Friday, December 31, 2010

Endless Blue - Week 53 - The Dark Secrets of the Endless Blue

Prophecy

Apocalypse: The Dark Secrets of the Endless Blue

Belied by the placid waters of the world oceans, there haave been hints that some strange things are going on beneath the surface of Elqua.  The accute and the visionary may have possibly felt the foreshadowing twinge of wrongness that permeates the seas of the Cerulean Epoch with the coming of the Indigo.  Kingmakers and tyrants alike have tried to reshape the world to their own liking, but none will ever come close as the secret the Big Blue Marble hides.

It begins with the disillusioned, and ends with displaced.  The vocal few that yelled their despite against the world's status quo were the soothsayers.  The truth being, the Godless had it both right and wrong, and in the end both Seamus Lorwynn and his detractors are both vindicated as they are victimized.

The piscean races, the lives of the masses of the Known World whose toil and tribulations formed such great civilizations, did not evolve from anything native to Elqua.  Olyhydra and the other gods decided to claim the Endless Blue as their own, populate the tiny blue speck in the multiverse with species from their domain, of their own choosing.  The clues were there for the observant.  The strange chimeric shape of the piscean form was never the result of the slow evolutionary process, but the kludged together workings of miracle and deific will.  The bone structure of the piscean tail, long repeating pattern of connecting vertebra until the tip instead of fused leg bones, was one of the many tip-offs.

But to claim this coveted gem and its expansive oceans, the invading gods needed to dispose of the true native heirs of the pristine seascape -- the Icht.  They were the native grown life, the Source's children, the inheritors of the vast seas and breaking waves.  But the gods destroyed them in preference of their false races, and the impassive shell of the Source stood silent as it slowly cracked.

The Kraken discovered this in their dealings with the anathematic Elsewhere.  That is how the previously uncooperative species learned to work together -- they focused on the invading species of piscean.  The same strange elder gods that gaze unblinking from the nether shadows into the waters of Elqua were the ones that supported the Kraken Occupation.  To cement this, the entities of Elsewere gave the Kraken the artifact known as Khantusk to unify a species that otherwise would never work in unison.  The Kraken that unified the Kraken Empire used the granted powers of Khantusk to overcome the territorial and solitary mindset of his cephalopodic kind, for without it, the inherent mistrust for others of their own kind would have kept the squid entangled in their petty territorial squabbles.

The means by which the entities from Elsewhere accomplished this is the Maelstrom.  Its unending, wavering course across the planet was never random, but guided by the eyes of the vitriolic shadows.  The Maelstrom scoured the sea floor, tearing up the silt and sand, digging, searching for the tools Elsewhere needed to expel these invading creatures from the realm they deeply coveted and utterly reviled.  But who are these Elsewhere entities?  They are the surviving shadow of the Icth, the negative counterparts that were orphaned in the Elsewhere when the invading gods struck their puissant counterparts.

But the Kraken were never meant to succeed.  The Shadows only meant for the Kraken to weaken the morale and defenses of the piscean races, not subjugate them totally.  Once dominant, the Kraken reverted to their petty, jealous ways and began plotting against each other instead of furthering the ambitions of the Shadows.  Eventually their dark benefactors tired of their foolish behavior, and once their true objective was reached abandoned the squid to degeneration and submission.  Done with their puppets, the Shadow Icht damned them so that they could never turn on their eldritch gods.

The degenerated Kraken, now called the Ceph, were scapegoats the Shadows could manipulate to take the brunt of most anything that was wrong with Elquan life.  Under this cover, the Shadows were able to release their true solution to the usurpation of the Elquan oceans -- they let loose the Indigo.

The Indigo was to be the harbinger of destruction, the final wiping of the board of the infestation of piscean life into an ecology of which they were not part.  But that itself is not the full purpose of the vicious, viscous substance.  It sought out the homonculus, the animated dead, the risen flesh given movement by the Resurrectionists.  The tendrils of black water seek out these vessels, as each one is a tiny fracture in the Law of Life, and through that crack the Shadow Icht of Elsewhere have a sliver of possibility in crossing over to the Fluid Nations.

The blind Kraken in the Undertow foresaw the fall of the Kraken empire, and willingly threw herself into the gyre.  There, hidden, sequestered, laid the eggs that are the final generation of the Kraken species.  Nestled there in stasis, they await awakening to renew the species.  Among her progeny lay one of the two Krakonian Orbs, the one that peers into the future.  Trapped as she is, the fragile, maddened mind of the Kraken obsessively peers into the thick mucal depths of the eye and searches frantically for the day her kind returns to the waters above, to seek justice or vengeance agaisnt the usury inflicted upon their race by the Shadows of the Icht.

Despite the eradication of the native sentience, the world of Elqua is fighting back against the encroaching Black Water.  This is the recent appearance of the Kelpygmies, animate plant matter, given animus -- though by no intent of their own -- by the Resurrectionists.  Their dabbling into the motive force of life gave the Source the opportunity to sneak through the planar barricades created by the gods and impart a bit of itself into the kelp forests.  When any Resurrectionist golem or homunculus is slain, the animating shade is cast back into the Elsewhere and sealed there.  However, that momentary link between the excommunicating shade and the mirror world allows the Source to impart a small sip of its divinity to the mortal realm,  There, it seeks out the most primal of areas, still mostly untouched by the hands of pisceans, and imbues the nature with sentience and mobility.  It seems despite the off-handed slaughter of the Icht and invasion of alien species, the Source still clings to the water world that has welled up around it.  It seems vastness bent on keeping the world whole and healthy, perhaps in the hopes that another indigenous form of life will one day make the leap from savage to sapient.

And so it ends...
The Cerulean Age is over, cut short by the Indigo.
It is the Age of Black Water, the Indigo Epoch.
The Endless Blue forever claimed as the Endless Black.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Endless Blue - Bonus - The Endless Blue True Type Font

Typography

The Endless Blue True Type Font

Millions are spent by companies on packaging and design, trying to capture just the right look for a product.  Brand name recognition comes as much from elegance of visual aesthetics as from the quality of the item itself.
Two of my favorite gaming settings knew this and incorporated a distinctive look into their already incredible writing to produce two of the most memorable and endearing gaming worlds I have ever had the pleasure to read:  Planescape by TSR/Wotc, and the Iron Kingdoms by Privateer Press.  Aside from their incredible writing, both are known for the consistent, exceptional graphics used in their supplements.  Perhaps most notable was each branded itself with a outstanding font that was used for its cover titles and interior headlines.  Planescape utilized the commercial Exocet Heavy typeface while Privateer Press employed the freeware Wolf’s Bane font for their products.

I want to capture that same level of instant association with the Endless Blue setting, so I began looking for a typestyle to accomplish just that outcome.  With some forethought, I had a few primary requirements the font first had to meet.  The first of which was the font had to have a certain amount of “weight” to it.  For example, the Exocet font comes in not just the Heavy typeface, but a Light as well.  The Light version has the classic serif look and cross motif that we have come to associate with the font, but is thin lined more akin to normal writing; the Heavy version keeps the same look, but is thicker, fuller, more solid in appearance than even a bolded Light version would posses.

While both have the desired look, the Heavy version has some graphic design benefits that the Light lacks.  By being a thicker line, a designer can apply other graphic effects that would be lost to the viewer on a thin line, such as texture.

As for the actual look of the font, I was reluctant to go with anything to explicitly “watery”.  While thematically cursive and loops would suggest an aquatic feel, it also entails a certain egalitarian, almost snobbish connotation.  Using such a font would make the work seem like a rather strange wedding invitation.  This font, Waterways Seafarers by Jellyka Nerevan, has a very organic, undulating feel that comes to mind when thinking of waves and breaking surf.  It exemplifies the ocean aspect of the setting, but it lacks the weight that fonts like Exocet Heavy and Wolf's Bane possess.

I looked elsewhere.  I have always been attracted to much of the Art Nouveau movement, at least in terms of their design.   I came across three fonts that had potential:  Chelsea Studio, Dustine Solid, and Dyer.

What immediately drew me to Chelsea Studio was the “floating squares” and double cross lines.  The line weight and curves unfortunately detract from the overall look, so I moved on to other typefaces.

Dustine Solid has a nice mix of curves and straight lines, especially in letters like P and R.  However, there is almost no difference between upper and lower case letters.  While the font I chose would only be used in titles and headers and thus wouldn’t really have much use for lower case, for creative sakes I wanted to have that possibility.

Dyer is very close to Dustine Solid in appearance, both the pros and cons.  What I really liked was the line under the lower-case vowels, the weak curve of the lower case S, and how the second lines in the E and F extend out farther than the top.  But still, the lower case had little difference from its upper case cousins, and the lower case i harkens back to the squares of Chelsea Studio, so...

I made my own.  I am by a far means a competent fontographer, but by using typeface foundary software (FontCreator by High-Logic) and some Adobe Photoshop I cobbled together this True Type font, with the Dyer font as the core and altering it to include the aspects of Chelsea Studio and Dutine Solid I admired.
Click on the image above or the following link to download a copy for yourself: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15590164/Endless%20Blue.ttf

I added a few personalized tweaks, such as the sloped bars in the B, P, and R, as well as the flipped D/d and O/0.  I toyed with a further version, that actually used lower case letters in the lower case spots, but while I meshed the style well with the upper case versions, the flow of letters in text was atrocious.  So I reverted to this earlier version and now release it into the wild.  I hope you find use for it, and if you can improve upon this primitive beginning please contact me and I'll update.
William James Cuffe

Friday, December 24, 2010

Endless Blue - Week 52 - Elsewhere: The Anathematic Ethereal Shadow

Cosmology

Elsewhere -- The Anathematic Ethereal Shadow

Elqua is remote, practically isolated from the metaverse of  cosmological ethos.  Not just a pale blue dot floating silently in the cosmos of stellar eternity, but a shunned pariah in the growing complexity of the multiverse.  Such abstract sophist concepts as portals to other dimension or astral travel are unknown among the philosophical thinkers of the world.  There is nothing beyond the mortal coil; there only exists what is seen and touched.  This unrelenting mentality has endured unaltered for many of Elqua's Ages,  from before the Bronze and on into the Verdant Age.  But it was during that green age of prosperity that this naive understanding of the world -- indeed, the universe -- was shattered, when the realm known as Elsewhere made its first overt actions into this world and forever changing Elquan history.

These otherworldly events where the catalyst for the change in the Verdant Age, corrupting its bounty and beneficence into the excruciating misery that has since become cast as the Age of Verdigris, the time of tarnishing and decay.  The canonical dogma that had been pontificated over and over to the mass populace began to show the cracks in the charade of its facade, and the infinitesimal worm of doubt was able to burrow its way into the minds of the few free thinking sages that remained unindoctrinated by the Stern Lady's eponymous Word of Law.  There, the worm spread, be it festering in the thoughts of the doubtful or flourishing in the minds of skepticism, and led many of the denizens of the water world to embrace the path of atheism, to the Godless.

Alignment Along the Orrery of Existence

The native waters of the Endless Blue are as lost in the planar universe as they are oblivious to it.  Adrift in the ocean of  the cosmos, marooned on a tiny spot of infinity, forgotten by the boundless horizons, Elqua bobs and crests on a sea of obscurity.  It has no links to the upper or lower outer planes, no ties binding it to the realms of law or chaos, and only a scant few tiny fissures in the fabric of reality lead to a single inner elemental plane.

The elemental plane of water borders on the prime world of Elqua, though passage between the spheres is rare and difficult.  The massive tojanidas, avatars of nature's grandeur first migrated from the true endless blue to the Elquan seas in the prehistory of picean life.  What few portals still remain between the two wet origins are the jealously guarded domains of the Tritons, deistic majesty made manifest by the gods of the civilized and primitive races alike.  But it is from there the gods of the pisceans reside.  Save the Source, which is the center of the world, the stern goddess Olyhydra, the sinful gods of the Yaun-Teel, even the totemic spirits of the primitive races dwell in the oceans beyond.

But despite this metaphysical singularity, this solitude among the multitude, another existence is intrinsically linked. At the same time extant and latent, this other place, this elsewhere co-exists with all of the seas around the Known World.   It is another world existing in the same spacial position that the waters of Elqua flow, but unseen by anyone.  At least, not by those pisceans on this side of the planar boundary.  Those nebulous intelligences on the other side are quite aware of Elqua and her Fluid Nations, and have been watching for eons.  That is, until they found a way to make contact across the ethereal border.

On the Other Side

Elsewhere is a mixture of darkness, insubstantiality, and hostility, a churning morass of negativity and opposition, a spectacle reflection of the comprehensible world of Elqua.  It overlaps the ocean world, co-existing yet not occupying the same space.  It mirrors the water world, with corresponding analogs for everything common and mundane on Elqua, only slightly off.  And everything there is antithetical to life in the Endless Blue.

Even the very waters filling the Elsewhere are dank, cold, rank... Everything is tainted by a causeless atrophy, cloudy and corrupt, like decay without the suppuration.  And the insatiable, unyielding cold...  It is a cold of absolutism, the lack of not just warmth but light.  Not even the heat of chaos emerges from the constant stagnation of energy.  Anathematic to life, to light, it festers there, just on the other side of sight.  It is the intangible Ethereal plane, the occluded plane of Shadow, and the annuling Negative Energy plane, frozen solid by a dry, utter cold of oblivion.  And there are intelligences here that have their own motivations, setting forth machinations upon the pristine world of Elqua.  These taskmasters were the otherworldly benefactors of the Kraken, who bolstered the monstrosities to the state of Great Squids, unleashing them upon an unsuspecting and ill prepared world.

Where Shadow and Light Meet

While any spot on Elqua is both here and there in the Elsewhere, there is also a definite though undefined border between the two.  The Border Ethereal, also known as the Penumbral Curtain, is the shore where the endless blue that holds Elqua and the murky naught of Elsewhere meet.  A paradoxical mix of contrary and same, of reciprocal and opposite, congruent and contradictory.

The seas of Elsewhere are viscous, cloudy thicknesses, tainted currents and obscured waters, where linger dark, twisted shadows of everything that exists on Elqua.  The counterparts there hate light and the living, their indistinct forms blurring into the foetid, milky waters.  But the closer you approach the Penumbral Curtain, from either side, the more like the mirror world the plane becomes.  It is a case of proximity over polarity, where the closer a piscean is to something in Elsewhere, the more like its normal Elqua counterpart it appears.  At a distance Elsewhere seas are a poxed molasses of viscosity; but the water against the naked eye are as clear as the Elquan tropics.

Whispers Across the Gulf

Despite their closeness, Elsewhere and Elqua do not interact.  So disparate is there co-existence that they two might as well be separated by the whole of creation.  Nothing in all of Elqua has been able to pierce the Penumbral Curtain and gaze into the miasma that is Elsewhere.  However, Elsewhere has gazed long and longingly at the pure, clean environs of its co-habitable plane. Over time, the umbral minds where weary of simple glimpses and made a concerted effort to make contact.  The so called "whisper across the gulf", the first contact of the powers of Elsewhere with the deranged Kraken took on the mantle of the Adumbrate Luminary and led the eclipse of the Known World with the united forces of krakenkind.

How this is accomplished is a mystery that most sane pisceans would shrink from, the terrible fear of what else is somewhere out there, so very close, so very near.  It is this very same phobia that has made the Ruins of the Kraken Empire, and specifically the Maw, verboten to every rational sapience alive.  Even the secret-covetous Kouton avoid the area like the plague, flying in the face of accusations of conspiracy with the Great Squid during the Occupation.  Heresay alludes to those whispers having gone silent, as if cut off from the world of Elqua in mid thought and bringing about the severance of Kraken into the vermin of the Ceph.  Others foretell that where once the alien overlords of Elsewhere once spoke, they will emerge once the secret to crossing the Penumbral Curtain is solved.  But what is most feared is that all this will come about, should there be ears about the Maw to listen for the soft, septic whispers from across the gulf.

Reacting to fear with totalitarianism, the Stern Mistress has decreed here acolytes shall patrol the cordon of the Maw, preventing entry of the Ruins from outside and stop escape of whatever from within.  Their mariners take this duty as sacrosanct, and these rangers of the waves are prepared to hunt down trespassers across the oceans of Elqua if need be to ensure that the apocalyptic entities of Elsewhere never again flex their influence in the Endless Blue again...

"Ever do They lurk, Ever do they listen,
Ever do They seek an ear among the currents glisten.
Ever do They watch, Ever do they gaze,
Ever do They seek a way to corrupt and to raze."
-- part of the first Free Olypiad's commencement.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Endless Blue - Week 51 - Cattel of the Fluid Nations: Barnard's Swallower

Zoology

Cattel of the Fluid Nations: Barnard's Swallower

NOTE: The images and ideas presented here are copyright Alex Ries and based on his Barnard's Swordswallower concept, except for material previously posted in the Endless Blue campaign setting blog.  The use Alex's work here is not meant as an infringement of those rights, and is used without permission.  It does not qualify as Open Game Content as per the OGC document.  If you enjoyed what you have read/seen here, please visit Alex's website at http://www.alexries.com, his blog at http://exozoo.blogspot.com, and his DeviantArt page at http://abiogenisis.deviantart.com.

Barnard's Swallower

Gargantuan Aberration (Aquatic)
Hit Dice: 4d8 +4 (22 hp)
Initiative:
Speed: 20 feet (4 cubes)
Buoyancy: Shoals (adjustable)
Armor Class: +1
Base Attack/Grapple: -3/+13
Attack: Water Slap (1d8 points of subdual damage)
Full Attack: Water Slap (1d8 points of subdual damage)
Space/Reach: 40 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Net
Special Qualities: None
Saves: Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +4.
Abilities: Str 10, Dex 12, Con 13, Int 2, Wis 9, Cha 8
Skills: Hide -5, Search +7, Spot +7, Survival +7
Feats: Improved Grab, Improved Natural Armor, Snatch,  Tracescent
Environment: Temperate, open waters (Shoals)
Organization: Solitary or mating pairs.
Challenge Rating: 1/2
Treasure: None, other than body parts.
Alignment: Always neutral.
Advancement: Young (1HD), Juvenile (2-3 HD), Adult (4 HD)
Level Adjustment: -

A Barnard's Swallower, shown with its "mouth" open and about to feed.

The Swallower is an ubiquitous example of packbreeder success.  It has been credited with domestication by the Barnard family as far back as the Bronze Age, and has served alongside the various piscean species consistently ever since.  Its relatively robust health makes it ideal for areas of temperature extremes such as those in the arctics or tropics, where it fares only slightly less well than in temperate waters.  Thoroughly domesticated, swallowers that are let loose into the wild or wander away from safer currents quickly fall prey to native predators.  Their ability to survive on their own has subsequently been bred out of them as their role as livestock as been bred into them.  The wild swallower has since all but been hunted to extinction by the indigenous races of the Known World.


Approximately 40 feet long from tip of sail to end of net, the Swallower is most notable for its distinctive knife-shape trunk and crop.  The trunk has about the same degree of flexibility as that of a Mer's spine, and trails a ventral fin from tip to neck.  Its epidermis is a blubbery, resilient skin that is a mottled slate grey along the dorsal side and a pale bluish-white along the belly.  A series of six paired openings along the trunk are the gills of the beast.


Barnard's Swallower coloration.
Swallowers are hermaphoditic, with a reproductive system that both provides and receives genetic material.  When the mating season begins, swallowers congregate in wide, open waters and release their seed packets into the currents where hopefully another swallower will swim through the plume of sperm and collect enough to become impregnated.  Self-impregnation seems to be biologically impossible due to the creature's own immune system.  But it is expressly due to this "pollination" method of reproduction that piscean selection could begin the animals'  slow alteration from wild beast to domesticated livestock.

Combat

The swallower is a docile beast, slow to move and relatively weak despite its size.  It makes a poor beast of burden; instead its value to piscean settlements is as livestock.

The ventral fin acts in many ways like a keel, and undulates in a rippling wave to produce forward momentum, much like the fins on the side of a squid.  Normally the eddies created in the currents from this motion would scatter prey in proximity, but the swallower developed a hunting skill to account for this -- it will snap the fin in a strong, sharp swat, effectively smacking small prey with a wall of water.  While their senses are overloaded from the impact of the water, the swallower can scoop them up in its net.  Few so buffeted can collect their wits again before they are engulfed.  Their main diet is comprised of great gulps of plankton that are easily found in the blooming open waters of Elqua, supplemented by the occasional small fish or other animal unfortunate enough to be caught in the Swallower's uniquely evolved digestive system.

Internal Anatomy of the Barnard's Swallower

The bulbous portion hanging down from the "blade" is the animal's digestive system, which parts open in much the same way a bivalve clamshell does.  When it does open, it releases a sheer, billowing "net" anchored to thin limb-like protrusions.  This fine fibered netting is organic in nature -- a silk derived from glands lining the Swallower's bulb -- and is used as a sieve to filter the animal's preferred meal stock from the ocean's currents: plankton.  Much like the massive whales, the gargantuan Swallower is dependent on one of the tiniest species of life for its continued survival.

Living creatures are pushed into this organic colander due to the disruptive currents of the Swallowers fin, where they are caught against the slime covered net.  This mucus is constantly being secreted while the net is inside the Swallower's bulb, and is slightly acidic due to the collection of enzymes that give it the tacky qualities that trap its prey.  As the chemical reactions from the enzymes break down the trapped food, it sloughs down the netting in the form of a nutrient rich nectar, perfectly prepared for digestion.

When the net is closed again, the joint seen at the back of the Swallower bends under the bulb.  There the briny bouillabaisse pools over what constitutes the creatures actual mouth.  An esophageal tube runs back up the back of the Swallower's net limbs, carrying the pre-digested catch to the stomach proper.  The connective netting between the folding limbs is a natural forming silk, that allows water to strain through the membrane but keep its plankton catch intact.  The enzymic acid it excretes to dissolve its prey also wears away at this silk, so the netting is in a constant state of repair.

The Swallower's net grab does not inflict damage.  Instead, it slowly excrete enzymes that kill prey collected in its net.  Treat the enzyme as an Acid.  It can Snatch Large or smaller creatures in its net.

Circulatory System of the Barnard's Swallower

Despite it grand size, the Swallower has an easily mappable circulatory system.  A series of veins and arteries transport the blood over the animal's body by means of small sac-like organs at the base of each gill.  These are primitive hearts, muscular pumps providing the pressure to move blood to needy organs.  Exhausted blood is circulated through the gills by means of small vascular loops.  Due to its lethargic lifestyle, the ponderous beast lacks a powerful central heart like pisceans possess, and as a result over-stimulation has been known to make the creatures faint.  This makes them easy prey in the wild.

Nervous System of the Barnard's Swallower

The neural network of a Swallower is unsurprisingly primitive.  It is of no revelation that the animal has never demonstrated any form of higher thinking skills, despite the best efforts of numerous packbreeders to create a better, smarter Swallower.  At best the nervous system can essentially maintain the creature's autonomic systems functioning.  The most complex thought processes the animal can achieve is feeding and movement, and not always at the same time.  It accomplishes nature's evolutionary requirements, and nothing more, spurring the piscean phrase "dumb as a swallower" for anyone or thing that barely functions above a comatose state.

The intent of selectively breeding Swallowers has results in various fields.  Resources scavenged from a Swallower are:  enzymes for alchemists, silk for weavers, skin for tanning, even meat for eating.
Rumor has it that a tribe of Locanth nomads has begun a concerted effort to re-introduce the Swallower to the wild.  Their packbreeders are attempting to breed self-reliance and animal instinct back into the creatures in order to restore the previously wild version to the shoals of the Gulf of Locanth.

"It is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, but seldom is it less risky..."
-- Sensate rationalization for many of their indulgences.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Endless Blue - Week 50 - The Recurring Storm: The Maelstrom

Meteorology

The Recurring Storm: The  Maelstrom

The skies of Elqua are a tranquil swath of blue, should any piscean throw aside their generations of fear and simply glimpse above the surf.  Occasional languid streaks of cloud break up the hypnotizing expanse of cyan above that mirrors the undulating endless blue below.  Storms are rare, with precipitation falling across the dotted isles like sudden, soft breezes.  But not all the weather is kind, and the exists a strange mega-storm that has raked the world for as long as there has been water -- the Maelstrom.

This huge hurricane that has persisted on the face of the world for millennia, slowly dragging around the planet in a haphazard, drunken course.  Its direction at the whim of currents, both air and sea, it meanders across the globe, making one revolution every year.  So regular is this rotation that there is one additional week added to the Elquan calendar, specifically signifying the one constant speck of behavior the natives can predict, namely the five days that the Maelstrom crosses the shallow shoals known as the Creche of Civilization.  Except for that foreseeable week, the tempest defies charting, its course never the same except for the inevitable period where it seems determined to traverse the Creche of Civilization.

Anatomy of a Tempest


Study of the the Maelstrom is foolishness to the extreme.  The shear size of the hurricane's whirling shape, the flensing winds capable of flaying flesh from bone, its torrential currents whipping the breath of water from the gills.  No fearless piscean could go near it; no sane one would want to.  But if a soul dared, if a solitary inquisitive mind set itself to study the esoteric cyclone, what they might espy would forever haunt and humiliate them.

There, towering over the scattered islands and volcanic outcropping hovers a discus so immense it astonishingly stretches across a whole eight degrees of longitude.  Its cyclonic winds scrabbling at the air, stealing the moisture in the form of faint wisps of water vapor, its hungry gyre swallowing them greedily.  If not for the collection of these few streaks of opacity over the geologic history of Elqua, the Maelstrom would be invisible in the Vastness.  Due to the scarcity of haze and fog, the Maelstrom does not blanket the atmosphere in a thick coating of cloud.  Instead, the storm is naked, bared to the dark, ever-present night that glowers in the deep Vastness beyond the blue world of water.  If any piscean could look down from there and gaze back at the planet of their origin, they would see the strangest sight... an octagon of churning weather on the face of Elqua.

The Octagon on Elqua

The funnel cloud sprawls from the reaches of the upper atmosphere down to the rolling surface of the world's ocean,  where the sub-aqueous portion then breaks through the tumultuous waves, plunging below to the bottom of the abyssal floor.  The nadir of the hurricane drags across the ocean floor, sifting through the silt of the seabeds, upturning natural undersea flora and muddying the currents in its devastating wake.

The turbulence, the chaos created by the storm agitates the waters, inserting random variance and kinetic potential into the placid waters of Elqua.  Perhaps that very same disturbance of the waters gave life the spark of impetus to evolve from the primordial oceans.  Maybe it brought about the impetus for the direly needed variation in weather that the shallow ocean basin of the waterworld required to foster the diversification of life, to bolster its spread from out of the safe haven of the Creche of Civilization and outward into the Endless Blue.  For as much damage and woe that the tempest illicit, the rampaging force of nature may have brought about the existence of higher life on Elqua.

The storm front known as the Maelstrom is not a single hurricane, but in truth a group of eight smaller twisters, themselves rotating into a greater tempest.  Eddies in the atmosphere from the conglomerated storms forms an octagonal shape.  The barometric shear blurs the outward currents together, and with the bulge of each individual storm's eye enforcing the shape, appears as an octogram.

Wave-like instabilities crept up, rogue eddies circulating, tempest-tossed spirals trapped between the tranquil waters within the Maelstrom's eye and the faster current streams counter-rotating around the storm.  These form the geometric outline of the tempest's whorled winds.


The eye of the Maelstrom -- the column of low pressure air around which the cyclonic gyre spirals -- is calm and clear of cloud cover.  The waters are strangely still, a twenty-five mile wide limpid pool of water that seems to float across the globe as if cradled in the massive hands of the storm.  The surrounding whirlwinds reach up to 200 miles per hour, but the silence in the eye is eerily quiet, as if the air itself were petrified and unmovable.  The pooled water here dips a few feet lower than sea level outside the Maelstrom, and looking up from this vantage point has the viewer gazing through a humongous tunnel of shadowed clouds, its walls silently spinning and undulating downward as the eye of the beholder slowly pans upward for miles, until it finally breaks out into a tiny circle of pale blue.  If not for the fearsome forces screaming around the eye like a banshee, the eye would actually be quite serene.

The Path of Strife

There is no mean, median, or usual path for the Maelstrom's advance across the face of the globe.  It only has the most vague of limits, the most ephemeral of laws.  Foremost among those is the fact that it always, always travels along the surface of the water, never making landfall or cutting across dry land.  And despite whatever whim or variance the storm has followed, it will always return to the Creche of Civilization for the five days that mark the passing of one year and the birth of another.

"Bigger torrents have smaller torrents,
That leech off their strife;
And little torrents form stable currents,
a stressful way of life..."
-- The Recurring Storm, Introduction.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Endless Blue - Week 49 - The War of Math and the Acumen Cipher

Numerology

The War of Math and the Acumen Cipher

Many tools are credited with the rise of the piscean races over the wilds of Elqua's oceans.  The advent of aquaculture; the domestication of zoological diversification, the exploitation of mineral resources, all have been strong pillars in a foundation of societal growth.  But perhaps the one most precious invention has nether substance nor weight, yet has spawned nearly every technological advance of import in the history of the Endless Blue.

This creation of the mind is none other than mathematics.  Without it, commerce cannot prosper, science is left bereft of action, and pisceans are prevented from attaining their true potential.  With its power, any mind can conjecture about the laws of nature, find patterns in the physical world, even investigate, comprehend, and teach the insights gleaned from simple calculation when applied by a logical methodology.  Sadly, the truth is that there are forces conspiring to keep the populace mathematically illiterate.

Leviathans Amongst the Schools


Both the Holy Church of Olyhydra and the Synesthete Synod have been waging an ongoing campaign, though on opposite sides, to keep the common piscean mathematically permanently retarded.  Were it not for this concerted effort at undermining the educational standards of the Known World homeseas, pisceans may have discovered secrets of the universe and freedoms undreamed of by their stunted minds.  Instead, they now flounder under the oppressive influence of self-interested organizations that prefer to enforce their control through dogma or deception.

The only force that has made more than a token effort to combat this history of ignorance comes from the restless inquiries of the Godless.  Unfortunately organized religion has done quite a thorough job of slandering their image.  With popular loyalty securely in their places of worship, it is an against the tide battle for those of atheistic viewpoints.  The Resurrectionists are forced to remain out of the philosophical war, both in fear of the revelation of what they truly are and of repercussions against their guise as the Academy of Doctors.  As such they are quite impotent in the face of the Church or the Synod, despite the underlying need for mastering the mathematical grades that is inherent in their healing works.

The Mathematical Grades

The art of math is broken down into grades.  These are considered levels of difficulty inherent in computation that form the basis for the next grade.  By mastering one grade, the individual is catapulted into an even wider understanding of the world at the next grade.

1 Numeracy (number literacy) -- Most all pisceans attain this level of math, which includes knowing the order of numbers and understand the concepts of greater and lesser.
2 Functions (basic arithmetic) -- This level not only includes simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but also extends into the order in which complex series of equations must be resolved (i.e, multiplication/division before addition/subtraction).
3 Algebra (variables) -- The basic concept of representational math, where a symbol refers to an unknown quantity that can change depending on the data supplied.  Only the educated on Elqua reach this level of mathematical literacy, and rarely without the support of an organization or insights from a numerical form of synesthesia.
4 Geometric (spacial relations) -- These are the skills of the architect, the math of constructing shapes and their relationship to each other.  This is the last "public" grade of math, known to the greats of piscean history and is the most complex mathematical skill available to the Olyhydran congregation.
5 Calculus (limits and infinities) -- Considered an esoteric science by the educated of the Known World, this level and above are poorly known except by Synesthetes.  It is the study of change, learned by the synesthetes in glimpses from number-form members of the Synod.
6 Probability (math that predicts based on some data) -- This discipline opens the doorway to synesthetic divination, teaching the diviner how to gauge the aftermath of an action and the likelihood of desired results transpiring due to outside interference.
7 Heuristics (math that pre-guesses based on nebulous or no data) -- The penultimate step in divination, allowing the synesthete precognitive knowledge of events barely hinted at in the present.
8 Cipher Acumen (math that self-calculates)  -- This pinnacle of mathematical understanding is not just artificial intelligence, but such intelligence independent of physicality.  A self perpetuating formula, ever constant is its self-summation.

The Acumen Cipher


Just as the Resurrectionists have their cynosure in the quest to revive the dead Icht, the Sensates have their apex of philosophy, also inherited from the Icht: The Acumen Cipher.  Unlike the Resurrectionists, however, the Synod has already achieved theirs -- though not without the prior theories postulated by the Icht.  It was actually synesthete diviners of the Icht Dominion that created a primitive prototype of self-computing arithmetic promised in the Eight Grade of Math, but its finalization into the form it holds today was firmly caused by the Synod.

The existence of the Acumen Cipher is virtually unknown outside the Synod, and is only a mathematical abstract to those synesthetes that do not comprise the inner council.  A mental exercise in the potential puissance of mathematics, the Acumen Cipher mostly serves as a communal goal that ties a disparate conglomeration of pisceans that, by their very nature, leaves them as incapable of working together as the pre-Occupation Kraken.

Capable of computations far beyond the level of math currently possible among the Known World, delving into calculus as a norm and peaking into levels of numerical computation that would perplex even the most intelligent today.  This great leap in mathematical skill was directly resultant from the a form of synesthesia called number-form.  With this type of synesthesia, numbers take on a relational pattern in actual space -- a mental map of math.  This visualization of numbers as allowed intuitive leaps in mathematical innovation, building up over the years into long sought after ultimate expression of computational science: the self propagating formula.


The Acumen Cipher is a ghost of sorts, in symbolism if not in actuality.  It appears as a wavering, blurry outline that is roughly patterned after the piscean form, with an indistinct head atop an ephemeral torso, wavering limbs and a phantom tail.  Those entrusted enough to be in its presence can, if they listen intently, hear the mumbled sounds of numbers being added, subtracted, multiplied, divided... A faint yet haunting refrain of math lofting on the currents as the Acumen Cipher must continue to calculate itself lest it cease to function.  It cannot interact with the world around it directly, and to communicate in sentences of only a few words it must speed up its calculations for weeks in advance to gain itself a sliver of buffer time where it can address its attention elsewhere.  But its origins with the synesthetes is evident, as it expresses every form of synesthesia known concurrently, projecting a globe of faintly glowing light, shapes, sounds, and sensations around it.  It is as if you were seeing through the Cipher's invisible eyes, hearing with its non-existent ears, feeling the sensations of its ethereal form.

Most of the inner council's efforts delve into these palpable expressions of the Acumen Cipher's divining synesthesia, and the prognostications extracted from such an all encompasing synesthesia guide the Synod in its overreaching goals.  While finding two synesthetes that can operate together without working at cross purposes, no synesthete has ever experienced a negative sensation from the vision of the Acumen Cipher.

Forbidden Lore, Knowingly Hidden.

There are surprisingly many mathematical tomes that hide the secrets of calculation in their treated and tattooed pages.  The synesthetes of the Synod cheris their Codex Calculus, while the masterful pontiffs of the Harsh Mistress fearfully guard their few copies of The Divine InsightPatterns in Numerology lingers never too far from the reach of a Resurrectionist employing either side of their dichotomous skills.  But perhaps the most humbly named book that holds the secrets of education lies in the hands of the Godless and is passed between its students, entitled just Math.  The Church of Olyhydra has unequivocally banned the book from the households of its faithful, castigating it as apocryphal and evil.  Sensates take a less direct approach to spurning its existence, choosing instead to influence the experience of those around the grimoire into negativity and distaste.  Little would please the Godless as a whole more than to get the work into the hands of every piscean in the Fluid Nations, as their philosophy is sure of the material's potency to undermine the machinations of the deistic.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Endless Blue - Week 48 - The Synesthete Synod and the Art of Sensate Divination

Conspirology

The Synesthete Synod and the Art of Sensate Divination

Just as the oceans of Elqua have water currents layered over gulf streams over deep see undertows, so to have the political forces that govern the Fluid Nations.  Local territories vying for dominance under the province of  homesea governments conducting d├ętente and espionage among their peers.  But above this level of intrigue run the currents of secret organizations -- groups of faceless, nameless pisceans with the power and resources to guide the Known World in the direction of their choosing.  Under their self-interested direction, they influence the policies and cultures of the Endless Blue from afar, bringing about a new world order that the few aware of this interference want to succeed.  The organization's adherents are known as Sensates, and the name of their governing council is whispered among the free pisceans: The Synesthete Synod.

What is Synesthesia?

Those precious few blessed with the gift of inate precognition experience the world quite differently than the majority.  They see the world around them in all its beauty and horror, but their senses are intertwined.  Stimuli that would normally only trigger a single sense for the average piscean can trigger multiple senses for a synesthete.  A certain sound would trigger a taste on the synesthete's tongue, or a brushing touch elicits a scent on their gills.  This condition has be described as a "union of senses", and intrinsically alters the individual perception of events and the world.

But synesthesia need not manifest in such generalized reactions.  The most common form of synesthesia -- at least 60% of those that possess the condition -- expresses itself as a cross-linking between two forms of sight.  When reading letters and numbers, these synesthetes automatically associate color to each grapheme.  One letter would be seen as written in blue while another penned in green, regardless of the actual color in which the text is printed.

Synesthesia is an additive condition, meaning that extra sensory input is invoked in response to proper stimuli.  It has been described by some that experience its effect that the world around them has an "overlay of color" or other form of sense.  Artistic interpretations of the condition have revealed a synesthete experiences the world as an ongoing masterpiece of art, sound, and other senses.  However, not every experience from synesthesia is pleasant.  Jarring sounds that would trigger the fight or flight reflex in a normal Elquan would take on an additional layer of disruptive sensation in a synesthete, such as visual flashing of color or a sharp taste of bitterness.  And since synesthesia is an autonomic process, there is no respite to the negative sensory overload -- it cannot be turned off.

The addition of color to one of a synesthete's senses is the most common expression of the condition, but not the only expression.  Not only could symbols trigger the association of color, but flavors, scents, touch -- even emotions of the self or the personalities of others.  The additive information is not limited to color, but can invoke tastes, smell, temperature, or touch.  It is this matrix of sense-to-sensation that makes the condition powerfully potent in the use of divination.

Divination of the Synesthetes

Divination expresses itself through the minds of those both bemused and addled with synesthesia's sensory feedback. When all the aspects of synesthesia are in harmony -- ie. the extra sensations other than the knowledge itself are pleasurable.  The more pleasurable the sensations in contemplation and completion of an action, the more beneficial the result.  However, even if two different individuals share the same kind of synesthesia, rare do the associations coincide.  In sound/color synesthetes, while one might see red when hearing a bass sound, the other might see violet.  As pitch increases, the first may see a lighter shade of red at one octave higher, while the other may instead see yellow for the same note.  The same applies to the other sensations, and it is this difference that leads to personalized divination.

For example, through number/color synesthesia patterns can be found.  The following pattern represents the input of stimulus that anyone experiences daily without the gifts of divination or synesthesia:


For those that are not fortunate to have their senses in union, divining the future would look much like this:

At first glimpse, the field is a blurring tapestry of light and dark.  Even looking closely, a piscean can barely make out that the pattern is comprised of 5s with some 2s intermixed.  But to a synesthete, the pattern jumps out vividly with but a glance:
Information discerned through Synesthesia

The clues for the hidden data are there for any diviner to see, but it the comprehension of that encrypted information that is unclear.  Such is the way of most divination.  But when coupled with the insights bestowed by synesthesia, patterns not only become clear but reveal their meaning more implicitly.  Now, the future is rarely ever so simple.  The following pattern is more random, where the threads of numbers become more diffuse just as the threads of fate are unfathomable:
Data hidden amongst greater complexity.

The same data is being convey as the first message, but now the ancillary data further obscures the divination.  But coupled with synesthesia, even corruption of the pure message becomes clear:
Information interprated through Synesthesia

It is this "corruption" that the Sensates are attempting to resolve y their influence over Elquan life.  By small applications of their art, a nudge here and a urging there, they hope to maneuver events into a pattern that is more syncopated with their senses.  They hope to guide the anomalous sensory input (such as the green digits in the above example) into a more esthetically pleasing sensation, thereby altering the course of events by way of  personal taste.  Through their actions, they would alter the dispersal of 4s and 6s, reducing their presence so the inherent message came through clearer.

The particulars of an individual Sensate's expression of synesthesia (be it grapheme/color, number/form, or even emotion/flavor) are personal, and so personality is a factor in what is considered pleasant.  As such, two Sensates may end up working at cross purposes when their synesthesias manifest in contrary manners.  Due to this, most synesthetes eschew working directly with others of their ilk, especially those with the same sensory pairing.  In rare occasions the synesthesia of two individuals meshes seamlessly, and it is the Synesthete Synod's ongoing mandate to find those whose gifts compliment each other and support the resultant divination.  It is the dream of the five seat inner council to uncover a set of five special synesthetes whom all work in unison.  In this way, the Synod is as much a victim of Sensate manipulation as the conspiratorial-minded pisceans accuse them.

The Sensate World Order

To enact their alterations on the passing of history, Sensates must make a very hands-on effort.  While they will employ others to carry out their edits to current events, they themselves still must take an active role in order to gauge the effectiveness with their synesthesia.  This has led to the second reason they are called Sensates, and this time in a negative connotation.  Sometimes great lengths must be taken to enact change, and indulging in the urges of others -- a form of leading the way -- is one of the surest methods.

A direct result of this approach has synesthetes participating in the same seductions they are using on their target.  The have developed a reputation of hedonism and indulgence that the Olyhydran church has decried, and the two influential parties have become bitter enemies.  The totalitarian edicts of Olyhydranism are diametrically opposite of the perceived decadence of the Sensates, and the church has begun a doctrine of vilifying synesthesia as corruption and divination as sin.  One of the most difficult challenges for the Synesthete Synod and the pursuit of their New World Order is the interference of the Olyhydran religion.  To seduce a mind that has dedicated its soul to servitude requires a steady hand and a light touch else their machinations may collapse around them and irrevocably destroy any hope of synesthetic harmony.  The Matron of the Waters has decreed to her flock that the veniality that Sensates wallow in is unforgivable, casting those whom succumb to the Vastness for eternal damnation among the aberrations.

"From the flavor of music to the caress of thought,
the cacophony of existence can be conducted to suit one's taste..."

-- Dogma of the Synesthete Synod.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Endless Blue - Week 47 - Lorem Ipsum

Philology

Lorem Ipsum

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse in sem leo, ut suscipit turpis. Proin sit amet bibendum felis. Quisque eget dolor quis felis pharetra imperdiet. Donec dapibus fringilla arcu, porta convallis lacus bibendum et. Vivamus sem nulla, ultricies nec viverra non, elementum vel ipsum. Ut leo est, placerat id cursus eget, ultricies id elit. Etiam fermentum rutrum mauris at pulvinar. Cras vehicula fermentum massa ac gravida. Nulla facilisi. Pellentesque aliquam sollicitudin massa, ac viverra sem dapibus non. Fusce nisi odio, ultrices eget porttitor ac, congue ac enim. Etiam congue tempus neque placerat laoreet.

Ut in augue erat, vel bibendum velit. Ut aliquet pulvinar interdum. Sed ullamcorper dictum diam quis imperdiet. Donec non lectus non turpis interdum volutpat at vitae eros. Aenean a nisi nibh. Proin sapien massa, sollicitudin vel egestas placerat, rhoncus at lorem. Nunc consequat urna sit amet justo convallis posuere ultricies est molestie. Vestibulum id nunc eu diam euismod tincidunt. Cras consequat euismod enim ac hendrerit. Quisque cursus placerat consectetur.

Suspendisse scelerisque mollis pulvinar. Etiam accumsan, arcu vel consectetur blandit, felis metus tristique tellus, in venenatis tortor tellus in nisl. Duis commodo, risus sed elementum fringilla, nulla neque adipiscing purus, in eleifend mi risus sed nunc. Ut nec nibh vel neque hendrerit hendrerit sed vitae purus. Pellentesque tristique ipsum sapien, at placerat est. Duis at nisl purus. Nulla ante odio, auctor sed hendrerit in, fermentum a sem. Proin vel velit orci. In venenatis urna sed quam tincidunt id molestie purus interdum. Morbi accumsan mauris id turpis condimentum tincidunt mattis quam aliquet. Fusce et arcu lorem. Nulla lobortis consectetur rutrum. Praesent in est sem, accumsan faucibus lectus. Praesent porta tincidunt pretium. Sed tristique viverra ante. Nullam dictum justo ut est tincidunt sodales. Fusce pulvinar blandit elit ut facilisis. Integer condimentum tellus ut est consectetur vel faucibus turpis accumsan.

Pellentesque molestie dolor ut leo posuere in gravida enim consequat. Integer congue convallis rutrum. Nam sit amet metus ut tellus cursus malesuada vitae eu neque. Maecenas vel mauris sit amet mauris egestas iaculis sed eu sapien. Vivamus vitae lacus arcu. Aenean at sollicitudin ipsum. Morbi id leo in dolor ultrices iaculis et id purus. Sed condimentum ipsum non sapien bibendum vitae fringilla orci gravida. Nam ornare ullamcorper faucibus. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Phasellus ac gravida lacus. Sed ut magna mauris, vel ultricies lacus. Mauris rhoncus libero eget purus congue convallis egestas sapien tincidunt.

Mauris ut sem mollis dui faucibus condimentum sit amet ac tortor. Nullam orci purus, volutpat eu dignissim a, scelerisque sit amet neque. Sed facilisis pellentesque est sed sagittis. Integer dignissim enim ac tortor lacinia ut euismod tellus auctor. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. Integer sed arcu sed sapien tempor hendrerit nec non turpis. Nullam ultrices tortor non dui venenatis pretium in non nulla. Donec vulputate posuere dolor eu sollicitudin. Fusce enim nisi, auctor nec laoreet eget, blandit vitae tortor. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Fusce justo urna, cursus scelerisque sodales vel, bibendum vitae nulla. Nulla interdum, mauris vitae hendrerit suscipit, justo arcu pellentesque erat, eget vehicula lectus tortor at purus.

Cras faucibus tortor nec ante dictum sit amet ultricies tellus sollicitudin. Mauris lacinia, sapien vitae varius tempus, eros nisl porta nisi, non ornare risus nibh ut neque. Nunc sed dui quis ante euismod mollis. Nam semper tortor eget urna pharetra et porta justo lobortis. Sed erat eros, adipiscing nec sagittis sit amet, posuere vitae felis. Mauris tincidunt enim id enim commodo at posuere arcu fringilla. Aliquam erat volutpat. Praesent sollicitudin pretium sapien id adipiscing. Etiam dolor metus, tincidunt eu ornare in, gravida accumsan tortor. In tristique dignissim metus, id venenatis nunc imperdiet nec. Sed cursus dolor vel velit luctus ac tincidunt quam congue. Praesent ac quam mi, quis ultricies elit. Nunc mollis erat sit amet dolor faucibus luctus. Mauris vel nulla at nulla congue tristique posuere et ante. In rhoncus posuere nisi, vel congue dolor posuere id. Nam viverra pharetra velit, quis auctor augue consequat dignissim. Aliquam enim tellus, varius et accumsan eu, adipiscing ac magna. Suspendisse ut mi ipsum. Phasellus fermentum, ante et facilisis facilisis, eros purus fringilla nulla, at vulputate mi mi ut justo.

Nunc vitae erat quis justo rutrum pellentesque in eu purus. Pellentesque blandit vulputate leo nec euismod. Quisque pharetra laoreet elit vel consequat. Maecenas pharetra elit in diam egestas semper. In fermentum accumsan sem, eget tincidunt nisi pretium a. Maecenas mi metus, pellentesque eu vestibulum ac, sodales id metus. Sed ac ligula quis tellus hendrerit fermentum. Vivamus a sapien a purus varius pharetra. Duis a metus nec purus placerat aliquet vel eu est. Etiam volutpat, augue a ultrices auctor, tortor lorem placerat eros, at vestibulum magna turpis vel est. In sed accumsan urna.

Ut mattis rhoncus dolor et eleifend. Pellentesque vestibulum vestibulum faucibus. Fusce ipsum arcu, tempor sit amet dictum ut, vehicula sit amet massa. Cras interdum nisi sit amet ante condimentum nec iaculis orci bibendum. Ut sed metus vitae turpis aliquet euismod. Proin nisi erat, congue in venenatis eu, convallis quis nibh. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. In congue pellentesque lectus in luctus. In laoreet hendrerit sem at pulvinar. Morbi eget urna ligula. Vivamus eu leo enim. Donec sagittis odio quis lectus elementum pulvinar. Duis volutpat pulvinar felis quis hendrerit. Sed odio sem, luctus cursus tempus nec, facilisis a nulla. In pharetra tellus bibendum velit feugiat ullamcorper.

Vivamus sollicitudin cursus tristique. Mauris vehicula imperdiet lectus. Phasellus ut aliquet nulla. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Nullam lobortis nisi luctus metus laoreet eget mollis diam venenatis. Aenean turpis leo, tincidunt quis facilisis ac, suscipit in ante. Maecenas nec velit lacus, ut lobortis ipsum. Donec magna lacus, volutpat ut dictum porta, feugiat eu nulla. Proin lorem eros, dignissim sit amet tempor eget, adipiscing sed enim. Pellentesque ut erat vitae felis posuere placerat id a neque. Sed vel dui ligula. Nullam nunc orci, ultrices et suscipit ut, vulputate ac urna. Duis pretium laoreet vulputate. Curabitur posuere nibh eu eros molestie mollis. Donec ultrices quam leo, et elementum sapien. Proin vel massa nec orci porta malesuada viverra id enim. Nunc mollis odio in eros pharetra consectetur. Nunc sodales felis in augue accumsan at consectetur erat facilisis. Ut elementum eros quis odio facilisis pharetra. Donec iaculis dolor vel eros tempus venenatis.

Etiam bibendum, nunc at porttitor porta, lectus nunc rutrum libero, dictum suscipit velit elit vel nisl. Etiam quis neque sit amet felis pellentesque aliquam. Donec placerat rutrum nulla a euismod. Vestibulum et risus felis. Curabitur tristique neque id est rutrum sit amet varius dolor semper. Quisque aliquet tincidunt magna, ut suscipit felis convallis vel. Maecenas vitae tellus sem. Sed ultricies lectus sed diam sagittis vel ultricies nulla imperdiet. Ut dignissim mi at mi malesuada nec fringilla sapien pellentesque. Nullam id velit at urna tristique cursus.

Ut ac quam a eros hendrerit interdum sit amet quis nunc. Fusce sed feugiat lorem. Suspendisse quis magna at nisl sagittis cursus. Fusce ut leo tellus. Maecenas a tristique sapien. Phasellus vitae tortor quis lacus varius consequat at eu quam. In rhoncus eleifend justo, pharetra adipiscing nulla volutpat nec. Sed ornare, orci quis hendrerit convallis, elit metus porttitor massa, et auctor metus diam sed sem. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Quisque eget massa tortor, posuere sodales neque. Nulla laoreet consequat libero, non accumsan nulla imperdiet ut.
Ut consectetur mauris at mi vulputate ornare. Maecenas vehicula hendrerit velit in gravida. Nunc dolor orci, gravida vitae molestie vitae, adipiscing vitae ipsum. Proin massa quam, hendrerit in volutpat in, eleifend in nisl. Donec varius vulputate mi eu tempor. Sed tristique, velit eu malesuada scelerisque, enim eros molestie mi, eu molestie odio arcu at nunc. Aenean gravida iaculis lacinia. Nulla faucibus consequat ante, lobortis hendrerit odio vehicula gravida. Quisque ac sem non enim pharetra ullamcorper. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Maecenas quis risus nisi. Fusce lorem enim, varius a consequat non, iaculis eu enim. Fusce pharetra ante id erat lobortis malesuada. Donec consectetur, turpis sed pharetra venenatis, augue sapien lacinia turpis, vel sodales nulla enim eu nulla. Donec massa purus, dictum at dictum ac, interdum vel lorem. Donec vitae mi eget enim consequat euismod. Proin et neque ante. Donec mattis sem ut nisi commodo eget commodo nisl interdum. Pellentesque fermentum risus sit amet nisi fringilla vel rutrum metus tristique. Sed non ipsum massa.

Maecenas fermentum euismod odio, id sollicitudin augue feugiat in. Vestibulum lobortis odio sit amet tellus laoreet aliquet. Donec mi eros, gravida id ullamcorper a, adipiscing at lorem. Donec at mi ut lacus ullamcorper porta. Sed placerat semper justo, non viverra dolor lobortis in. Ut leo nunc, aliquam et sagittis at, elementum eget ipsum. Vestibulum ullamcorper tincidunt pretium. Integer in consectetur libero. Sed volutpat quam non nunc dignissim hendrerit. Mauris nisl nunc, interdum sit amet laoreet quis, blandit vel nisl. Nulla elit dui, sagittis vehicula feugiat non, mattis sed enim. Donec non orci ante. Nulla vitae ante velit, vel euismod justo. Etiam in elementum magna. Etiam pulvinar condimentum dui. Etiam pretium lobortis orci tincidunt venenatis.
Etiam in dolor quam, in commodo velit. Quisque in dui id dui aliquam facilisis ac et magna. Nam nec posuere augue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Mauris tristique bibendum elit et elementum. Fusce velit nibh, auctor at malesuada non, euismod id ligula. Aliquam erat volutpat. Praesent purus lorem, elementum eget blandit et, pretium quis mi. Sed pulvinar nisi nec nulla porta sollicitudin. Donec egestas nisl eget elit hendrerit vel pulvinar erat consequat. Proin a quam massa, sed tempor urna. Maecenas vel arcu sed augue accumsan sodales vitae at velit. Donec vel nisi quis nisl ornare bibendum. Integer euismod nisl sed mi elementum eget malesuada massa lacinia.

Vivamus imperdiet luctus vestibulum. Integer et lacus dolor, et rhoncus ante. Nam at odio magna, et interdum ipsum. Pellentesque ac augue eget augue dapibus consectetur in sodales ante. Aliquam vestibulum pharetra bibendum. Sed dictum volutpat interdum. Nulla imperdiet ultrices arcu, ut vulputate libero scelerisque non. Praesent laoreet porta enim in tempor. Pellentesque viverra malesuada neque a tempor. Nunc blandit gravida pharetra. Integer cursus lorem ac urna venenatis ut laoreet purus sodales. Etiam interdum mollis feugiat. Cras facilisis augue non lectus tempor sed vulputate quam accumsan. Praesent et odio et augue dictum adipiscing eu at lectus. Sed imperdiet imperdiet metus sit amet egestas. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Morbi cursus tempor eros a tempus. Mauris imperdiet enim lacinia orci auctor iaculis. Quisque vel erat eu felis dapibus luctus. Quisque vulputate leo in lorem porttitor dignissim rhoncus eros pharetra.
Nulla eget eros ultricies justo iaculis aliquet sed sit amet sapien. Fusce tempor risus sit amet erat ullamcorper eget vestibulum augue imperdiet. Sed dictum, urna at commodo accumsan, diam massa dignissim elit, id tempus mauris nibh quis mauris. Nullam laoreet dolor eu risus bibendum vitae fringilla nunc varius. Ut placerat congue arcu in sagittis. Mauris a commodo turpis. Integer malesuada fermentum diam sed auctor. Donec neque felis, vestibulum id pulvinar eu, convallis id urna. Ut tempor magna magna, non adipiscing nibh. Sed vulputate hendrerit consectetur. Nam vestibulum massa vel erat pretium tempor. Quisque eget blandit felis. Cras elementum sapien a quam semper pretium. Ut euismod, lorem id faucibus posuere, tortor odio pellentesque ante, nec ultricies nunc ligula et velit. Curabitur sem sapien, vestibulum non tristique vitae, volutpat ac ligula. Donec vestibulum diam magna. Etiam eu enim eget arcu imperdiet scelerisque non eget est. Cras ac tortor odio.

Praesent convallis, nisl a facilisis posuere, libero mauris imperdiet enim, vel bibendum sem odio nec elit. Integer eleifend urna id nisl sodales vitae convallis justo pulvinar. Morbi venenatis imperdiet rhoncus. Vestibulum blandit ipsum sed sapien venenatis at suscipit lorem accumsan. Suspendisse at dolor augue. Fusce elementum, dui in porta eleifend, risus purus convallis eros, eu blandit tellus nibh in elit. Nunc dictum purus in elit elementum elementum. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada.

"Phasellus consectetur metus in ante accumsan congue..."
-- Lorem Ipsum, dolor sit amet.

Endless Blue - Week 47 - The Tantalum Mask of Icht

Archeology

The Tantalum Mask of Icht

The Tantalum Mask of Icht is one of the few remnants of the Icht Dominion left in the hands of modern pisceans.  Little is known of the race that once held sway over so much of the Known World, and what is known is actually vague supposition based on assumptions about this relic.  The artifact is a full face mask with a hinged strap covering the bottom lip and chin.  Two very wide and widely spaced  rhomboid holes serve as eye sockets, with the space under bridge between the eyes and the upper lip sweeping out about two and a half feet to a blunt point.  It is otherwise unadorned, showing the strange bluish-grey, lustrous metal that comprises its nearly spherical shape.  Around the back flares a conical lip, extending perhaps half a foot outwards and upwards, forming a collar.  It too is made from the same strange metal, though how any of this piece of antiquity was made has been lost to the silent depths of the Shelf.

History

The Tantalum Mask first came to light in a consignment of trade goods imported by the Yaun-Teel from the Kouton Bay.  Its significance at that time was unrealized, and was auctioned for a relatively moderate profit based on the unknown substance of which it was comprised.  Records of the purchaser were kept secret, but the next appearance of the mask was in the Arkwall University's Library of Antiquities.  There it languished more as a curiosity of dubious origin.  It was not until the concerted effort of a group of researchers that established it was of Ichthian origin.

This consortium of students became what was perhaps the most thorough and insightful exploration of the Icht culture, and for a while reaped the benefits of fame and influence as a result.  That golden time of popularity was not to last, and slowly, almost unnoticed, the membership began to pear down due to revilement or shame.  Few escaped the seductive urge to end it all, and by the time any of the membership realized what had happen the group had disintegrated and the members dead at their own hand.  The exhibit of Ichthian artifacts was put in storage and forgotten.  It was not until several decades later that the University was reminded they even owned the relic, only to find it had gone missing.  Reconstruction of the loss led the administration to believe the item had be stolen by a tenured professor and sold on the black market.

The Tantalum Mask did not rise to the attention of historians again until the Kraken Occupation, where it was rumored to have beenn sequestered among the tribute of various Kraken squid.  As a war prize, the plundered relic was never officially or reputably seen, but Kouton recollection of the war have made mention of the "pointed shell made of strange metal".  Unfortunately the price demanded by the Kouton for more detailed information was too high for the passing interest of most who researched it or out of the reach of those whom passed it on to newer owners.

Campaign Use

Dissension and sorrow are the inevitable ends wherever the Tantalum Mask is found, but rarely is it ever seen for the emotional drain that it is.  Usually it is sought after, as a boon or treasure, and jealously kept.  Those of affluence, safe to point of boredom with their money, are perfect prey for the inanimate mask to slowly subvert.  An individual such as this may hire the group to recover the tantalizing tantalum creation, perhaps from the possession of another such spoiled soul.  The vain and conceited one may even be one of the party, seeking the artifact as a means to boost their own inflated sense of entitlement and attractiveness.  In the hands of such as these miserable souls, the Tantalum Mask will be coveted and abused to its fullest extent.  It is during this period off frequent utilization that the spell of despite will cloak their minds and turn their once over abundant esteem into festering disdain.

Powers

Constant

- The wearer becomes cloaked from prying eyes, so strong was the stigma of the Icht and their looks.  The shame of their countenance seeped into the mask and festered there, stagnant and malign.  Immunity to most any form of divination magic is imbued while the wearer hides his facial features behind the featureless, lustrous material.  Spells such as discern alignment, true seeing do not function when centered on or even vaguely including the Tantalum Masked person, nor can he be scryed upon.

- The torturous longing to beautiful by an entire species has imbued the artifact with a +5 divine bonus to Charisma.  Whenever a Charisma or Charisma-based skill check is failed, the wearer automatically benefits from a single reroll.  If this second roll fails, it cannot be attempted again under the pervading circumstances.

Invoked

- Their revulsion of their own visage made them ashamed, and pushed the Icht to disguise themselves whenever possible.  Not only does the Tantalus Mask block their true likeness from being gleaned, but it bestows the ability to alter the wearer's appearance at will.  Just as the face in the mask is nothing like the face behind it, the wearer can make himself appear as any race or species he sees as more attractive.  This acts like an alter self spell, but with the limitation that it can never be used to make the individual appear as another of his own race.  This effect lasts for 24 hours and remains in place for that long even if the mask is taken off or rendered inert.  The number of changes the wearer can make is unlimited, but the individual will remain the same size category as his original form.  The wearer need only imagine the change in his mind and it becomes so.

- The deep luster of the  Tantalum Mask has beguiling properties to those who view it.  They will be come enraptured by the play of color and light across the ripply mirror finish.  Once per day, the wearer may cat the following spells:  hypnotism, suggestion, charm, dominate person.  The target of the spells must be able to see the mask's wearer and then see themselves reflected in the mask's liquid-mirage shine.

Curse

- The longer the mask is worn, the greater the individual's self-esteem plummets and their self-loathing escalates.  As they become more despondent and lose all hope in the future, depression and revulsion in their own appearance will drive them to more desperate measures to improve their image.  Unbidden, the Tantalum Mask begins to force sycophantic praises from those weak willed around it by means of command, and slowly warps the sound of these faint praises into whispered insults.  The edge and depth of these cuts will grow in severity, exacerbating the wearer's already floundering sense of worth, inevitably driving him to seek the only logical method of ending the torment -- by ending his own existence.

- Failed Charisma or Charisma-based skill checks made while the mask is disguising the wearer as another species result in a racist hatred forming in the mind of the wearer, railing against the race's inherent inferiority to allow the wearer to pass the check's Difficulty Class.  The wearer will never again attempt to disguise himself as that species again, and treats others of that race as repulsive.  There are no exceptions to this, and this disgust automatically applies to his own race.

Suggested Means of Destruction

The Icht must be convinced to abandon their virulent despite of their intrinsic beauty.
It must be hidden among utter ugliness for 100 years.
The mask must replace the skull of the most beautiful piscean in the waters of Elqua.