, as though contemplating this, and then the Hermetic resumed smoothly. "The Empress has forbidden us from all acts of recruitment and propaganda. We are to collect the sick, the mad, the marked, and the irredeemable. This will purify the world of Tellus of those like us."

"You're fucking baby snatchers, don't deny it!" shouted the ganger. "How else are there so damn many of you!?"

A ripple ran through the crowd, a wave of shared anger. The Hermetics hadn't been allowed to recruit for twenty years - and their numbers seemed the same. A great many small ills and inexplicable disasters had been attributed to an increasingly desperate priesthood determined to snatch bodies at any cost.

There was another long silence from the Hermetics.

"We have dispensation from the Empress -"

A brick smashed against its face. It staggered and fell.

It was like a dam breaking. The Red Titans charged, and other gangs followed one after another. The Hermetics closed ranks, lowering their staffs and flags in a half-hearted parody of a phalanx, but already the humans were upon them.

Humans. A loaded phrase. It was humans who grew eviscerating talons. It was humans who had their fists harden like stone when they struck. It was humans who could match the shoving strength of the giants. Even the least human being among the hundreds of billions of Tellus was a superman, genetic code brimming with exotic strengths that rendered even these emaciated, impoverished specimens deadly combatants. When flesh and bone met the augmentic steel of the Hermetics it was no unfair contest.

Chaos surged in the flickering candlelight. Shouts and screams and the sound of breaking bones and metal. The Hermetics did not, as they might have in the stories, reveal themselves to be bearing exotic weaponry beneath their robes - no heat rays, no slipphase beams, no flux sprays. If those things were here they were locked within those ornate wooden boxes that the Hermetics were passing towards the centre of their formation as though they were more precious than their very lives. Instead they fought as they were, with whatever advantages their alien physiques granted them. They pushed back but their blows were pulled, defensive, restrained even as they were being assaulted by people who did not give them anything like the same courtesy. They knew the consequences for their Order if they took human life here on the Empress' throneworld.

There was a boom like thunder. The corridor was briefly lit by light - cold, blue-white, bright light, nothing like the crackling dimness of the fire. Electrical arcs poured into the air, raking up and down the body of one of the Hermeticians and it emitted the only sound any of them had made during this battle - a high-pitched, far too natural scream. This finally broke the reverie of the Invigilators. Weapon! The Empress' soldiers finally intervened, firing their weapons indiscriminately into the swirling melee. These were not bullets, for the skin of an unarmoured human was proof against such things in this age. These were glass beads that ruptured upon impact into great gouts of toxic, choking smoke that could overwhelm even the most advanced biologies. War cries turned to panicked shouts, screaming turned to coughing, people broke and fled in all directions as the Invigilators closed in, grabbing whoever they could in a futile attempt to catch whoever had smuggled the illicit Electromagnetic Flux weapon into the dark of Tellus. Even the Hermeticians could not endure the fog of the Imperial guns and they withdrew as best they could, keeping in a mass defensive circle.

In the centre of the abandoned battlefield, wreathed by smoke and toxic gases, a young woman stood and looked down at the abandoned body of a Hermetic. It was the first time she'd ever seen what was underneath the robes of one of the mysterious creatures. This was a secret that, to her, was worth enduring the agonizing haze. She stared down at it, eyes wide despite the poison and the tears, heart pounding for reasons other than the adrenaline and the terror. She saw the secrets of the Priests of Hermes written in flesh and fur and steel, and she felt...

She was grabbed and dragged away back into the candle-lit darkness. She dragged the memory with her.
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