Pythomus: the New Era

Faceless Child
In the suburbs of Anduris...

Hunter Tunne was a normal, happy child. He was eleven years old, having just entered his sixth year of school. His best friends were Georgi West and Veryn Terrison, and Katie Kiply, he was convinced, was the love of his life. He liked the way her name felt on his tongue, the way she laughed, the way her hair was the most beautiful shade of red. 

Hunter Tunne wasn't a normal child, however, and deep down, he knew it, no matter how much his doting mother tried to pretend otherwise. Every morning she would gently rub his face, and remind him. "Now, Hunter, remember. You've got to keep your face on."

By sixth grade, Hunter had taken to laughing it off. Of course he'd keep his face on. He'd been careful, like he always had been. No one was suspicious, he was certain. 

That morning, Hunter woke up late. He scrambled to get dress, shouting to his mother that he'd skip breakfast to make it to school on time. And, he decided in a snap, at recess, he would confront Katie Kiply and tell her how he felt. And so it would be his undoing. She faked a gag and kicked sand at him, calling him cruel names while her friends hooted and jeered. To Hunter, it seemed to be the end of the world. He found a hidden place, and cried his little eleven-year-old eyes out. And in that time, he forgot. His face slowly melted, assuming its natural, blank, featureless state. 

He willed it back immediately, of course, looking around in terror. He couldn't see anyone, so he was pretty sure he was in the clear. He cleaned up his tears and snotty nose, and trudged off to class. And he pretty much forgot about both his early heartbreak and his slip-up by the time he was out of school. 

At least, until he arrived home. His mother was sitting in the living room, silently crying, as two men in dark suits, one sitting, one standing, stared impassively.


"Hunter…" she began as he entered.

"Mom? What's going on?"

"Ma'am, we're sorry, but the law is the law." the standing MiB said, stone-faced.

"NO!" screamed Mrs. Tunne. "YOU CAN'T TAKE MY BABY! YOU CAN'T!!" she stood up, angrily, before collapsing into a sobbing heap. Hunter started to run to her, but found himself scooped up into one of the MiB's arms. "HE'S MY SON! HE'S MY SON! YOU CAN'T DO THIS!" 

"Mannikins are a danger to the entire human race." the second man said as he rose from his chair, drawing a pistol in one smooth motion as he did so. He nodded to the other man, and they dragged Hunter out of the house, kicking and screaming, as his mother sobbed inside. 

A few minutes later: a gunshot, a car engine purring into the distance, and a broken woman sobbing on the empty floor of her empty house. 

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The King of Bones
Wolfstone, the fog-shrouded capitol of Durç

In Wolfstone, the fog-shrouded, cobblestoned capitol of the deathless kingdom of Durç, a long, dark limo pulls up to the palace in the light drizzle common to early autumn. The paparazzi gather in cafés nearby, cameras at the ready, aimed at the passenger door of the limo. A skeletal servant approaches, opening the door when the passenger signals.

The passenger unfolds as he exits, a solid six and a half feet tall. King of Bones is many things: gaunt, black-haired, stately, glamorous, cold, distant. His eyes linger over the banks of photographers for a moment, but he can't blame them. It has been far too long since he stood before his people as a man. As he turns, his form wavers, and one paparazzo manages to snap the shot- the ghostly form of the impossibly ancient king. Not that it's a secret, by any means. The Necromancer King took control of the land that would be come to be called Durç over six hundred years ago, with only a few short breaks in his direct rule. 

Nearby, undead stand in shadowed alcoves, controlled and linked by the occasional knight astride a bone horse, as cars hum by, a testament to the growth of the nation and of the world.

Somewhere underground, a ground of young, angry people with bright blond hair and dark-painted weapons talk amongst themselves. Narthalians. Northerners. This was their land, after they took it from the first Durcks. Then the King of Bones took it back, and made it into a necromantic utopia. The Narthalians would take it back, and free their people from the cold, northern exile they had been forced to. 

Elsewhere, a sommelier lists fine Durckish wines- Yve red, Etanby whites… Towards the end, he throws out Norland Undead-Free Red, almost as though he's embarrassed to acknowledge the label. To his chagrin, the customers gratefully order the wine made without undead labor.

Elsewhere, a state-sanctioned necromancer raises the corpses of executed criminal prisoners. He checks his list once again, and notes that the Duke of Gathan hasn't paid him this month, and goes to report the drained corpse to the proper authorities… After, of course, disposing of the other fed-upon corpses, be they drained by the hemophilic members of the nobility, or munched on by the… carniverous members. 

The quiet, beautiful nation ticks along under the watchful eyes of the King of Bones and his Bone Knights, as it has for centuries, and will for centuries yet. 

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Ill-Fated Roadtrip
Deep in the heartlands of Valesia...

(Soundtrack: Rise Again by Uncle Daddy)

In the heartlands of Valesia, in a tiny, sub-1000 farming town, four high school friends met again. They'd just finished their first year of life after high school- college for two, work for one, and vagrancy for the last, a comely roguish lass, the heartthrob of the whole school, who first suggested the trip. She'd inherited a beat-up old station wagon from her father, and figured a summertime trip to Lionguard for some sun and waves would help her old friends loosen up some.

A hard-bitten, scarred young man, formerly voted "most likely to join the Army" was the first to agree. He'd become a monster hunter since school, relying on his firearm ability and his Championship to slay beasts plaguing the locals. A handsome priest of the Lord of the Sun was next, laughing in his charming way at the girl's jokes about his vows of celibacy needing to be tested by some good swimwear. Their old friend, a hedge mage descended from a long line of witches and warlocks, was the last to agree, mostly, he claimed, because they needed a voice of reason somewhere.

Though a motley crew, they had one thing in common: Championship. The priest had had it easiest, born with a birthmark in the shape of the Holy Sun, the symbol of the Lord of the Sun and a shock of bright gold hair which never dulled. The mage, of course, was born into power as well, but drawing power from a bloodline of hedge magery was hardly so proud as from the Well of Light itself. The rogue in all her cunning, impressed the goddess of thievery, gaining the massive edge in her endeavors that Championship afforded. Finally, the fighter was one of the rare souls who earned Championship by his own blood, sweat, and tears. His father owned a gun range, and every day, the fighter could be found there, working on his aim and control, tinkering with his guns, machining ammo with his father, anything to do with guns. Eventually, due to hard work, he surpassed the limits of humanity, becoming stronger, faster, more accurate, deadlier. 

Three months later, the friends stood together, huddled against a wall as the elder wyrm blasted the other side with fire. The fighter, missing two fingers from an unfortunate run-in with a bridge troll, motioned to the rogue, whose beauty was marred by a deep scar through her eye, though the priest had regrown the eye. (She'd asked him to keep the scar because it added to her "mystique".) The mage silently gathered power, preparing to call down the incantation he'd learned from a demon he consorted with behind the party's back, embracing his bloodline in hopes of keeping his friends out of danger. The priest, now clad in shining armor and wielding a blade the size of a man, released holy magic that soothed the party's wounds, and prepared them for the final fight, having grown into the holy knight that the Lord of Sunlight wished him to be.


"I'm still upset about that car. That was my dad's legacy, you know?" the rogue said, readying a pistol and a blade.


"Would you kindly shut up about the car, man?" the mage asked, his silent incantation wavering with his concentration. The group of friends chuckled, and began their look into the jaws of death as one.

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A Clash of Champions
On the border of the Lesser Aian Desert...

(Soundtrack: Anything by Ennio Morricone)

 

On the border of the Lesser Aian, the West never died. Lonely, dusty border towns are arranged against the terrible spellstorms that stir the desert every few weeks. Not to mention the bandits- outside the reach of magic, there aren't a lot of options for self-defense. Everyone carries a gun or three. 

And still, it isn't enough. A lone traveler saddles his horse, throws his cigarette on the sand, and then climbs astride in one smooth motion, one hand on the pommel of a blade. A Desert Ranger, and a Champion.

Five miles away, a young man is picking up milk for his mother, rifle on his back, chambered. Today is payday, and the town doesn't have anything to pay. The townsfolk listen in fear for the distant sound of hooves, and sure enough, they come. The young man places the milk back on the counter, nodding to the clerk. He unslings his rifle, and climbs to the roof of the short building. 

The Champion rides furiously, his horse already lathering. In the distance, he sees the wavering outline of the town, baking in the heat. From inside, a gunshot.

The bandit strolls into town, pistol holstered. 

"Come out, come out, wherever you are!" He chuckles at his dumb joke.
"We don't have nothin' to pay!" shouts an elderly woman from the other side of her tightly locked door.
"Aw, don't give me that shit, granny."
"She's right. We don't have any more money." shouts the boy from the roof, rifle sighted on the man's head.
"Well that's a damn shame. You so young and all." 

The boy fires, and his aim is true- center forehead. The bandit laughs, and ignores the scratch. "You got some balls, kid. Well." The bandit returns fire, and the boy slumps, falling to the dirt street below. "Had some balls." 

Nearby, a woman weeps for her son. A child screams in fear. A few doors open, sacks of college funds and car funds and medical payments and whatever the residents can get to are thrown onto porches. 
"Now that's what I like to see! Cooperation!" The bandit laughs, again, and spits. He wipes the tiny trickle of blood from the gunshot scratch away. Faintly, he hears the sound of hooves. The Ranger has arrived.

The Ranger dismounts easily, thirty feet out from the bandit. He slaps his horse, sending it running. He registers the situation quickly, then stares down the bandit, who laughs once more, and spits towards the Ranger.

"Aw shit, the cavalry's here. You shoulda stayed home, Ranger."
Silence. 
"Think you're scary just 'cuz you're a Champion?"

In a flash, the bandit draws and fires, center mass. In a quicker flash, the Ranger draws his blade, and slices the bullet out of the air. The bandit tenses. The Ranger looks determined.

The next few seconds, though difficult to follow, will be recorded in the town's history forever. The bright flashes of gunfire, the sound of metal deflecting metal, the shouts of men in combat… 

When the dust settled, the Ranger's blade impaled the bandit through the chest. The Ranger clutched at deep chest bullet wounds. They stared at each other. The bandit weakly raised his gun one final time… 

A young man, bleeding from a shoulder wound, steps heavily on his wrist. "Die, you sumbitch." Leveling his rifle, he fires again, a Champion himself now for his courage in face of death, and slays the wretch once and for all. 

The Ranger tumbles to the ground. "I'm just gonna… Take a nap…" 

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