Trials Of Bjorn 3

Bjorn’s group kicked up dust as they ran and Bjorn hoped it would obscure them from further arrows. They ran for a few minutes and as he glanced back he thought that he spotted a few more missiles headed in their direction but they were fired by archers briefly pausing their pursuit to do so and so fell well wide of the group. The cavern walls were curving in and the group soon found themselves running into a narrowing corridor. All of them struggled to keep up with Ivar who was leading them to their unknown destination.

Up ahead of them he heard a keening battle cry from a side entrance in the corridor in front of them. A group burst from it and Bjorn found himself shocked at what he saw. Two humanoid figures came running towards them, their skin covered in a short soft grey fur and their heads bore red leering faces that were framed by curved ram’s horns either side. Each was equally equipped with a crude spear tipped with sharpened obsidian and wearing a brown poncho of rough faded leather. A short surge of fear went through Bjorn at the sight of this new enemy unlike anything he had previously witnessed.

The two figures were blocking avenue of escape and there was no room to run around them. Ivar pulled a sword and charge at the rightmost creature but that left one armed and mean looking adversary bearing down on the unarmed portion of the group. Bjorn hesitated but he heard distant wooping sounds from their pursuers and saw the group coming to a stop that would soon see them stuck in a deadly sandwich of foes. He felt inside and a power surged within him, time seemed to stop as an energy seemed to surge forth from his heart and down through to his hands.

There was a clang of steel as Ivar’s sword met the spear and the other creature shouted as he began to bear down on them but he was stopped in his tracks. Bjorn had outstretched his hand and flash of lightning leapt from it into the chest of the attacker. Throwing the opponent backwards into a heap on the floor.  He turned to see the rest of through group and saw the faces of shock and horror. The others were all obviously innocent of the charges of unsanctioned magic that sent them here. They feared it with the same fear that was pushed into the mind of every citizen of the empire since childhood.

The flash of lightening had also had the happy effect of momentarily blinding Ivar’s opponent and since Ivar had his back to it, his vision was not effected. Ivar used that moment to bring to a swift end what otherwise may have been a drawn out fight by slashing upwards with his sword through the exposed neck of his opponent. There was no time to celebrate victory though and all of them ran on without breath to comment.

A few more minutes of running and they the tunnel started to widen revealing a new cavern of great breadth and height. Bjorn wondered just how large this underground complex was. Ahead of them within the cavern was a walled settlement, a small hillock covered in shanty houses surrounded by a white wall the height of a man. The gate was open and men seemed to run towards them. Bjorn deeply hoped they were friendly as the lightning early seemed to have depleted his energy more than hours of running could have. His bones seemed to ache with fatigue.

His hopes of respite seemed dashed as the men running from the settlements drew bows towards them. Bjorn looked at the readied arrows and felt that there was nothing he could do. Some of the others runners fell to the ground in terror of being impaled on those arrows while Ivar and few others continued onwards directly into the line of these archers. Bjorn fell to his knees and made no effort to hide. He was too tired to run any further.

About seven archers had lined up and he saw the arrows fly. He wanted to close his eyes as the arrows left their bows but couldn’t. He’d never been on the receiving end of arrow fire and had never realised they weren’t as instant as they seemed. In his adrenalin fuelled perception the arrows seemed to take an interminable amount of time to approach him. Finally they did except they passed a great distance over his head, happily he realised that they were instead aiming for the pursuers all along.

Then Bjorn collapsed in exhaustion. Not into the deep blackness of unconsciousness as he so would have wished but the faint unfortunate consciousness of a person too exhausted to continue movement and yet too exhausted to sleep. He lay on the ground face down and breathing heavily. At some level he was glad to have survived, on other worried that a volley of arrows would not be enough to dissuade the pursuit but most of all he was very tired.

 

 

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The Trials of Bjorn 2

As the unlucky passengers of the cage travelled in the dark, they began conversations with each other. The panic and anxiety of their situation gave way to mundane introductions and mild conversation about their predicament. Bjorn learned that his neighbours still claimed to be truly innocent of their accusations. Each of them accused in some way of being involved in unsanctioned magic. They had time to discuss as the cage being manually winched was not travelling quickly to whatever destination awaited them.

Eventually one of them looked down through the cage’s floor and gasped. A circle of light was coming to meet them from below just as the one above had become a distant pinprick. They soon emerged into that circle of light and the tunnel emerged into a huge cavern that beamed with a dull glowing fungus covering the ceiling. Providing a strange approximation of sunlight coming upon them. With a brightness like that of dusk on the surface. While the cavern’s distance of ceiling to floor was about ten storeys high, the width and breadth was such that it appeared in several directions to have a horizon.

The cage was unsteadily bringing them into what looked like a flat patch of earth. The ground appeared to be a dull red clay. The passengers were breathless in excitement, it seemed they might survive at least temporarily in this new completely foreign world to anything they had previously known. The cage hit the ground with clang and a solitary figure approached. He wore a long black coat around clothes of white and orange furs in what on the surface would be winter attire, Bjorn wished he was clothed in a similar fashion as the cavern seemed seemed quite cold. He hoped to live long enough to get used to it.

“Hello I am Ivar and I welcome newcomers. I will take you to where you can learn about your new life here” he said in a gravely tone with a hint of warmth. Bjorn felt relief wash over the passengers around him. Ivar undid the latch and opened the cage’s gate. They all spilled out of the cramped cage and were further relieved to have personal space around them again.  There were smiles all around as even their current condition of being deep underground in an unknown world, seemed so much better than the fate most had expected.

Ivar had given them a moment to stretch and find their legs on the cavern floor before he began to say something. He was quickly cut short though as an arrow whistled through the air and then thumped into reddish dirt by their feet. They all turned in unison to since a distant group kicking up dust and approaching them at a job. The group was too distant to make out any details but Bjorn knew from experience more flight arrows were likely coming and their accuracy would only improve as the gap closed. “Follow me!” Ivar yelled and he began to dash in a direction known only to him. They all followed at pace.

 

The Trials of Bjorn 1

Bjorn bristled as a wooden staff poked him roughly in the back. Behind him stood four guards dressed rather slovenly in their uniform of beige cloth and boiled black leather armour. They looked like a misfit crew assigned to unpleasant tasks but still Bjorn knew that there was no way he could overcome them in his current predicament. His arms were tied tightly behind his back and he had been stripped of every possession but for his pants and shirt. Each of these garments having gone now speckled grey and brown from long usage without cleaning.

The guards kept him in front of them through rough hits from their wooden staves. They moved him ever towards their goal which was a cage suspended by rope above deep hole. Bjorn knew he was headed to the abyss, this cage on a pulley waited to take him down to a fate he had only heard about in rumours. The abyss was the conjectured land that lay at the bottom of the forbidding entrance in front of him. An unnaturally round hole in the ground with a sheer cliff face on each side. Just wide enough to fit the cage that looked barely capable of fitting 8 people comfortably.

Bjorn looked at the cage and noticed that it already had 9 people inside it and the guards meant to cram him in as well. He hoped he was the last passenger. The people already in the cage looked in a disheveled state similar to himself. The result of imprisonment had rendered them oddly featureless in the way of prisoners and made them a uniform unwashed mass that he was also a part of. He imagined they had each made the journey to the cage similar to himself, eyes darting for an escape route that the mind knew would never materialise.

He stepped up to the cage, noticing how it swung unsettlingly on its hanging rope. He hesitated to get inside given how full it was already and this earned him a sharp strike to the lower back that made him leap inside in shock. His body forcing a place among the cramped population of the cage. Bjorn struggled to turn and face the awful guards, his shoulders pushed against his cursing neighbours as he came around. He shook his head to take his overgrown hair out of eyes and glared at them.

Slowly a guard pulled out a scroll from a small leather bag and lazily spread it out before him. Without any passion the guard read the scroll: “His majesty Thorgrim the King of Kings hereby orders that Bjorn Ormson be banished to the abyss for his grave crimes against the state. Bjorn Ormson as a known consort of unsanctioned magic is forever stripped of his surface possessions and titles”. The guard was completely expressionless as his rolled up the scroll. As soon as it was done a guard expertly hooked his wooden pole against the cage’s door. With one swift motion he slammed the door closed without having to approach the prisoners.

The cage had an atmosphere of resignation and stunned disbelief to the fate that awaited them. The guards walked to the winch and two took position either side of it. Suddenly one passenger called out, begging for mercy pathetically as panic overtook him. The other passengers looked towards him with dismay, each of them moving with the odd movements of a person with his arms tied behind his back. The begging was cut short as another passenger began to hurl abuse. Suddenly it awakened an anger in all of them.

They each let loose a string of invective all at once at the hated guards. Bjorn felt a hidden well of hatred at his treatment burst forth from his mouth. Their position was hopeless and nothing would save them. The guards appeared to take no notice and the winch was turned noisily without regard for their words. The cage lowered into the ground steadily and the abuse began to drop off as they became submerged into the earth. The sun’s light faded and as only a small hoop of light lay overhead. Every moment that light dimmed a little more.

Bjorn looked at his closest neighbour. The neighbour stood as a man of average height with his hair going to grey with advancing, not an ugly man but his features too sharp and angular to ever be considered charismatic. Bjorn asked: “What fate do you think the bottom holds for us?”. The man looked up and said his voice bordering on panic: “Death is all that waits for us now. I think there is some corrosive liquid at the bottom. They lower us into it and then pull the cage back up.”. The cage went silent at this dire prediction and the passengers thought in the dark. The only sound the creak of the rope above them.

Storytime: Hierarchy of the Conjurer

Vishal’s hands shook as he wiped them on the long blue robes he wore. A formerly fine garment this act of wiping was destroying its once prestigious look. Vishal’s arms were both stained to the elbows with blood. He was standing in his squat earthwork house and looking out the front window with darting nervous eyes. In the dimming light of dusk he could see an array of figures arranging themselves in his front garden. An angry murmur coming from the crowd.

Vishal was a farmer by trade but more importantly a Conjurer by birth. He had been granted training in the main art that defined his people, the creation of life from nothing. His people called themselves the Creators, after their life shaping abilities. Using only his focus of mind and prolonged meditation he was able to create beings from the aether force that ran hidden throughout reality.

Yet while proud of his people he had never been considered particularly talented. And so he had after careful training been sent to try his hand at agriculture rather than being sent to the war that was consuming so many others in his society. He had populated his farm by creating Trells. A human-like race made for the express purpose of serving shapers in whatever they demanded.

The creation had been the easy part for Vishal though. What had proved more difficult was the careful control required to keep his crafted army at disciplined work. For these servile creations necessarily required some independent thought to be useful farmers and were given an intelligence by their creators to make them useful. Day and night he drove them with harsh words that were backed by a ready whip and so saw himself as pushing away potential rebellion. In doing so Vishal saw in himself a confidence he didn’t know he had. He felt a leadership he didn’t know he possessed and soon came to relish his days of endless command.

More and more Trells were created and the lands around him soon yielded to the efforts of this small army to create a productive farm. He filled his farm with the four legged pink Ornks that he initially conjured into being and then had bred in ever greater numbers. The Trells guiding them in herds for grazing and processing them into the meat and leather they were so prized for. He needed only a few more years of production and he would grow rich. Vishal was no longer an academy cast away in his society but through his efforts was starting to become a respected figure.

Then one day he had come across a Trell sleeping under a tree while Ornks grazed around him. The careless Trell had abandoned his duty of guiding and watching the assigned herd in favour of sleeping in the shade. Vishal grabbed his whip and felt a small fury grow within him at this unconscious rebuke to his leadership. An example would have to be made he thought, as he roughly roused the creature from its slumber. The eyes snapped open and Vishal saw an expression so unexpected that he was taken aback. Not the look of fear that he was so used to but one of contempt and anger.

The Trell grabbed a sickle from its waist belt and swung it upwards towards Vishal’s torso. Vishal jumped backwards in a disorganised heap to avoid the deadly blow but still earned a painful but superficial cut across his stomach. Luckily the Trell’s mad blow had thrown it off balance and they both rose at roughly the same time. The Trell screamed and came towards him the sickle held overhead ready to come down in a deadly chop. But Vishal was not defenceless and his working knife had become like a second hand to him through constant use. Without a thought he had it in hand and met the enraged charge.

The adrenalin flowed through him and he saw in slow motion the events unfold. His blade entered the chest of the charging Trell, the sickle falling from its hands and its eyes growing wide at the impact. The notion of his kill entered his mind and he found his short lived fear turn to pure rage. His knife entered the Trell again and again until he lost count of the impacts his knife hand made against the slumped and unmoving body now below him. The corpse’s face now indelibly etched into his memory struck him as odd as he began to come to his senses.

The Trell was not one of his creations. Almost as shocking as the attack did a wave of realisation come over him. He’d heard the rumours. Rogue Trells who had run from their rightful masters infiltrating new groups of Trell and spreading their message. A message of rebellion and overturning the order of things. He had dismissed it as nonsense and besides had thought his own tight discipline would have made such a thing impossible on his farm.

He got up from his position on top of the Trell. The look of what had happened suddenly disgusting him in the horror of it. Then Vishal saw them. His Trells watched him in a loose circle around him about hundred steps distance in each direction. Except something about their movements told him they weren’t his Trells anymore. They talked among themselves in a voice hushed below that which he could hear. Slowly groups here and there took a step forward. Even the Ornks through some animal sense of the tension started to scatter away from him.

He saw a gap in the line and swallowed. Vishal knew that his next act would throw away whatever remained of his authority but looking at the angry faces of the Trells approaching he wasn’t certain he had enough authority to matter anymore. He thought that maybe if he had been standing proud and in the right frame of mind he might turn them around and put things to right. But he was covered in dust and blood standing above their dead comrade. He turned and ran for the gap in their circle. Perhaps through the shock at his sudden flight he was able to make it through. A thrown rock had hit him in the back of the head as he came past the Trells adding to his humiliation but not genuinely hurting him.

He made it back to his house at a run and slammed the door behind. This was how he’d come to be peering out the window at an assembling crowd. It was time to act. Vishal had created only the benign creations for farming in his agricultural life but he had been trained for more. Mustering as much focus as he could, he formed the aether that so flowed through the earth into a new emerging humanoid form. It was different to a Trell, a seven foot humanoid with eyes that burned like red fire against green scaly skin. Instead of hands its arms were claws with long serrated blades that almost reached the floor over which it proudly stood.

The conjuration made him feel better and imbued him with a feeling of power again. Vishal felt the Trells outside were committing the ultimate ingratitude towards their creator. It wasn’t just that they rebuked the very being that granted them the ultimate gift of life. They had upset the natural order of the world as he saw it. They had no compassion for the Ornks, never had he seen one shirk or complain when it came to eating that creation’s rich meat or wearing its fine leather. In this Vishal thought all was right as they were intellectually above the lowly Ornk and had every right to use the creation. Yet Vishal surely saw in himself, with his knowledge of life and its creation, a step just as monumental above them as that from Ornk to Trell.

The new creation red eye’s looked blankly towards him awaiting orders. Vishal felt drained from creating this new beast so quickly but there was nothing for it. He heard Trells approach the house but he felt that one of these battle monsters might not be enough to overcome the great number of assembled Trells. He put his every effort into creating another, to make his conjuration faster he pulled energy from his own life force until he had none left to give. He slumped against the wall, his own life nearly spent but in front of him stood the two new machines of death. With his last breathes he looked into their eyes, whispered “Kill them all” and passed to the sounds of Trells bursting through the doors.

Geneforge 2: Days Gone Past

Long ago I played through the Geneforge series, which is an old RPG series. This is a series of five games that appear to have started as an attempt to take the conjuration abilities of summoners from some other RPGs and expand on that idea into a fantasy world built around those skills. I feel the developer in this attempt came inevitably to explore the philosophical meaning of creating life, created life’s rights and the moral dangers involved.

The draw of the game to me apart from being a fun indie Isometric RPG is the idea of a world that touches on the dangers of AI in a fantasy world. Which I feel may be an idea that is quite unexplored. Obviously AI is a frequent and common antagonist in the narratives of sci fi universes. Yet a fantasy world often has creatures created by magic users, yet the artificial intelligence component of this is rarely touched upon. This is the core element of the storyline throughout the Geneforge series.

I blasted through Geneforge 1 previously in a week. One of those situations where I installed the game and found myself laser focussed on its completion. A rarity for me as I rarely play video games these days. Yet perhaps the hot weather where I am currently caused the idea of sitting with a computer in the comfort of air conditioning and playing through these half remembered titles to be far more attractive than usual. In some ways I am first struck by how out of fashion these games really are.

The combat consists of one shot deaths of the character and enemy that would put off nearly any modern gamer. A character ordinarily comes with an army of his conjured monsters to fight a similar group in a turn based setup. One shot will kill a character for much of the game at any real difficulty level and this causes a lot of reloading. I find it difficult to defend this even as someone that grew up with this. Yet somehow it does spark an old fire in me, and I find myself soldiering on without getting frustrated. I think this grind would destroy the fun for most people coming at the game from a modern perspective though.

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I am about halfway through Geneforge 2 and I find myself glad that it is coming to an end. Even though I enjoy it, there is too much distraction in this from other parts of my life. I only intended to play the first two games. The games after have lost some of the magic for me because they become more focussed on crafting a good RPG experience than exploring the questions the ideas evoke. Geneforge 1 and 2 have a lot of problems and were old fashioned even when they were released but I do feel that they manage to be a narrative experience that makes them worthwhile.