The Order of Mechanised Tyranny

When you have faith in specific institutions, and that faith is ripped apart by cataclysmic events, how do you continue? Do you admit you were wrong and try a new path? Perhaps some would. That was not the course of the Grand Master, leader of the Order of Mechanised Tyranny. He is one of the oldest beings alive, having lived before the arrival of the Shadow World. He was a general in the army of the United States of America, and he had total faith in his country, its armed forces, and also in God. He knew his homeland was safe because of the deity he worshipped and the soldiers he commanded. When he witnessed the downfall of humanity, he saw his faith prove worthless. The armed forces could not overcome the magic and monsters that appeared. Soon they were outclassed by the creation of super-soldiers, cyborgs and other machines. As for God, there were no answers to the general’s prayers.

The general did win victories, however. When his forces were supplemented with super-soldiers and cyborgs, he was able to defeat a machine army. Power won the day, not faith, and certainly not humans. He saw the future in the cyborg race. More and more people were getting improvements – either soldiers for defence or the rich for better lives – and he demanded his forces become the main focus. He never took to mutants; perhaps there was still some lingering of his old faith in seeing them as abominations. Maybe. Few know the mind of this individual as he once was. What is known is mostly who he is and the sect he leads, the latter reflecting the first. The Grand Master forged the sect in his singular vision. He has never faltered since.

To return to his past, the general had lost faith in God and saw the only chance of survival for the human race was biomechanically improved soldiers. More than that, he saw humanity reborn, not just mechanised but forged within as well, moulded into a dedicated and dutiful force. No civilians, no politicians, no weaknesses. Cyborgs of all kinds were being made, and this was not something the general approved of. Control of the country had been sliding away for some time, the general had more recently been serving a new and localised government, so saw no issue in choosing to take command himself. Others had failed them all. He would not.

The general managed to get his soldiers altered, himself too, and they began their march to a new, stronger way of life. Others were made to join them. More and more became cyborgs, but more than this, they became soldiers who followed his orders and pledged themselves to his way of life. Obey, serve, fight, kill, die. Cyborgs began in one place and could have been a united race, yet factions emerged and then they splintered. The Grand Master and his aggressive, militarised sect were a major driving force in that disruption.

Yet the sect was more than military cyborgs. The Grand Master was not the only follower of faith to lose his way. Others in organised religion saw the Shadow World and the chaotic consequences as either end times, punishment or evidence that no higher power was protecting them. Many who once believed fervently became fervent enemies to faith. Those who saw the Grand Master’s sect recognised the anger he possessed and joined him, proclaiming their loyalty, pledging their enmity. More than this, a number of those who had commanded in religions now saw their power waning, and spotted opportunity in this sect. Preachers of faith turned into preachers of anti-faith. Militant believers were now militant disbelievers. The Grand Master was soon commanding much more than a mere army. He led a passionate, fanatical legion of soldiers.

It has been suggested that perhaps the Grand Master allowed these once-believers into his ranks to laugh at religion. An insult to God even. None know. Maybe he saw kindred spirits or merely useful tools. Whatever his reasoning, the Grand Master made a choice and his sect changed, and he saw the benefits. He had lost his faith in God, as well as his faith in humanity, his country, in the military as he had known it. All of it was gone. But he had pushed and remade his military might to become something stronger, and now he could remake the religion as well.

The Order of Mechanised Tyranny is a sect of conformity, with all the trappings of the military and religion. They march in step by ranks, crushing all opposition, converting those they choose to. They are religious yet without any god to waste their time on. Everyone is uniformed, to the extent that all are regarded as male. They all wear the same, including masks, and their swords are attached to their right arms regardless of favoured sides. Everything and everyone must act as one, as the Grand Master wishes it. His will is done, his vision is fought for. When he had been a God-fearing general, he had fancied he had a special destiny, or at least a favoured standing from which he could act for the good of all. His faith in God had been ripped away, but his faith in himself had faltered, then regrouped, and now was stronger than ever.

His followers believe in him equally, and also in his new way of life. Their religion is about their sect, their laws, their truths. For instance, they have Six Sins, which are disobedience, disloyalty, cowardice, dishonesty, slothfulness and mercy. Anything that could harm the sect is bad, essentially. They must all be dedicated and focused, working tirelessly, never doubting. Their Nine Virtues are courage, dedication, intelligence, purity, resolution, integrity, excellence, diligence and sacrifice. These may sound worthy virtues, and they are, and yet for the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, many of these words have a slight twist in meaning. For them, being resolute is about being ruthless. Integrity insists that when you proclaim your loyalty, you mean it, that your actions follow the same course. Sacrifice can mean soldiers giving up their lives for the sect, but also the ‘sacrifice’ of non-members as they are defeated. These lists are drilled into the minds of recruits, often during Recitals. There are three a day, every day, in any base or outpost around the world. Attendance is mandatory unless your services are necessitated elsewhere, such as guard duty. They do not pray, but they recite their laws and other mantras. Their faith in the sect must be absolute.

A quick mention should be made of their understanding of eternal life. This is something few outside the sect know of. Basically, all personal information goes into the sect’s database. All that individuality which is surrendered on joining, this is stored, and so is kept for all time. Members of the sect long dead are in there. They are remembered at Recitals as well. Past victories, and sometime defeats if useful for instruction, are recalled. The sense that the sect lives, and thus do all who live in it, is the new truth to them. Those born in the sect are given an identity as children, then taken away and stored, so they can believe equally. After that, they are just more ranked members, moving parts of the greater whole, fighting on. To the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, the saying is true – life is struggle, struggle is war, war is life. We are always at war. We live for ever.

Mentioning all of this, I must return to those previously mentioned fanatics who made the sect what it is, at the Grand Master’s behest. To outsiders, all members look the same and are the same really, and that is how he likes it. The truth is that there are some differences. Most are soldiers, with officers leading them. Yet some belong to other groups. One is the clergy. This is the result of those ex-religious, anti-faith recruits. The Grand Master utilised them and created a branch of his sect to fuel the rest with speeches and incitement. Soldiers who show enthusiasm along with eloquence are nominated to enter this group and, if successful, become as powerful as officers. Cardinals, for instance, act like roving high commanders, showing up to ensure unquestioning loyalty is ever present. In that regard, the clergy are part cheerleaders, part secret police.

Obey our law. Judge others according to it. Anything else is wrong. The meek are accursed, the strong will take the world. We are the strongest and the world is ours to claim. This is the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, a sect built and honed by the Grand Master himself, driven by his will, and it pleases him greatly. There is much more to be learned, about both the man himself and his followers, but for now, all anyone needs to know, is that when the red and black clad legions appear, make ready to fight for your life. They will not stop until they have it, one way or the other.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead

A while back I said I really liked Rec 3 and how it was a better film than expected, and also how I hoped it wouldn’t be pre-judged for being a poor sequel. It was a fun film, had a sense of humour about itself and the franchise, but also had good characters and an emotionally driven plot.

So having done that, I feel it is only fair to give a nod to Dead Snow 2. For pretty much the same reasons.

To give some background, the film Dead Snow is a Norwegian cult horror film, where some friends go up a mountain and end up fighting Nazi zombies. There is a historical context for it, revealing that the Nazi soldiers had once controlled this region and been slaughtered by an uprising. They were vicious murderers and greedy looters back then, and nothing had changed for them now they’re undead. They want their gold back and they’ll kill everyone just because. Also, the zombies aren’t slow, gurgling automatons. Rather, these soldiers are armed, quick, deadly. They are presented as highly intimidating early on.

The film itself is fairly Evil Dead 2: a Norwegian zombie retelling. Lots of humour, quick cuts and gore fights. It is a lot of fun as well as a solid horror film.

The sequel continues on from where the original left off. Spoilers here, but the lone survivor, who found a gold coin in his car and then sees the zombie leader outside, manages to escape, taking off the leader’s arm. He had already lost his own during the first story, trying to not turn into one of them after being bitten. That whole sequence was very Sam Raimi inspired, funny as well as wince inducing.

That all becomes important as the character wakes up in hospitable with his arm sewn back on, except it is the arm belonging to the Nazi officer, Herzog. This leads to bloodshed and police involvement, as the arm kills of its own accord, yet the film pushes on beyond this to reveal the Nazis are fulfilling a mission from their previous lives and are intent on destroying a town. Martin, the survivor, has to stop them, and finds out his new arm is not only super strong and bloodthirsty, but can also raise the dead. Both he and Herzog are then building their own forces to face off, culminating in a showdown, where dead Nazis fight dead Commies.

There’s more to this though. I need to mention the Zombie Squad, three Americans who are very geeky but actually quite good at killing the undead. They become involved in this Norwegian skirmish, as does a museum employee, and they’re all quite fun. Best thing is that Martin Starr, aka Gilfoyle from Silicon Valley, is one of the squad. I remember watching the film for some time thinking: wait, is that Gilfoyle? Nah. Looks like his 12-year-old brother at best. But it was him!

So without going on about plots and themes, etc, I want to talk about why I rate this film and think it’s worth watching. Also, why it confounded my own presumptuous nature.

Basically, I saw the trailer for this and swore. I saw Americans in a Norwegian film. I suspected this would be a very American movie. I suspected an American company had got hold of the rights or something and had made some crappy sequel (much like the Descent 2). I saw no reason for this to exist. It looked kind of dumb, as well as just a bunch of random stuff happening. I leapt to my steed of outrage and proclaimed this was some kind of BS sequel for cash and would impair the original!

I ended up watching it anyway, thinking: ah well, if it’s bad, it is bad. Nothing new there. A bad, unnecessary horror sequel. Join the long queue.

Very early on, I got that this was more comedy than horror this time, and it was really enjoying itself. It is still gory, brilliantly so, but the emphasis in tone was certainly more to having a laugh. It isn’t a parody of itself, this isn’t Gremlins 2 or anything, but it does know what it is. Nazi zombies, splatter gore across the camera, jokes and deaths. It goes all out. Many death scenes for nameless characters are pretty unique, or at least striking.

Something I loved quickly, and still do, is how much the film embraces grotesque, horrible humour. This is not a film to enjoy if you don’t like bad things happening to people. Babies are blown up and you hear silly baby noises, making it clear this is comedic, not serious. Early on, you meet an American kid who is all peppy and chatty and just very ‘American kid in a movie’. I did wonder if he’d be a major character, tagging along. But no, he’s dies very quickly. Hilariously too. He isn’t just thrown through a barred window by the zombie arm, but when Martin tries to revive him with CPR, his powerful limb crunches through the boy, spraying blood over Martin’s face. Nope, this film isn’t just about nasty deaths, it makes it very clear this is bad taste humour.

Quick mention of the actor playing Martin, Vegar Heol. He’s really good at humour. I didn’t find him a particularly notable character in the first film, but here he has a lot to do and does it very well. His reaction to a zombie eating its own sick is fantastic.

Oh, got to mention that zombie. He’s a superb example of what this film is aiming for. Basically he is a poor bloke who gets killed by the Nazis. Martin revives him by accident. Then kills him in surprise. Then revives him again, then he is killed by an axe to the face as the Zombie Squad arrive. Then he is revived again. If you’re noticing a pattern, well, it keeps going. The poor sod gets killed and revived several times, and often gets the rough end of things besides that. Being used as traction is never good for you.

The film has a very fun yet also weirdly kind of emotional ending, but I refuse to give that away.

So Dead Snow 2 is a much better sequel than you may think. I wouldn’t put it up there with Gremlins 2, yet, I have to admit, it isn’t far behind. I really enjoyed it. Reminds me of the twisted humour of Peter Jackson’s Braindead (called Dead Alive by North Americans). I liked the characters a lot. The American geeks are a bit on the nose, sure, with the Star Wars references, but nothing that put me off, and I tend to have a low tolerance for that kind of thing. The film is in Norwegian often, also spoken in English other times, so if you’re not a fan of subtitles, well, you’re missing out on a lot of great films.

Dead Snow was a really good horror zombie film, with good comedy and striking gore. I loved it, have it on DVD, seen it a few times.

Dead Snow 2 is more focused on being funny, on pushing the edges of decency, and doesn’t bog itself down in explaining what is going on. Herzog and his men are Nazis, they are trying to complete their mission, Martin has a zombie arm. That’s it. The film does kind of counter some of the stuff from the first one, I guess, where they were only loot hoarders. Doesn’t matter much.

Anyway, if you like horror comedy, watch Dead Snow. If you can handle it and want more, especially if you want the comedy turned up to eleven, then watch the sequel. You might be grossed out. You should be really, and appalled at killing kids, but feel free to laugh too. It’s just a movie. A surprisingly good one.

Well holy shit, in checking facts and names about the film, I found that Stig Frode Henriksen, who plays the repressed museum employee, was also in the first movie as one of the friends. Had to check and, wow, yes it is him, can see it now, but would never have recognised him. Fair play, mate.

Money Makes the World Go Round

Well not quite. It should be made clear from that start that, in this post-apocalyptic world riddled with magic and mayhem that we experience in Sojourners in Shadow, there is no global currency. There is nothing that everyone uses. People barter, that happens everywhere. If you want to trade then you need to be able to give up something yourself. But the world contains patches of civilisation, and in those money has taken some form. So here I’ll explain them: each place, each type, and give some kind of context and history about them.

The first place to start has to be Trade Island. As the name suggests, trade is the main aim, and while you can barter and swap goods, a form of money had to come about. Now if you’re a high up and wealthy member of a business family, then a credit note is all you need. These are worth whatever is written on them, because everyone knows you have that money, so if words say you’re giving that to someone else, you are. It also helps that the families all keep their main wealth in the same bank, the Vault, so dealing with each other is literally no more than moving numbers about. Others can use credit notes too, but you had better be someone of worth, otherwise you could end up eating that note. Or worse.

As for a more menial form of money, something that looks pretty but is not really valuable, then people use gems. These are small crystals, not like anything of this world as we know it today, and that’s because gleaners make them. Literally. Gems are gleaner shit. They often leave their, well, leavings about their caves and tunnels to give off a small glimmer of reflected light. Gleaners see better in the dark than most monsters but they don’t fully see in it. Whatever their cause and use, the people of Trade Island handle these daily, buying goods. Some know where they came from. Most don’t. Most don’t want to know nor care to. In Trade Island, handling gems is the least of the dirty tasks you’ll have to do to get by.

In many places money has developed where humans are maintaining communities, especially small forms of civilisation. In essence, if things are in order and people are trying to trade and grow, then a currency is created.

In Central Asia, across the steppes, where many tribes and gatherings have merged, the people have developed coins. At first, they were made of precious metals, but over time they used cheaper things and were pledges, as in I don’t have this money to buy, but if you give this to someone else in my tribe, they will give you something. Tribes and groups had coins that had the names of their leaders on, as a sign or promise that they were supporting this pledge. You would use a coin to buy something and any problems later on could be taken to the leader himself and he might pay up, or at least see recompense made. This gave the leaders more prestige, and also more power. This led to a counter move by certain richer people, who began to make their own coins and give them out, and people used them as they knew these had the wealth to back up the offer. These people were also looking for a currency that could be used beyond each tribe, as more and more were moving closer together to avoid enemies, and more were trading together. This is what led to the rise of the kulaks, the merchant class that now has power without being leaders or elders. By now, most coins are cheap metal with kulak family names on, and are handed about and taken as worth, and so, while people still barter, the wealthy have a form of power over others.

The Deliverer is a ship, stranded in the Pacific Ocean. To be honest, it is three ships, but they have been fixed together so long the humans living there see it as one. They are a practical people, surviving by working together, so for them, you mainly get what your role earns. Everyone is meant to contribute. Yet some tokens were made long ago, small bits of scrap metal cut and stamped by machinery. There’s nothing fancy about them, they have numbers for value on, and marks from the machines down below to prove they’re authentic. You have any and you can hand them over to buy yourself something special once in a while, to get a bit more than your role in the ship earns you. Some frown on them, wondering why they’re still around when they haven’t been made in a long time. In a way, it is an expression of individuality within the community. Most likely that’s why their production was ceased.

The Northern Federation, because it has had to grow, regrow and develop, has dabbled in money a few times before now. At one point wooden tokens were currency, once you had etched your name and debt on. Some still use these, mostly in the villages. In the cities they have gone back to coins and notes. Oddly enough, there is a direct parallel with the market towns of Europe across the sea. While the Northern Federation are together, the cities themselves tend to compete. Each produces money with their name on. They are all acceptable across the region, but it has become a matter of pride for each city. Carthage was the first to make coins with its name on. It pushed them to the other cities with a passion, seeking its place as first city, which it gained. After a while, the other cities fought back with their own coins, but this had to be negotiated. Basically, the coins, and later the paper notes, had to be the same value across the Federation, and all were to be accepted. Money could be used to promote pride in your home city, but it couldn’t actually become an act of independence. Also, while it was never made official, the Carthaginian coinage was favoured. By now, notes and coins are commonplace, the first called dollars, the latter, which are bronze metal, are pennies.

The Mediterranean market towns are developing money. At first people made coins to try and pay for things, but as market towns grew and became known settlements, they were able to make their own coins. People in those places were commanded to accept them as money, and so others began to do so, knowing they can be used there. Barter still goes on, but more towns are producing coins and as their trade and influence spreads, so does the coins. Funnily, pirates have been a big boost in this. By robbing the merchants of the Mediterranean, they’re the ones first responsible for taking coins to other places, and exchanging them with other coins.

The Coalition of the South has money that harks back to the era before the Shadow World. Back then, the region was an important trading nation and it did well, the perfectly placed go-between for other countries. In that time, the rand and cents were currency, and the people today remember such things, and more. They use paper notes, called rand but sometimes dollars too, and cents are the coins, which look gold, hearkening back to the glorious trade era. The cities of the Coalition are more inland and secluded, unlike those of the Northern Federation, so their money has yet to be taken abroad. Perhaps soon.

A final mention goes to Australasia, where they have notes and coins as well. When the nation was formed, including the Aussies, the Brits, the Americans and the Japanese, they had to agree to a currency to share, to include them all and maintain equality. The easiest thing to do was to stick with Aussie dollars and cents. They’re not the same as today, obviously, but called the same and used for the same purposes. Only in the wilder central areas would anyone think of bartering instead of just delving into their wallet. Oh, it should also be mentioned that some Americans and Brits use old slang for coins, such as dimes and shillings.

Those are the major realms and communities where money has emerged once again. New, and yet fulfilling an old purpose. The more humans spread and interact, the more they need stable forms of currency to work with. So far there is nothing that works around the world. It is too fractured a place. It can be pointed out that bullets, fuel or food are forms of currency, far more sought after than most coins on a global scale. But as time passes and more groups become organised, these forms of money can begin to overlap. Already Mediterranean settlements work with money from the Northern Federation, and vice versa. As the two sides get to know each other, it is possible the merchants will push for a common currency. Others might well oppose it.

Many places around the world have no need for money. Cyborg sects are fighting a constant war for the betterment of the human race, so getting paid or buying goods isn’t even considered, not even among the less united groups. When a power rules, there rarely develops a need for money so at Constantinople the military takes as it likes, although some settlements of mutants are beginning to trade secretly with other places. Eden is a place of science, faith and unity, so wealth is abhorrent, and in the religiously inspired Octagon State in Texas, the love of money is still seen as the root of all evil.

Perhaps those people are right, perhaps not. With money, people find themselves able to buy, to improve their lives, to provide for others. Yet there is no doubt that often, the creation of coins has been done as some seek to exercise power over others. By making a form of currency, not only can that be used to praise your greatness – bearing your name, perhaps even your image – it means you get to set the standards. Whether it be Carthage or the kulaks, the market towns or the business families, those with the wealth and the will seek to rule others via the power of the coin. The pen is claimed mightier than the sword, although others can argue the gun beats both. Yet to these people, the coin beats them all. As currencies develop and spread, we will see who is right.

How to Dress a Monster

When it comes to clothing, the usual rules apply. People wear what they need to or what their culture approves of. In the Baltic region, fur is vital. In warmer climes, even with the sun lessened in this era of magic, loose clothing suits best. For the most part, humans, and mutants too, will trust in a few proven items, such as boots, leggings, jackets, etc. A good pair of boots is almost as valued as a decent weapon. In the underground bases, many can get by in jumpsuits and soft footwear, not questioning why all wear the same outfit, after so long within their home. In so many cases, people wear what they can make, what they need, and when allowed to indulge themselves, what fashion or luxury permits.

Machines, for obvious reasons, do not bother with clothes. Cyborgs do, yes, but that’s when mostly or at least half human. They wear various items, often to seem or feel somewhat human still, but also for decency and comfort. They wear armour when going into battle.

So humans and mutants wear clothes, machines don’t. That leaves monsters.

When the monsters came to our world, they ran about naked. Why wouldn’t they? They were newly formed, freed from the Shadow World, forged by our unconscious fears or possibly a reflection of our myths and fables. No one truly knows. But they were creatures, supernatural beings, not civilised or even influenced by it. The wind, the sun, the rain – these were all new to them. So monsters appeared and reacted, and then started to accept this world and settle in.

For that reason, monsters vary when it comes to clothing. Those who live more wild and free lives tend to forgo it. Those who have spent more time with humans or learned from their ways, they tend to dress to impress, as well as for necessary reasons. Many go for somewhere inbetween. Harbingers want things that won’t weigh them down. Magi can look human and often take that form to fit in, so wear whatever the locals do, and their clothes are bound to them so change when they do. Helps to be so magical, I suppose. Many monsters couldn’t fit most types of clothing and so don’t bother even making their own, yet they might try on something. Perhaps a trinket to look special or some armour to be stronger. It is claimed a gleaner king once wore a crown and a large coverall of chain-mail, making him as formidable a fighter as there ever was among his kind. The crown, however, might well have looked comical, not that any would have dared to laugh.

A few examples should be made to highlight the variety.

Deemi don’t wear clothes, they’re infamous for it, but then their sexual appeal is a large part of their predatory nature. But also the forms people see are not their true forms, and thus to them, they are always clothed. Then again, some in the Demon King’s court like to wear jewellery, to look even more special.

Vandals are tough as hell, with leathery skin, so the need for clothes isn’t much. Brutes are hairy, mainly down their back and across their shoulders, so they take the cold better. Certainly better than most monsters. Even so, vandals like to wear clothing sometimes, and even extra protection. Nothing like feeling invulnerable to really make you want to start a fight. Also, brutes preference for colder areas means they do often need to wear something across their bodies. The hair doesn’t cover enough to survive harsh winds and snowstorms, although it will help.

A side note is that it has often been thought that a major reason why monsters started wearing clothes was simply part of their hunting process. Monsters, especially harbingers, would take from those they killed, focusing on weapons at first to learn how to use them, but then things like clothes would go too. It would be seen as displaying your kills, in a way. Also mimicking the human race. Basically, monsters, for all their otherworldy nature, could not resist picking up human habits.

Wraiths need a mention. They always appear as hooded and cloaked beings, and also wear generic-looking human garments underneath, such as a top and leggings, then soft shoes, possibly slippers. None of this is real clothing, however. Wraiths can control their forms, going invisible, transparent and solid. Their clothing is merely a manifestation of their innate power, so that their features – if they have any – are hidden. Wraiths are male and female, but otherwise tend to be very vague about physique. This is intentional. They are beings of shadow and stealth, so they form an appearance to keep to that way of life. The young are taught to imitate the old and so all wraiths look alike. At least to the common eye.

My final mention goes to the grand three monsters races – devil-beasts, aegis and sphinx. Now the last one, as beings who have lion bodies with human faces, don’t often wear much clothing. As mentioned, getting something to fit isn’t easy. Also, with fur, mane and wings, they are fairly well covered. Still, most do like to look their best, and they have a strong reputation for being a race with close ties to others, choosing to talk and learn more than attack and rule. So seeing a sphinx in a robe or cloak isn’t uncommon either.

As for the devil-beasts and aegis, they share a common preference. They don’t tend to wear much, but they have both taken to wearing kilts. They might wear more, usually to show off or intimidate, and many wear items that have power, to use in battle. But the kilts can have a special function. Devil-beast kilts tend to be made of the skin of others. They tend to favour the leathery hide of vandals, possibly with brute hair, or maybe writher skin. The most terrible individuals will wear kilts of leather, torn from the wings of defeated devil-beasts. The aegis do the same, but they have another source. Aegis have scales on their bodies, which shed naturally when healing, like scabs. These can be brought together and made into a kilt. The scales of an aegis are hardened skin and are excellent protection, and those lost to healing are even harder. Wearing such a kilt is a high honour among the aegis, not least as usually it is made from fallen comrades, even family, who handed over their scales in tribute. Devil-beasts would wear these too, except they hate the aegis too much to let their kind touch them. The same goes for aegis and the idea of making tough kilts from their enemies’ leathery wings.

So that’s a quick note about monsters and what they like to wear. They won’t be starting any fashions or trends, although there are a number who follow such things. While most monsters are fierce still, some are practically dandies by comparison. Clothing is there to enhance your image, as well as keep you comfortable, possibly help protect you, and to hide your shame. Some don’t care for any of that; to them, baring all shows strength and courage. Maybe so. Whether it is dressing to impress or putting it all out there, monsters, just like all people, tend to follow the old adage:

When you got it, flaunt it!

Bravestarr

So another short and sidetracked post, rather than a Sojourners in Shadow one.

I’ve been watching Bravestarr on Youtube. Not seen it since I was a kid, so thought I’d give it a go.

You know what? It’s a lot better than I remembered. It was one of the many cartoons I watched back in the 80s when I was young, along with He-Man, Thundercats, MASK, etc. I often thought of it as the lesser among that group.  Bit hokey, fairly daft, with a cliched premise.

Okay, it has to be said, those things aren’t far off the mark. I often laugh when Bravestarr shouts “Strength of the Bear!” and then lifts a giant boulder or something. Same with speed of the puma. He runs faster than a puma on a motorbike, for crying out loud.

So for anyone who doesn’t know, Bravestarr was about a planet called New Texas, where outlaws sought to raid a precious ore, and a marshal repeatedly stopped them. He was, of course, Bravestarr, a Native American with special powers, able to summon the abilities of animals. His enemy was Tex Hex, who, to be honest, should be a much more dangerous opponent, seeing as he can summon creatures and change things at will. Think of him as someone with powers like Skeletor but more incompetent. Laughs more too.

For all the geek revival and nostalgia we see today, I don’t see this show referenced. Like I said, it is better than I remember, with some interesting stories, but you have the same scenes roll over as Bravestarr summons his skills or Tex Hex laughs manically. You can see why it didn’t leave a lasting impression, and yet I remembered it, and judging by comments on the videos I’m far from alone.

This isn’t a post to really go on about the show. It’s in the past, had its day, and while a remake or something could be fun, I can’t see it gaining ground. People would probably sneer at the native with the animal powers trope, for one thing.

There is something worth noting though. Something I quite enjoyed.

One character who always stood out was Thirty-Thirty. I didn’t recall the name until I watched it again and I have no idea why he’s called that. But the humanoid horse with the big gun was entertaining when I was a kid and remains so now. He’s that typical good guy sidekick character of the 80s – gun-toting, eager to scrap, ever loyal, brave to the edge of recklessness.

What’s interesting is that Bravestarr and Thirty-Thirty are friends as well as marshal and his deputy. But they are also very different as people. Bravestarr is open-minded, ready to trust and see the best in people. Thirty-Thirty tries to do some of that, but he is quick to judge and quick to speak his mind too.

There are a few examples but a very good one is when a kid says the dingoes are all thieves. Thirty-Thirty agrees with him, Bravestarr strongly disagrees. Thirty-Thirty gets the hump and walks off. The kid worries that he caused a problem but Bravestarr assures him that, while he and his deputy see things differently a lot of the time, they are still friends.

That’s the thing that struck me about the show. I think it is a lesson taught often back then and it sticks with me now. You don’t see this viewpoint a lot these days. I understand why, but still…

Basically this show makes the point a number of times. You can disagree with someone and still be friends. You can see the world and people differently and remain friends. You can be almost opposites and get along.

I wouldn’t go so far as to claim Thirty-Thirty would vote for Trump, but I bet he’d like his bulldozer style. Bravestarr, however, would clearly be an Obama man.

They might argue, get into heated arguments even, but the end result would be the same. They had each other’s backs and that’s what matters. You don’t cast aside a friendship because you disagree, even if it’s a lot.

This isn’t a political post or anything like that. I just enjoyed watching a show where one of the moral lessons is about trying to understand those different from you. In that very episode, the dingoes – usually two dimensional baddies – end up making peace with a farmer and helping out. So yeah, the show leans to Bravestarr’s view, but damn if you don’t enjoy Thirty-Thirty and his bullishness sometimes. Even if he loves his big gun, Sara Jane, just a little bit too much.

The Great Betrayal

Had a day off from posting yesterday seeing as it was Mother’s Day here in the UK. Mums are always more important than fictional posts, no matter how much fun they can be.

So last week I wrote about friendly groups, mostly so I could write about totems. So this week I’m going to talk about something negative, but again, that will be an excuse to write about a particular group. Scions.

To oppose last week’s post on being friendly, we can talk about being antagonising. Yet we can talk about being friendly too, which leads to betrayal. Scions are the masters of this. That is their purpose.

Scions are a race none who know them will trust, possibly even tolerate. Devil-beasts hate them with a passion, and aegis are quite severe when dealing with them. They are enemies, vicious deceivers, liars and manipulators. The problem comes when people don’t know who they are dealing with. Scions are charmers. Friendly to a skilled degree. That, again, is their purpose.

When the Shadow World arrived and brought with it monsters, there was chaos and mayhem. This is well known, passed on by oral histories with a little recorded evidence. But it wasn’t as if the monsters had things easy. They were a surprise, for sure, a terror even in most cases. They did things unthinkable, such as turning transparent, leaping over distances and smashing down walls. Not to mention magic. But as the humans adapted, which is what humans do, they started to get a grip on things. The human race was still suffering in many places, people were rioting and turning to new ways of thinking, but a number of governments were strong regimes that brought in stronger measures to keep control. Where authorities were weaker, some were overthrown and others merged forces and resources to strive to survive. The humans were reacting to the invasion and, while many of these events lead to the fall of what they knew as civilisation, not every step along the way was a wrong one.

Two things need a mention here. One is that the aegis, among the most powerful of monsters, stood by the humans and so over time earned their trust and support. The other is that the devil-beasts were hell-bent on ruining the human race, and perhaps even more so, their allies, the aegis.

This was back in the early days. So the devil-beasts were mostly first-generation arrivals, with some having giving birth to a second generation. This meant they knew by now they could reproduce in this new plane of existence, and they wanted to break apart the humans. Many devil-beasts were quite happy with using raw strength and power to attack, commanding armies and casting magic. But a good number wanted to destroy the humans from within, wanted to make them turn on each other, and also the ageis. There are a few reasons for this. Possibly it seemed a smart strategy considering some human forces were regrouping. It is also likely they wanted to hedge their bets, increase their chances of success by using all means of attack. Let others hit the humans directly, we’ll hit them from behind, all sides, even within. It is also very likely that going this course appealed to the wicked, vindictive natures of their kind. Smashing your opponent down was fun, obviously, but deceiving him/her while doing so was even better.

So the plan was made. Devil-beasts would give birth to more of their kind, except this time they would use their magic and refine the new beings while in the womb. Few know what was done back then, and those that know say nothing, because they don’t want this to happen again. It is claimed humans were sacrificed in rituals to help grant new and appropriate forms. That is easily believed. It is probable that long periods of time was spent by devil-beasts, focusing their power and making the changes over months. Whatever was done, it worked.

The scions emerged as human-sized and human-shaped beings. They still had red skin, but they also had golden hair and blue eyes, appealing to certain biases. Human they looked, and handsome too, but they were certainly the children of devil-beasts and were being schooled in the art of deception and sabotage from an early age. Their skills were different too. Not as large and powerful as their parents or siblings, these beings also had less power to call upon. Skill, swiftness, suppleness and subtlety were their natural abilities. These were honed over time. The scions learned to use their power to trick or allure people, much like deemi or pixies could. They also learned to kill by stealth or surprise, akin to the wraiths and harbingers. They were even taught as much as possible about humans. Scions had an education like no other race of monsters have ever had. They were the perfect weapon and were told this over and over.

Likely, this is where things went wrong.

When the adult scions were sent out into the world, they soon entered human groups, and soon after became eminent among them. It didn’t occur to the humans that these creatures were kin of devil-beasts. Yes, they were red, but they were so easy on the ears and eyes, so clever and helpful, so full of praise and sound advice. By now, the humans had allies in aegis, totems and denizens, so why not make a new friend? Especially when they were adept fighters and magic-users as well.

The devil-beasts waited for the moment to strike. While this was a pact made across the race, they were not so united in specific aims. They never are. So while some parents had their new children enter a society in Asia, others gathered in preparation to strike in the USA. In fact, it is claimed by some that there was even rivalry. Who could succeed first? Which scions would prove their parents the best? Which nation would fall to a scion deceit the soonest?

The scions, however, were more ready to work together. They talked to each other as well as to their new friends and their old family. Then the moment came. It was time for the devil-beasts to act. Attacks were made, and failed miserably.

This is remembered as the Great Betrayal among the devil-beasts and why they will kill any scion they can. If devil-beasts weren’t lured into a trap, the location of groups was given out. Attacks were made. Many by humans, but a good number by aegis and others. Of course, when I say humans, at this time the human race was still being served by mutant soldiers and machines, so these did most of the work. Either way, the betrayal worked, and the scions were celebrated as the best friends anyone ever had.

They pushed for more. They whispered in the ears of humans about how dangerous aegis were. What lofty aims they had. What strict laws they wanted to enforce. They tried to push a wedge between the humans and the aegis, and almost succeeded. Certainly, the relationship between the two has never been as good as it once was. Humans like to claim scions made them create super-soldiers and super-computers, that they led them to their destruction. Scions and others laugh at this. Even many humans don’t buy it. There is too much evidence that the human race wanted more power, more slaves, servants and soldiers, and at best scions helped them along in their ambitions.

The scions did many wrong things, yet they were as cruel and arrogant as their parents. Some pushed to be worshipped. Others attempted kingdoms of their own. Also, while the devil-beasts had been hurt by the betrayal, it did not come anywhere near to ending them. Vengeance was sought. The aegis acted too. Scions went from lauded infiltrators to hunted outsiders over a matter of decades. As word was spread, humans turned on them wherever they could. Their own kind didn’t want them back, their new friends were now angry enemies. Scions had to use every trick they knew and count on all their skills and wits to survive.

Fortunately for them, they rank among the most skilled and sly beings of all time. Scions did survive. Not many, but enough, and they have lived on since. Most of their kind were male, seeing as the majority of the societies and regimes they were seeking to enter were patriarchal or at least leaning that way. But enough were female. Females are still rare among them, and yet the scions continue, few in number, but always the cunning, charming, intelligent and focused individuals.

They were made with a purpose and while they betrayed that plan, even the scions cannot escape their nature. They act according to the designs that birthed and raised them. It seems instinct to them to deceive, to make friends and then betray them. They know humans so well, even after the centuries of change. They avoid devil-beasts at all costs, and aegis too. Magi make them think twice as those enigmatic beings can match wits with them. Some fear an alliance between those kinds. But scions are hated and feared around the world, except when people have stopped telling stories about them. Sometimes, they find a group of people – maybe human, maybe not – who don’t know what red skin plus blond hair and blue eyes means. They don’t sense the threat. All they hear is the charm, the confidence, the clever counsel.

Never trust scions. As untrustworthy as a scion. As treacherous as a scion. Like a backstabbing scion. These are all terms that aren’t uncommon to hear. Scions are notorious and rightly so. Not that there aren’t a number of groups or races that have bad reputations – everyone knows hobgoblins will ruin anything and gleaners are vicious bastards. But scions have a special place of hatred for being the most duplicitous and deceitful beings on the planet.

To them, however, that is praise indeed.

Why so Friendly?

Returning, as I’ve been meaning to do, to the world of Sojourners in Shadow, and not feeling so well, I felt like a brief mention could be made of the nice guys. At least, those from a certain point of view. I have a number of more complicated and in-depth posts to make, but right now I don’t think I could manage one. This will do.

But this isn’t a meaningless post. In a world so brutal, so divided, it remains not just a scarce occurrence to find someone who can be on your side, but also a very perplexing moment. Why are you on my side? Why would you want to help me? What do you want in return? These aren’t just common questions, these are good survival instincts kicking in. After all, many stragglers have been invited in by a friendly community, only to find they are deemi in disguise or a cyborg sect, eager to convert them.

I have discussed before about alliances and races who work closely together, or just feel a strong bond. This isn’t the same thing. I’m talking here about those who are nice to others. No gain sought. No reward wanted. Just those who are there to be helpful.

As you can imagine, it’s a short list.

Basically, it’s totems. That’s it. As far as races go, they are the only ones who naturally seem drawn to being helpful. Yes, they are well known for being allies to humanity, just like aegis and denizens are. But those two are also known for being ruthless with their enemies. With totems, they prefer to avoid conflict. They can fight. Some do. It is rare but these gigantic, powerful creatures can hit harder than most things. But they are a benign, mute race of healers and helpers. Often they are found in the ranks of an army as a medical unit, forced to march for their captors and aid fallen warriors. Other times they join a war willingly, ready to help those who they feel need it. Humans, mostly, often on the verge of annihilation. But other instances have been known. They prefer peace, they want to help. Monsters they are, true, yet whatever dream they have come from, it is a pleasant one. Aegis are like guardians to humans, denizens like comrades, but totems are friends. To more than humans, if others seek it.

Why they are this way is unknown. Totems are typically about eight foot tall and covered by an obsidian-like skin that is impervious to most attacks. That is, apart from their front. Here, they are soft, and if another being is held here, then the totems’ natural healing ability will work its wonders. They can even fold up about someone, enclosing them in warmth and comfort, and this act can heal almost any injury. It has even been known to cure diseases and re-energise people. Of course, totems can also roll up and become invulnerable. So, for all these physical attributes, totems appear naturally crafted to be pacifists. They are very tough to kill, able to heal and cure others, and strong enough to survive many environments. Oh, they also float. It’s weird but they can.

Totems are the world’s best at enduring and aiding, so being friendly to all seems like a natural step. It should be noted, however, that they are often called pacifists, yet they aren’t truly. Yes, they seek to avoid a fight, but they will resist anyone who tries to hurt them, their people or make any of them do something they don’t want to. When others seek to enslave them, the best trick is to capture their young and hold them while the adults go out with your army and heal the fighters. Totems are more amiable, more quick to concede, that is well known. They would rather submit than stand proudly in defiance. But those that know their kind are quite clear that they aren’t weak. The more you demand of them, the more you will have to push, and even they have their limits. Totems are pretty much unique in that you could call them good natured, but those who think them spineless or saints have often paid for such assumptions.

Having talked totems, I should make mention of a few other friendly groups. In their cases, they are more going against their nature or the ways of their group than with. For this reason, many won’t trust them, despite their history.

A few groups are cyborg sects. One is the Order of Organic Triumph. This sect believes in individuality and also of placing the human over the machine. For this reason, they are more flesh and blood than mechanical, which leaves them weaker in combat. They are also much less regimented. Because of these facts, this sect has suffered from attacks by more militant forces, so most of their number are hiding among other races. Usually humans. Now they tend to be a very open-minded and tolerant people, partly due to their philosophy, perhaps mostly due to their need to survive among other groups. They will seek to persuade humans to join, not ‘recruit’ them. As a non-militant force who have often been refugees, the Order of Organic Triumph have more often helped than hindered people.

Another group also has a refugee past. The Order of the Mothers Mechanical began when a few collections of survivors from defeated sects met up. They were mostly young with women – their teachers and carers – in command. They united and pressed on, away from the conflicts that were more common back then. They found others like them, then settled at a defensible site and made it their home. They remain there, strong enough to feel safe, a new sect, and they are also known for being open to refugees. They remember their past well. Many cyborg sects have been smashed over the centuries and small groups or even lone individuals roaming the world aren’t that uncommon. A place like this is a needed sanctuary. Yet it should be made clear, they are mostly keen in welcoming cyborgs, if they will tolerate other kinds too, and they let most stay a time and then move them on. They consider themselves a temporary refuge, unless someone meets their standards.

Another sect is the Order of Jubilant Transformation. As the name suggests, these cyborgs are all about celebrating the new and better form of existence they inhabit. This makes them very friendly and open, and they love to tell non-cyborgs how much better things are for them now. They are so tolerant, in fact, they have no qualms if anyone wishes to leave their sect. The sad truth is many have done so over time. Their way feels good, especially to the newly converted, but they have little power and so are one strong attack away from extinction. Also, some just can’t stomach how jubilant they are all the time.

It should be made clear here that, while these sects are seen in a much better light than most, they are still suspicious to some. There are claims that the Order of Organic Triumph convert in secret and infiltrate human, mutant and cyborg groups. There are rumours that the Mothers Mechanical have their own agenda. There are strong remarks that the Order of Jubilant Transformation are just a bunch of nutters.

Only the totems stand beyond reproach. Monsters who hate them, deem them traitors and human-helpers, see them as genuine in their tolerant and caring nature. Their size can be intimidating, they stand higher than devil-beasts and aegis, but their benevolent character soon overcomes any such fear. Aegis are powerful in aspect and scare those they help. Totems are strong but caring, helpful and loyal. Many will claim that if they weren’t so useful to have around, they would have been wiped out by now. Maybe so, and maybe the same could be said about how non-threatening they are. No one fears totems. But somehow, they never seem to fear anyone either. If more races were like them, there’d be a lot less to fear for all concerned.