Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Scorpiod of Xin: an AS&SH short

“You ask me of Xin, and yet you do not wish to know the nature of the aurorae, or what brought me thence to begin with. With the weaving of this tale, the one cannot be spoken of without speaking of the other. Why I know of the Xin, and how I came to know it is as much a part of this strange land, as the monks that hired me to accompany them.” I looked at my audience, a ragged group of drunkards assembled in this rat-infested hole in the heart of Khromarium, the inquiry brought to me by the shag tooth lad of the south lands. An inquisitive youth to be sure, and one who has yet to dip his sword upon flesh or bone, one barely of age to lift the frothing mug gripped in his fist, only days past suckling on the tit of his whore mother no doubt.

“Yet you know of the Scorpiods you say”, I wanted to smack the impertinence out of his mouth, but my aged restraint cooled my nerve. “You’ve seen the horrors of Xin? Well man, tells us what you have seen.” The others chuckled and tipped their earthen mugs, leaving froth on their lips, and the tips of their noses. The stink of this cellar hole I had stumbled into this night was far from the fresh smell of tundra, wind whipped by the north wind. I came to drink the night, forget the horrors of my travels beyond the north wind, and hope to cleanse my soul with the taint of man-made spirits.

I raised my own mug, the sickly thick brew slid with some effort down but warmed my guts and cooled my head.

“Aye, I know of the chitinous she devils”, I said glowering at the youth, my mug set not lightly upon the board we had called a table.

“I’ve seen them rend flesh in the swirling light of the bloated sun. I have seen their rituals, basking in the wavering lights of the Aurorae, their youth, if you can call them that clinging to them like barnacles on a ship.” The memory of my journey there sparked renewed fear, and loathing. 

The Monks paid well, and woe they sought upon the shimmering lights on the Xin, worshiping their gods as the snow caked to their robes, coated their bald pates, and froze their hides. What madness was it to go to such a place, harsh by day as in night, the sounds of crying girls upon the winds, haunting the already foreboding place.

Sure enough that the Xin might be called beautiful to those inhabitants on other spheres beyond the rim, but to the occasional passerby, not to one who trudged the crunch of the frozen earth. The most of inhospitable; hearty beasts die there in days, the imposing cold not daunted by the flames of man. My employers kept warm by the light of their gods, while the cadre of men hired for protection, myself included, froze if not moving or warming themselves by firelight. We had lost five to the cold. Three to the beasts who roam the Xin, and more.

“Your tale bores me.” His voice brings my wandering mind back to focus. I ignore him, rinsing my mouth with sludge.

“When first I laid eyes upon her, the chill breeze whipping icy rain between us, I thought she was beautiful. Dark against the ever pressing white. Her true countenance hidden from mine eyes, only a shadow of what she was. We had heard the crying girls on the wind for weeks, their haunting songs freezing our hearts before the oppressing weather could.”

“I’m not talking about these singing girls in the streets here, boy, with their baubles bare for you to gawk at, I am talking about a pure voice raised and intoned, where the sound broke men, left them wandering to their deaths in the cold. I heard it too, and if not for my will I might still be wandering the Xin, or frozen amongst the heaps we had seen.” I saw Vigol, a companion of once, nod recalling.

“She was not the singer though. She was most definitely not the one whose voice dragged men away unto to their deaths. Her song was in clicks, and shrills, made worse by the death calm around her. The men-folk if you can call them that, bowed to her commands, still and unmoving under her gaze. The glacial stone slabs that surrounded her place of worship rose around her imposingly. We had stumbled there lost to the marching rhythm, the swish of snow on our boots, and creak of frozen leather, the murmurs of our hosts slow chant.”

“I had feared we were lost, the Adept leader had no map, and followed what he called “winds of rhythm”, complete madness, and had I known before accepting this work, I would have laughed away the silver he offered. But a man must eat.”

“And drink!” This time it was Vigol, the barrel chested man of Vikland, who interupted. He quickly drained his mug, and catching a passing wench by the neck mouthed at her mouth, spat out the sharing and demanded another mug. I smiled, but briefly as she cringed and went to fetch it.

“Aye, and drink.” I raised my mug draining the last of the mud, and set it on the wood.

“What are they then?” The south-land boy asked, intrigued and his impertinence starting to wane.

“The bloody spit created when mixing beauty with horror, lad.” I wiped my beard before continuing.

“The monks were mad with holy vitriol. Somehow we had stumbled upon the Scorpion bitches sacred site. Fortunately for us, the keening, singing and wind kept our position sacred too. I saw her there, while chattering with her god, rend flesh off of several sacrifices staked within the circle. Blood and entrails pooled below, as she split them from neck to nuts. She was emotionless, calculated, taking her time with the ritual." I took a moment to let that sit with the youths. 

"This was undreamed horror, where the sacrifices came from could only be guessed at, but where they were going was sure as shit clear. Aurorus was calling for their souls boys. The shining one drank her full that night fer sure." I watched the lads eyes grow, and compute what I had told them.

 "I alone stayed behind to cover the rear of our troop as they tried to once more find these “winds of rhythm”.

“I was set upon only seconds after the last man’s visage faded into the snow and ice rain. He was a great male specimen, his black chitin flashing dully in the light of our bloated sun, and the moon phobos dull upon the horizon. If it hadn’t been for the deathly silence at that moment, I mightn't have heard him at all, I heard the click of his segmented tergites upon the stone. I dispatched him silently, and swiftly, my sword arcing and splitting his breast, and then sliding up to between the plates at his throat. He flailed a bit, but went still. My eyes searching the cromlech for signs that our fight had been noticed. It had not.”

“The horror at my feet can only be described as inhuman. His head and upper body could be one of you seated here agape. Only shell covered and hideous. His lower half, arachnid, with prominent pedipalps set below his more human limbs. I bent to the body examining it briefly.”

“Pedipalps?” Another youth asked breaking my story to the dismay of his companions,  who cast bits of fat from their meals at him.

“Claws lad, large grasping crustaceous claws that could snap bull bone”.

The wench returned with mugs for the board, and shied away from Vigol with a teasing smile. I lifted mine and choked down more of the ichor.   

“Yet you claimed you met the she devil.” The first boy posited.

“Am I still breathing and speaking boy? Is my tale finished and yer wet-nurse tucked you in?” Vigol smacked the boy in his chest driving the wind from him, while draining half his mug. A man of few words Vigol.

“So here I stood, black gore covering my blade, the half scorpion man at my feet, my companions gone chasing the monks of the winds, I had but to move my feet and follow the boot poked snow trail. Clicks and whistles drew my attention back to the ritual, for I had lost myself looking at this creature I had just relieved. When I faced again the stones and the scene below, I was set upon by this beautifully hideous creature, larger and more imposing than her man-slave whose goo coated my sword. Her body moved effortlessly on eight legs, the stinger of her tail danced above her patiently waiting for the command to drive the foot-long prong through my skull, a drip of something nasty at its tip, eager to eat my insides. I could see in her dark feminine eyes a calculating intelligence, as she looked from my dripping blade to the body at my feet. My heart pounded my ribs, straining against its commander brain, but I could not move. All I could do was hope for a speedy death. I stared at her.”

“Her rounded breasts rose and fell with her breathing and her supple form under the hide-armor undulated with a horrible elegance. Each part of her was covered with a fine cilia, soft and wavering in the wind, a harsh contrast to the stiff nature of her armor. Her face was beautiful to a man about to die, but horrible; a mass of armored barbels replaced what could have been a human mouth. Below her arms, snapped a powerful set of pincers, they clicked threateningly, the bone on bone thunk sent a shiver through me.”

“Upon her abdomen clung her offspring, small arachnid creatures, terrifying as infants. They nuzzled her armor, dug into the spaces between her plates, and caressed her as a babe is want. I was lost to the look in her stunning human-like eyes.”

“Aurorus deems these sacred grounds, to all but the sacrifices.” A man’s monotonous voice startled me out of the cold panic and fear. “Scalalia shall not drain your life here.”

A skinny man twice my age rose from around the she-devil, stark naked save for a strip of cloth across his loins, yet not frozen. His body covered in claw rent scars, in patterns not unlike the rending’s that shown in multitude upon her exoskeleton. Sigils and incantations unholy I'm sure. His eyes were yellow, and pupiless, haunting and calm. In his hands he grasped a long staff, the eight pointed star of her god topping it, and he pointed it at the direction of my companions.  

“She commands you to go. Do not look back. You have been spared by the grace of Aurorus. May you see that her grace shines like the aurorea.”

“At once she turned, a scowl upon her beautiful face, and I heard the click and keens of her language start the chant again.”

“Fast as my feet and the drifts they trod upon would let me I vacated the sanctuary. I caught up with my troop, nearly over-running them. We never returned. The few of us that made it out of the Xin swore we would never go back. No amount of silver in all of Hyperborea was worth the horror of that place. Our monks found their “rhythm in the wind” and we left them to it. Last we saw of them they cast themselves upon their knees, heads pressed to the cold earth, the swimming lights of the aurorea's cleansing them and driving us away.”

“I don’t believe a word of it! Tale-teller or liar? Women with the bodies of scorpions! Ha! Next you’ll tell me of trees that uproot themselves, or  giant grasshopper men from planets beyond the rim!”

I looked at the boy, reached into the oxen scrote sack at my waist. Stood up, adjusted my belt and dropped the one foot long solid black chitin stinger of a male Scorpiod upon the table with a thud. I didn’t wait for the surprised look in his eyes. All I heard as I left the “Cellar Ale House” was the laughter of Vigol. 

Well, that was a bit different than what I have done in the past.I hope you have enjoyed this next part  in this series of process reports. Scorpiod of Xin, was created by +Handy Haversack for the AS&SH game. Handy submitted these creatures on the Hyperborea Forums and +Jeff Talanian has included them in the 2nd edition of the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerer's of Hyperborea game. 

When Jeff first pointed me in the direction of this write up it was rather difficult to get my mind wrapped around this thing. Here we have a matriarchal society, built of these sort of man-scorpions-like centaur hybrids. I scoured the write up several times, and as it turned out Handy himself was available to answer a few questions regarding their armor, their body type etc. 

Thanks for coming here. Hope you enjoyed your stay.

Comments always welcome.