Who Knows What in Trade Island

The city of Trade Island is a pool of chaos to those who don’t understand it. Within its limits, gangs war through the streets, business families corrupt and manipulate, and various other factions either fully engage in these same activities, or simply try to sneak by their opponents.

If the Medici family don’t have you assassinated, the Draculas might have you impaled as a warning to others. If the Spartans don’t hit you head on and destroy your organisation using both physical and financial warfare, then the Tudors could simply buy you out completely. You might end up caught between Leopold’s gang and the Hussars, who they overcame to take top rank in the city. You could cross path with the Pagans, wielding magic and weaponry to repay any wrong. If you’re really unfortunate you’ll be out walking around under a full moon and hear the maddened howl of Chimera nearby. Then again, maybe you need to hire mercenaries, in which case you might need advice from a veteran merc like Roadblock, or have to deal with Stonewall Scummer, seeing as so many of them frequent his Rough House. Need weaponry? See Warlock. Need a place to stay? Try the Picket Pocket, but bear in mind it is run by hobgoblins.

The Enchantress runs many things, more than most know, and is the power behind Mayor Phil. The Demon King resides outside yet has a lot of influence in the city as members of his court visit on a daily basis. A large gleaner nest is not too far away, yet Ravenous and a collection of his vile people have dug out a smaller home in Trade Island, trying to fit in by offering their services as killers. The Graveyard is where bodies are disposed of, and where ghouls reside, while the Docks are showing promise as trade with far off places across the sea begins to develop. Don’t forget there is a machine nation residing to the north that keeps its distance even as it trades with them. Also, perhaps most importantly, there is a large mutant population, descendants of those who once drove the humans onto the island en masse. They have a president, yet power truly resides with General Bracken and the army, which leads to some fleeing to Trade Island. Former soldiers often end up joining the Ronin and earning their livelihood as mercenaries.

This is skimming over the surface when it comes to Trade Island. No mention has yet been made of the Ottomans, the Raptors, Red Benedict, Bulldozer, the Buccaneers, Spook, Loki, the Peelers, Gunman, Brubaker, the Accursed, Guile, the Vault, Rose, Calculus, the Khans, Scaloni, the Kusonokis, Steiss, Demetrius. There are thieves, mercs, assassins, traders, spies, hunters, bodyguards, warriors, tricksters, crafters, schemers. Some are mutants, others monsters, most human or something like it, and one cyborg and one robot. That is, as far as any know.

So who knows this? Who knows the difference between hiring Ronin from hiring a bunch of fighters at the Rough House? Who can tell you who to speak to when dealing with a business family, or to seriously avoid in a gang? Who knows what is going on, being sold, being stolen, being planned, being carried out?

Well, there are a select few who have their finger on the pulse of Trade Island. It could come as a surprise, but none of them are from among the rich and powerful. No, it is those who live and walk the streets of the city, who talk to people and listen to conversations, that have enough awareness of the whirling, fluctuating ways of the island.

One of these we have mentioned and that’s Stonewall Scummer. He grew up on the streets of Trade Island and claims to know everything going on everywhere. This could well be true. He has spent so long with his ear to the ground – metaphorically speaking only of course – that he has come to understand the city like few others. He built the Rough House so mercs and assassins could hang out together. It was such a simple and obvious move that it surprised others no one had thought of it before, but no one had. Hired killers still loiter on street corners and can be found at taverns they reside in, but the Rough House has come to be the prime place to be. There is even a pecking order, with the top ranked mercs sitting on the upper floor. Scummer has made himself a valuable middle-man, who can pick out the best to hire for various jobs. He also will hold back work or hand out high paying jobs for a reward in return. Scummer is in no way to be trusted. But he is pretty upfront with this, so much so people tend to sigh and shake their heads rather than get angry. Scummer represents Trade Island, in many ways. If you have a use, work is there, but if you can be used and cast aside, get ready for the fall. You need to keep your wits sharp and your skills honed. Scummer does. He knows information others want kept secret. He knows deals people are making. He is despised but respected, detested but tolerated, and mistrusted and yet one of the first people go to in order to find out what the hell is really going on.

But he isn’t the only one. Warlock is another we have mentioned and he also has his insider information. He is a cyborg but he was a child here too. He ended up being sold to a sect and converted, and later, after his sect had been destroyed, he returned to his home, ready to make weapons. There was a lot of suspicion when a cyborg came into the city, many calling him a spy, yet his history with the place and his craftsmanship meant that soon need outweighed distrust. If there is one thing always in demand in Trade Island, it is weaponry. The best suppliers are the business families, but their products are expensive. Warlock makes his weapons with care and skill, and a creator’s love for creating, therefore he gives his products out at much lower cost. Many mercs, gangsters and others want him as a friend. Warlock values people. This could be an act as he spies on the inhabitants, yet his past suggests he is sincere. He admires courage, honesty and integrity, and he always enjoys seeing his work in the hands of skilled fighters. If people want to kill each other, that’s their business. Warlock won’t judge, he also doesn’t gossip. So people let things slip around him. Sometimes he can read the signs, such as an increase of sales to certain people is a warning that a fight is on the way. Warlock has been known to alert people on his good side, but he can also be talked into revealing a little info if a deal can be made. Money isn’t his thing, but even a lone cyborg understands the importance of favours.

We have also hinted at someone but not named him. Previously, the Picked Pocket was brought up, and the fact it is run by hobgoblins. The hobgoblin in charge is Grabbit. It is he and his family that run the establishment, with others of their kind coming and going, working and stealing. Hobgoblins are everywhere in the city. No, they really are. So much so they become part of the background. They are infamous thieves and mischief makers, and many don’t take them seriously. This is a mistake, especially with Grabbit. If a hobgoblin wants to work at his place – which means earning some money, likely stealing from customers, and possibly hearing some interesting information – then they have to tell him something. People think hobgoblins don’t pay attention. Well, they don’t much, but when there’s so many scampering here and there, they will pick up the odd useful whisper. Grabbit wants these. Anything heard in his place is reported in too. He may be a hobgoblin, but he’s no fool. He is more calm, more composed, more sure of himself. So to those who consider him, Grabbit is a very useful source of knowledge, although he isn’t cheap and he’ll know if you cheat him.

An odd individual is Thumbs. He is a low ranking human criminal and is also locked up in prison. There are several of these squat, solid buildings, and they are pretty full due to a constant rotation. Crime is common place, so the police barely put an effort into stopping it. After all, they could get killed. However, some sense of order has to be kept, so the lowest of the low in the crime world often get picked up and banged up. More important ones get nabbed from time to time as well, yet merely as a show. For instance, one of Leopold’s main killers is Mueller, a psychotic super-soldier, and his antics have meant the gang boss handed him over to be detained for a time – partly to keep a lid on things, partly to stop his lackey from causing more trouble. Hobgoblins get arrested and put in too, yet no human has an idea if they ever catch the right one and often they walk out as they please. Grabbit has done time and let another take his place after he got bored. But Thumbs, he went into prison a nobody and became a king. He runs his prison, wearing his necklace of thumbs taken from opponents. Whether his sentence is up or not is unknown as he has no intention of leaving his home. Other criminals come and go, and he talks to most, and sometimes they are angry enough or fed up enough to blab more than they should. Thumbs knows things, and he knows how to get things out of people too. He may be just a human, but humans, mutts and lesser monsters are what frequent the prisons, so he has enough viciousness to intimidate those in his realm. If the word cannot be found on the streets of Trade Island, then the prisons are a good bet, and Thumbs has been in his one long enough to establish a ring of contacts.

Finally, there is Bulldozer. A mutant with big hands and a mighty punch. He is a simple gangster and not even a challenger to Leopold. No, he is on the bottom rung in fact, yet he is the emperor of the bottom rungs. His gang is many, made up of mostly poor humans and other mutts, and he has many low level gangs too small to stand alone as affiliates. The top gangs – Leopold’s, Red Benedict’s, Chimera’s, the Hussars, the Raptors, etc – have powerful beings to make them a serious threat. Bulldozer relies on sheer numbers. Officially, the Hussars are the biggest gang, but then no one takes the mob at the bottom seriously. Bulldozer has dozens of people who grew up in Trade Island under his command, and from all over the city. They will have relatives who work in taverns or warehouses. Some will know members of the police. Some will even have jobs themselves, perhaps at the Docks or possibly the Vault, although the only bank in Trade Island has high levels of security and scrutiny. Still, Bulldozer knows that plans are made high up, but they still need grunts and goons at the lowest level to get things done. He may seem to be a simple but strong thug, and yet little is going on within the city that he won’t get at least some hint of.

Stonewall Scummer, Warlock, Grabbit, Thumbs and Bulldozer all live at the bottom end of society in Trade Island, and that’s why they know what is going on. Mercs converse, either in the Rough House or when buying tools for a job. Hobgoblins go unnoticed. Humans and mutts witness the daily goings on and report in. Obviously there is much even they cannot know. The Enchantress has schemes underway few have an idea on. The Pagans have their own inner strife that no one beyond their ranks has even a clue about. Secrets can be kept. But when you need to know something, your best bet is to go and ask one of these five. Be careful, they’re all dangerous and some are outright treacherous, but if one of them doesn’t know the answer, then another most likely will.

In the highly rare event that not one of them has any info on a certain activity, group or person, then you don’t need to worry because you will be dead soon. You just stumbled onto something incredibly top secret and chances are one of them sold you out. Expect a visit from a top assassin any moment. Most likely Spook. If you’re lucky, you won’t know about it until she glides through the wall and shoots you twice in the head. Many never do.

Females with Aspergers Syndrome Checklist by Samantha Craft

My wife showed me this, citing it as highly revealing about herself and her Aspergers. I think that it deserves sharing around for that alone.

Everyday Aspie

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Females with Asperger’s Syndrome Unofficial Checklist 

This is an unofficial checklist created by an adult female with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) who has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome. Samantha Craft has a Masters Degree in Education. Samantha Craft does not hold a doctorate in Psychiatry or Psychology. She has a life-credential as a result of being a female with Asperger’s Syndrome and being a parent of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. She has created this list in an effort to assist health professionals in recognizing Asperger’s Syndrome in females—for in-depth information regarding females with AS refer to Craft’s upcoming book Everyday AspergersTen Traits of Aspergers can be found here.

Suggested Use: Check off all areas that strongly apply to the person. If each area has 75%-80% of the statements checked, or more, then you may want to consider that the female may have Asperger’s Syndrome.

When determining an AS…

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Machines: As Diverse as Their Creators: Part Two

Part Two: Unique Types

When people talk of machines they usually refer to droids and computers, or perhaps cyborgs, seeing as those are the most numerous of the machine types, yet there are much more. There were various groups and some individuals who were intent on making whatever they could once laws and morality were set aside. Some worked for governments in underground bunkers, others worked for their own ends. Whatever the cause, they are long gone, but their creations continue to cause havoc wherever they go. They are works of incredible scientific wonder. Brilliant as well as terrifying.

For instance, doom-rollers are war-machines designed to eradicate any life in a given sector. They are well armoured and covered in weaponry, with renewable energy sources and refined detection equipment. They were perfect for what they were created for, and so when those who controlled them fled or were destroyed, these machines continued their pursuit of any life in order to destroy it. Fortunately, there are not many left. Unfortunately, those few are a threat to homes and bases everywhere.

Zomboids are counted as machines, but are an abomination among all kinds. An attempt to make robots with human minds, they are instead mad, rending people apart and wearing their skin in some desperate, twisted attempt to become the living themselves. Again, they are few, but extremely erratic and dangerous.

Far worse to worry about are Hell-Raisers. Possibly the worst kind of machine to encounter, especially if you are a machine yourself. They are war-droids, impressive at nearly 7 foot tall, with brutal weapons and thick armour. They were made to overpower and crush opposition. But something made them worse. A corruption occurred in their programming. Rather than be the usual efficient and ruthless killing machines, Hell-Raisers are infamous for smashing down and blowing up anything they can, regardless of what it is or who. They kill for no reason, booming out noise to intimidate enemies, all by now heavily scarred from decades of aggression. They are even known to tear their own apart when badly damaged in order to repair or better themselves. No one knows if this warped programming was an accident or done deliberately by a human, perhaps one also insane. But the Hell-Raisers’s madness can be passed on. They act like raging brutes, yet their demented anger can infect other machines, and from there everything can go to hell.

The cyber samurai are a myth to many, a legend passed around, yet they are real. They are machines searching for their masters. Nothing else will do. Those who are not their masters are of no interest to them. Those who would oppose them in any way are destroyed. Machines are normally metal forms, powerful yet rigid to a degree. The cyber samurai are androids, fluid and flexible, yet strong and skilled also. Each wields two katanas, which are not only much stronger and sharper than ordinary blades, but can be energised to unleash arcs of light that cut through most objects. While these creations clearly originated in Japan, they have been sighted in many places around the world, and continue to travel. Only once they have found their creators will they stop. Or if someone can summon the power needed to end them.

As previously stated, most of the more unique types of machine are rare, or else the devastation visited upon the world would be far worse. Still, the entire species is deemed a potent threat to all other life, and one that cannot be dissuaded from its course. At least, so most leaders among humans, mutants and monsters would claim. Machines do have weaknesses, though. Viruses are an obvious weapon. EMP bombs were manufactured long ago to fight the machine armies and worked superbly, although they are rare today. A basic threat is water. Machines are near always designed to operate on land, so the risk of a short circuit due to water is a high one. Not that the sea would have much to offer them either.

No, machines are here to conquer the land. They seek bases of technology and gatherings of enemies. They aim to remove all threats, which means all other life must go. They can be bargained with, yet a deep suspicion of all things machine means few living beings trust them to keep to their deals. Machines know this. Which means they can’t trust the other races. The result is inevitable. Everyone will seek to destroy each other until one powerful force remains. With their ability to reproduce, with their endurance and logic, with their coherent focus, the machines see no reason why they cannot be that remaining force. Even then, which super-computer or unique machine leading its army will be the one to stand alone? No machine has been able to figure that one out. Yet.

Machines: As Diverse as Their Creators

Part One: Basic Types

The term machine is a label like any other: it has a purpose and some basis for being used, yet it fails to reflect the variety within the group. Just as mutants are more than one type of being or monsters are not all truly terrible creatures, machines are more than just droids and computers. But they are still those of the robotic kind. They are products of science, fashioned by human minds, created for purposes that have either been overwritten or continue to direct them like wind-up toys.

Most machines are purely robotic, yet the cyborgs are also placed under this label, despite being part organic. Seeing as humans began using these labels, it is deemed most likely that they saw the cyborgs as becoming machines. It is also likely that humans wanted to name cyborgs among machines to make them more alien, to make everyone see them as something very different and never a possible future for the human race. Which is exactly what the cyborgs proclaim to be. Thus dubbing cyborgs as a part of the machine race is possibly both an emotional reaction and a thought-out piece of propaganda.

Otherwise, machines are mechanical only. Droids are the most common. They are essentially humanoid robots, designed to follow orders, constructed to perform most functions their creators can, only better. Sometimes they are fashioned for more specific tasks. It could be a droid is bigger and more heavily built than usual, in order to endure battle better. Others could be of slimmer frame for more delicate tasks. Yet usually they are a standard model. Building droids was neither easy nor cheap for the human organisations that were floundering as the world crumbled around them, and that got worse over time, so making a simple multi-purpose model was the best course. Droids can handle weaponry or tools, anything a human hand can wield, yet are rarely skilled. They need instructions, they also need programming, or else they are limited to basic functions. Droids have ‘brains’ – cerebral cores where memory is stored, analysis is processed and choices can be made. They can learn, adapt, evolve. Just in their own way. A droid could possibly perform martial arts, but only if someone programmed them to know such skills, so while droids can fight, they are often basic automatons of destruction, relying on metal and mechanics to overwhelm their foes.

Droids can be found serving others. They will serve anyone who can programme them to do so, yet most often they are under the leadership of computers, acting as the muscle of highly intelligent devices that seek to reach out into the world. Super-computers were created before the Shadow World came, usually set up to run public services or oversee internet security. When things went bad, more were made, with the unease their existence created in most humans being swept aside for fear of greater threats. Super-computers were to fight on behalf of their masters, and not just in the real world. Cyber-warfare was already important, but as more machines were produced, the more the control over them mattered. Nations could be brought down by ripping apart their communication networks, let alone by taking control of armed droids. While monsters ran rampant and mutant armies marched across the changing earth, wars were fought via satellites between super-computers. They were a serious threat to each other, yet also to the human race. Many hi-tech communities were brought down by a super-computer. However, some lost such fights. Rumours abound that super-computers can be found in buried bases even now, maintaining themselves, waiting for a chance to break free.

Many machines are more like droids, just different, with a specific purpose to be fulfilled. Sappers are squat, armoured machines that march in close and then open up to unleash bullets, bombs or various other projectiles. Often used in siege operations, they are also useful workers, carrying supplies from base to base and digging trenches. Then there are Assault Walkers, more commonly called ogres. Essentially they are big droids, with three legs instead of two for stability. They lack arms too, instead powerful weapons rotate to lay waste to all opposition. An interesting rumour about ogres is that humans didn’t create them. It is claimed it wasn’t until super-computers set to annihilate their masters in bigger and bigger wars that such behemoths were needed.

Turtles are similar. Resembling a turtle in form, these large machines slowly stomp across terrain. Their shells are almost impenetrable. Their heads are actually cannons, firing fierce beams of energy, either continuously or in intense bursts. Again, these have one purpose, to destroy, and so are less common. The same goes for cataphracts. They are three-wheeler bikes, made for search and destroy missions. Sleek, fast and agile, they have often hunted humans, but can also be scouts for a machine army on the advance.

How do machines go so far from their homes? The secret is bouys. In form they are just globes on legs. But they are invaluable, being conduits to relaying transmissions in quick time, even over long distances. This is how a computer sat in an underground base can direct its forces miles away. Bouys can set up paths of communication, digging into the ground, using camouflage projections to hide themselves to continue their vital work. Obviously, destroying – or better yet, capturing – a bouy can hinder a machine force greatly, perhaps even defeat it.

As would be expected, machines function on cold logic. They are beings of patience, purpose and practicality. In truth, they do not hate their enemies or fear those who are a threat to them. They simply remove dangers in whatever way is most prudent, while watching out for others and aiming to improve their own existence. The same as all other beings. Humans, monsters and mutants alike distrust how different machines are from themselves. Even if they hate each other, at least they share such emotions. They can understand one another to a degree. Machines have their own way of life. To the rest, it is completely alien.

Weapons of Renown: Part Two

Scientific Weapons of Renown:

Grinder – a single-bladed axe that has four edges of diamond teeth, buzzing alternatively along it. It tears its way through armour and has taken many lives. It is the weapon, and always has been, of Antipater, the foremost general of the Order of the Hybrid Complex. He is a loyal servant of Prime, its leader, and this weapon was made for him as he led armies across the world. An old, intelligent and fierce leader, he is seen as Prime’s right hand, and rightly so.

Flammard – a longsword with a wavey blade that can emit intense heat, which enables it to cut metal with ease. It also distorts vision, with the air around it shimmering. This formidable sword is the possession of Duke, an important commander among the Order of Symbiotic Harmony. Not only is he an admirable tactician, but he enjoys single combat, so had this made. For him, when the Author wishes him to act, he seeks the surest and simplest way to victory and cuts his way through.

Augustus Shotgun – known as Guses, this is a larger than usual shotgun used by humans to kill super-soldiers. It fires special shells, with a solid stock needed to brace when firing. Because of its size and power, the humans picked to use these have to be bigger than average. A fair bit bigger. This weapon is a new invention among the humans who reside in bases within the region once known as Texas. If it proves its worth, it may be spread further afield. Humans need every advantage they can get.

Bolt Pistols – a large, sleek automatic pistol that usually requires two hands and fires eleven powerful shots. This weapon is favoured by commandos and specialist soldiers, even more so by super-soldiers (when it is even bigger) for being a deadly, accurate and controlled weapon, yet capable of firing a sudden and full burst. The fact it is mainly used by super-soldiers now is ironic as it is very good at killing them, even a human version. With more power and focus, even the improved forms of these mutants can do little to stop the shots. It is also excellent against droids.

Mega Tommy Gun – this weapon is everywhere in Trade Island. Essentially it is a superior version of the infamous Thompson submachine gun, once used so well in wars, but also iconic in its role in gang warefare. This new version is bigger and more powerful, and also deliberately louder. It is meant to clear a room, or force everyone to cover as a warning. Easy to make, cheap to buy, it has become a favourite amongst gangs and mercenaries throughout the city. Sometimes they are known as Tommy Twos. Inelegant and ferocious, they are perfect for unskilled fighters in close quarters.

Weaponry of Eden – this human sanctuary has withstood assaults for centuries, and while those within praise God and faith for this, it is also to do with their technology. It is much more advanced than those in the rest of the world, so their soldiers who defend the dome are much better equipped. For one, they can generate force-fields about themselves, impenetrable to anything. A much larger version sits around their home. They also have vehicles that hover over the barren land, as well as cherubim – small, flying robots that scan for mutants and eliminate dangers. A telling sign of the power the soldiers of Eden possess is the energy they emit. The mutant combatants all know that the energy produced by Eden’s weapons is a pure, bright white, unlike anything they’ve seen elsewhere. This energy rips through their hordes whenever they attack. That’s why they keep attacking, for fear one day the superior weapons of Eden will be used to reclaim the world for the human race.

Obliterate – a robot that is essentially a mobile weapon, ready to respond on command. This machine is the bodyguard of Leopold, head of the current top ranked gang in Trade Island. Before he rose to this position, Leopold was a business negotiator and had helped the machine nation to the north with dealings within the city, acting as both representative and advisor. For this, he was rewarded with Obliterate. The robot says little, mainly its own name, and responds to commands from Leopold alone. While only one of its kind, Obliterate has enough firepower to level buildings, and in a packed city, this is too much of a risk for anyone to provoke either owner or weapon. Leopold’s gang has fought in the streets to earn top rank, but few will strike at Leopold himself. It is widely believed that, even if such an act succeeded, Obliterate is programmed to go on a killing spree. No one is ready for that. Yet.

Weapons of Renown

Owning a weapon is important in surviving this world. Being able to use it with deadly skill is vital. Yet for many, they want more. Weaponry can be improved on so that it ranks above the norm. It can also be fashioned into something unique. Many use magic to do this. Others science. This is a role call of weapons that stand out, many of which have names and a past. To own one is to fear less and be able to take more. People would kill to own one. Many already have.

Magical weapons of renown:

No-Daichi – there are actually a number of these, although no one knows how many. In the early times after the Shadow World arrived, with magic and monsters running wild, a range of large Japanese swords were crafted. Magic was used to make them not only super sharp, but also unbreakable and able to even deflect magic attacks. Owning one of these would make a skilled warrior near unstoppable.

Tempest Fan – this unique item is also most likely from Japan, but nobody knows for sure. It is claimed to be a cursed weapon too. While it has incredible power to manipulate the air, creating blasts or slices of wind, it is claimed it drains all joy from the user. It makes the wielder light and so faster too, but some think it has claimed the life, maybe even the soul, of previous owners. For now, the infamous quartermaster and pirate, Amadeus, has it and his clinical and ruthless nature intimidates people throughout the Mediterranean.

Atlas Staff – this is claimed to have originated in Great Britain, but for now its whereabouts is unknown. This staff – a simple looking wooden staff with metal caps on each end – makes the one who holds it resilient to an incredible degree. Tales speak of beings withstanding boulders and magical barrages without harm. At the same time, it is claimed to be light in the hand of the one wielding it, while simultaneously feeling heavy and solid by anyone struck by it.

Giant Breaker – this is a highly unusual weapon, because it was one the skull and spine of an infamous warlord. Lord Ogre was a very large human who terrorised many across Great Britain long ago, until he met his end, defeated in single combat by a devil-beast. In retribution, this monster ripped out his backbone, and the skull with it, and then worked on this magically for some time. A mace was forged, long in haft, round and solid at the end. Yet this trophy was even worse than that. The devil-beast managed to bind the spirit of Lord Ogre to his remains, so whoever holds this weapon can communicate with him. At first Lord Ogre had to endure being the powerful aide to the one who defeated him. Later, he ended up being used by others, one after another, as they all strove to conquer. This weapon was powerful indeed, shattering shields and bones with ease, and even able to create small quakes on impacting the ground. With good reason it came to have the name, Giant Breaker. Now, it has ended up in the big hands of Bruin, an outlaw roaming the island, snarling at the cruel and arrogant voice only he can hear.

Devil’s Death – this pike is wanted and dreaded for a single reason: is was forged to kill devil-beasts. This long and thick weapon was carefully crafted to slice through magical defences and power, and then through the muscle and sinew of one of the largest monsters around. Some claim it even has specific magic bound to it to seek out the weaknesses of such creatures. With this, killing a devil-beast becomes a lot easier, as much as combating one of them could ever be called so. Who made it and why are unknown, as is its whereabouts. Many want it, especially other devil-beasts.

Sunfire Sabre – a sabre made in China, which can wield heat and light and even fire. Highly difficult and risky to master, it promises to make the one who clasps it near unfaceable to most enemies. It is thought to be an attempt by humans to imitate the fire sword used by aegis. If so, it has not fallen that short, according to some stories. It isn’t entirely sure where it is right now, yet it hasn’t gone far. With the amount of humans moving about in that region, it is very likely it will not be long before it is revealed to the world again.

Oni Ken – a simple yet strong iron club. Specifically, it would be called a tetsubo by the Japanese who made it. It is claimed it can smash anything, withstand anything, and has been used to defeat brutes, vandals and even a devil-beast. It may have been made in Japan, maybe not, as it has mostly been used in Australasia. It was lost a number of years ago by followers of magic while on a mission in the more wild lands towards the centre. Either it has been lost, or a monster or human bandit has it, which can only mean trouble for those in their way.

Guard Gauntlets – these are specially crafted and magically charged gauntlets worn on the left hand only. They were worn by the elite guard of Morrigan, an aegis who ruled Great Britain decades ago. She was a strong warrior, leader and magic-user, and expected her elite to be her enforcers as well as her protectors. So these gauntlets were forged and refined to enhance their power. Not only were they a vital aid in combat, but they became a badge. To see an aegis wearing one was to know this individual served Morrigan, and she did not tolerate any trespassers or transgressors. These made the wearers feared and respected, but since her fall and death, anyone wearing one is hated, and therefore hunted.

Unpleasant and Unpopular Monsters

And so, we return to the previous updates and information bulletins that reveal, delve into and explain the world of the Sojourners in Shadow series. We begin with some tidbits about some of the most vile and reviled monsters:

They say that no one likes hobgoblins, even other monsters. They are a pest, a nuisance. They specialise in sneaking and stealing with a fine line in sabotage. Hobgoblins aren’t wanted as allies or even servants by anyone. They don’t make things, they break them or steal them, and have been known to try selling their loot back to the previous owners. Some would claim hobgoblins are stupid, yet if they were, they would be extinct. They are impulsive, true, and seem slaves to their nature, but they are often the ones to survive destruction, crawling out of wreckage, scurrying into new hideouts. If anything, hobgoblins are underestimated. Maybe they like keeping it that way.

But they are not the most derided of monsters. That title would be taken by vermin. While hobgoblins are pests, some credit can be given for the risks they run stealing and sneaking about those stronger than them. Vermin are scavengers, seen as cowards and weaklings. They prey on the injured or lone straggler. They paw their way across battlefields to take whatever they can and finish whoever is left. Some would liken them to hobgoblins, but where those have a near innocence to how much they are disliked, vermin know their reputation and often follow savage instincts, if only when they can do so without risk. On the plus side, they invent. They cobble together weapons and devices from their scavenged goods. Nothing impressive, but they have taken to technology in a way few other monster races have been able to. They wield make-shift guns and bombs, besides other things. As cowardly as they are, vermin are dangerous if encountered in large numbers, or cornered.

Even so, there is one type of monster that is truly loathed. Gleaners.

Once they were small but vicious creatures. Arachnids, scuttling across the ground, seeking kills to feed on. Even then, they possessed a deadly poison in their stingers and clearly bore a taste for cruelty as well as death.

Then came the mass migration to the magical hotspot of Madagascar. Human inhabitants were slaughtered. Piles of corpses littered the island as gleaners made it their home. None know why this happened, or if the gleaners knew what would occur. But this vile race did what they have always done – kill and feed. Just this time it was on a massive scale and on a land flowing with magic.

New gleaners were born amongst the piles of dead. New as in a new generation, but new as in unlike how they were before. Gleaners were mainly still arachnids, yet now they had a half human form protruding where their head should be, and even this wasn’t normal. There was no doubt that the many dead had an effect on this development as the human halves were more like a corpse, with rotting flesh and pale eyes. Also, instead of hands, scythe-like blades were waved on the arms. Not only that, but these gleaners grew to large sizes, much bigger than most living things.

Gleaners are vicious, cruel and greedy. They slaughter most they encounter, capture and feed on the rest. This makes them feared and hated. Yet their appearance makes them repulsive. Their nature does as well. Hobgoblins and vermin are known as thieves and scavengers, spies and cowards, and this is clearly put on them by their own nature. Yet neither compare to gleaners. When the new type were born, they butchered and devoured their parent generation. They live in nests, competing with each other while preying on outsiders, ruled over by inbred rulers, depraved and hostile. They breed in large numbers too. All other faces fear the discovery of a gleaner nest near them because it is only a matter of time before expansion occurs.

The saying is no one like hobgoblins. It is true. But vermin provoke more contempt. Gleaners install more fear and disgust than most things of any kind. Hobgoblins might steal your possessions or break your devices, yet they won’t seek to harm your young because they are too craven to fight adults, as vermin are. More importantly, they won’t remove your limbs and poison you to keep you alive, in agony, so they can feed on you over time. Gleaners are what was once a pest become nightmare. For everyone.