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Clockwork River

By Christopher Robin Negelein

CHAPTER EIGHT

Excerpt

Arwin tried to relax, but his brain raced with what he had seen today. Not just the spectacle of the giant rotting ape creature hunting for a boat it could have lifted with one hand, but that he had finally found what he been searching for in the Shan Kingdom. Proof, they had abominations as well.

He wanted nothing more than to talk to his father about it. But the only thing he could get away with on the crowded deck was to check to make sure that the black cylinder was still intact and none the worse for wear. His father never told him where the ancient relic had been found, but it predated the Empire, maybe even into the early eras of history.

He assessed what supplies he had left and realized that he could stretch them out for just a little while longer. He would need to get more of the mystical păcură soon though. Otherwise, he and Fen would have to say goodbye to father for a second time. The thought of how their father had gone the first time gripped an ache on his soul as the memory flashed in his head.

Back then, anger was Arwin’s close friend as he watched his father go from well-respected man to a pariah. Many had feared that the growths that welled up under Father’s skin was a contagion but it was a sickness of the flesh that evilly dug into the bone. He remembered the long nights that his father moaned and cried until he had finally got enough poppy seed elixir to drown the pain away. But that elixir also dulled my father’s brilliant mind, stealing him away for us. Now, in the black cylinder, his mind was better but his life, such as it is, is now measured in mere weeks. Arwin thought. If I am to get the mystical păcură I need, then we must make this pirate venture work.

At that moment, Arwin knew that he needed to fully commit to the idea. And get Fen to agree to it as well.

He looked over to the little girl, Soon. “So tell me about this great beast. Was he always like that?”

Sitting next to him, she looked up at him. “No. They say he was dead last year. I remember the party in the street. The grand Emperor was happy and gave us a holiday.”

Arwin felt something rubbing against his butt after he sat down. He leaned over to pull out the little red ball. Looking at it, it seemed like the dinner entertainment he had done for the governor was another life and many years ago. He tossed it up, caught it, and then with graceful finger movements, gave it to the little girl. She smiled as she took it. She peered a little closer and saw that it had tiny maroon little falcons embroidered within the red cloth. “The birds are pretty.”

Arwin pulled out his tool and a little bit of twine and kept working at the little tool he had started a few nights ago. “Thank you. I had a friend of mine make that for me, she is far-far away now.”

“Oh, is she your wife?” The little girl said.

Arwin put his hands up. “Oh no-no-no it wasn’t like that. She was just a good friend.”

Fen giggled, a true lighthearted giggle, at Arwin’s uncomfortableness. For a moment, Fen seemed to be a young woman instead of the hardened warrior. “She would’ve come if he had asked. But Father thought they were both a bit young for that.”

“Yes, yes, we are too young. And we both had many things to do.”

The day he wanted to talk to Father about his good friend, Arwin awoke to a scream from the lab.

He had jumped off his cot and ran into the workstation to see a strange masked man wrapped in white clothing and looming over his father’s body. The assassin slit his father’s throat and the blood ran freely. Despite the shock, Arwin had grabbed a box of poison tipped darts and threw them in a scattered fashion at the assassin. There wasn’t enough time to ignite the tiny explosives in the tips. The experiment to make self-propelled arrows would never happen after that day.

One dart landed in the assassin’s wrist, which was exposed between glove and sleeve. The man jumped and ran for the door as if the cut had been much deeper. Odds were that he had heard that the Reagans clan had a reputation for coating their weapons with mystical poisons..

A small part of Arwin wanted to run after him but his father was laying there on the floor, still and unable to speak. The blood pooled so fast. So damn fast. The quick-thinking young man grabbed rags off the shelf to staunch the flow from his father’s neck but the blood kept spurting out.

Father pointed to the relic in the corner. Arwin knew what that meant. “No Dad, please don’t. We don’t know if it will work!”

But his father’s eyes told him everything as the blood drooled out of his mouth. He was dying so quickly. Arwin grabbed the cylinder and yanked on the lever that opened up the bottom. He sat his father up and slid the cylinder over his father’s head, noticing for the first time how its legs lined up perfectly on either side of father’s shoulders. The glass fogged with his father’s fading breath.

Unable to watch what he had to do next, Arwin closed the dark shutters over the cylinder and then closed his eyes. As he released the latch, it sounded like the slicing of a butcher’s knife. A final sluice of blood went everywhere, on his father and on him, until the headless body fell twitching back down on the floor.

Rushing as fast as he could, Arwin poured the lab’s water that had been boiled last night, but was now clean and cool, into the cylinder. For the first time, Arwin prayed to the gods he didn’t believe in. He grabbed the experimental păcură and coal, which he and his father had been testing for the device, and fed it into the burn chamber.

Grasping the flint and steel, Arwin couldn’t get the spark going even though he knew time was of the essence. For once, his fingers betrayed him. He tried again and then on the third time the flint sparked up and he blew on the kindling to get a small meager light. He nursed it with great tender care as if he was cupping his father’s soul in his hands. When it burned stronger, he closed the hatch. There was no time to attach the tiny grill and diaphragm that would give father a voice to see if he was okay. Arwin just had to hope for the best.

And that was when he allowed himself the luxury to scream and cry for help.

Check out the rest of the chapter, right here!

The siblings discover something far worse than bandits on the River. Fen is terrified but Arwin is awed.

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CLOCKWORK RIVER

By Christopher Robin Negelein

CHAPTER SEVEN
Excerpt

The breeze crossed the river carrying the fresh scents of both summer flowers and the oncoming rain as it lifted Fen’s ponytail. With one foot on the ship’s railing, she drank the fragrance in while scanning the river for threats. The boat, now under way, left behind several lean-tos on the shore that sheltered the old and the young.

The girl, Soon, stood nearby with her foot on the rail too.

She pointed at a leaf floating by. “Yezi.”

Fen tried. “Yeza.”

“Almost,” little brother said. “It sounds like a ‘u,’ but it is an ‘i.’ with a soft ending.” She was supposed to be the one with a gift for languages. With her frustration rising, she wanted to snap at him, but he had been sitting cross legged on the deck, hunched over a hook that he had been fashioning all day. That sight broke her heart a little, he has lost so much more than anyone knew. Many of his tools would have to be rebuilt from scratch, his old tool set had been family heirlooms and Arwin’s backpack had been quiet for far too long. The day may come where we may have to give up on finding a cure for father.

“Your brother leans very forward when he is working hard. ” Soon said.

If they were not blood, Fen would hate him out of sheer jealousy. She tapped the side of her head. “That is his talent, his focus.”

She hoped that Soon wouldn’t assume what others had before, that the Clan siblings were complete opposites. That Fen was strong, but dumb, and Arwin was smart, but weak, as if the gods kept a balance on Nature’s gifts. There had been quite a few imperial rivals that had lost their pride, their fortune or even a finger, from that mistake.

Fen squatted to meet his gaze. “How long are you going to sit there like a squirrel over a nut?”

Arwin didn’t look up. “As long It takes. What business is it of yours?”

“Your arms are too thin.” Fen said. Some of the men she had commanded possessed thinner arms than his.

“My arms are just fine.”

Fen poked Soon. “No. They are as skinny as Soon’s.”

Soon giggled.

Still focused on crafting his tool, Arwin still didn’t look up. “Not true, her arms are definitely bigger. She could easily lift this boat out of the water.”

Fen snorted. “And what about me?”

“Don’t bother using your arms. Your lips are more than sufficient, since you flap them about more than your sword arm.”

Fen put her arms akimbo. “Then you should be able to lift a whole fleet with just your bottom lip.”

“You are mistaken, Heron.”

“Really?”

Arwin finally met her gaze. “Yes, I’d need my whole mouth for that. You are the one that would only need their bottom lip. You know the one… you keep curling it whenever you are angry.”

“I do not curl my bottom lip.”

His face brightened. “Oh yes, you do. If you did it any more often, a bird would land on it.”

Both siblings gave a small smile, reminiscing how their father would tease them the same way. Soon bit her bottom lip, aware that something was going on. The water lapping up against the boat filled the short silence between the three.

Arwin broke the quiet as he gazed out on the river. “So, if we can get this crew to accept us as fellow river pirates, how will we pick our prey?”

Fen smiled sardonically. “Merchants and nobles use the Yung River like an imperial road, but that means there’s patrols. If we see more swords than sailors, then we move on and leave well enough alone.

Arwin raised an eyebrow. “That sounds suspiciously simple.”

Fen shrugged. “The more complicated the plan, the more likely it is too fail.”

Arwin nodded. “The more complex the apparatus, the more chance a piece breaks.”

“Exactly.”

“So then the real question is, what do we do when a royal inspect–”

An echoing roar made Fen spin her head around, looking for the threat, as Arwin jumped and dropped the tiny hook tool he was working on. The instrument, more handle than anything else, rolled on the deck for just a moment before he snatched it up.

Click to read more!

By Christopher Robin Negelein

When RPGs hopped over to computers, it offered something new and awesome. The ability to have a RPG-like experience away from the table and on your time. No need to wait on a GM or fellow players to get their schedules in synch or lug around dice and books all to the same table. Push a power button, click and icon and become the hero, or the terror, of another world.

But something was, and still is, lost in translation.

In the last year, I’ve probably introduced more new players to tabletop RPGs than I had in the last ten years and most of them have played MMORPGs It seemed the easiest way to get them to grok the difference was to equate a computer RPG to a movie, you see exactly what’s going on and enjoy the CGI. But there’s the limits of budget and props. At some point you run into invisible walls and the end of dialogue trees.

A tabletop game is more like reading a book, I told them. Your own imagination has an unlimited special effect budget and you can go anywhere that your GM’s imagination can take you.

The cream on top of that is the camaraderie of your fellow players at the table. Something that’s become big as board games have become embraced over video games.

But what if you could somehow have the flexibility of a video game and the imagination of the table top?

While technology has allowed for alternatives like Play by email, IC RPG forums, and the new webcam interfaces like Roll20. For each problem they solve, they still leave one issue or another on the table (pun intended), players dropping out or a lack of immediacy.

Monte Cook Games is starting a kickstarter, Invisible Sun, today that offers web-based tech on letting a GM and players meet one on one or online to get their RPGing done in spite of scheduling snafus.

It’s not just the app they’re designing for the kickstarter, though, it’s also the game rules and game world. All three are built to mesh together and let your crew game when and where they can – and maybe even make a richer story for it.

In Invisible Suns, you PC is stuck between worlds. The one we know is but a mundane, uninspired Shadow of the real world the Actuality. This Actuality psychedelic and surreal and is the characters’ real home.  A home filled with secrets and powerful magic that they control. The setting sounds like the love child of the Wonderland, Changeling: The Dreaming and the Nine Princes of Amber.

But something dangerous is keeps drawing them back the banal illusion called Earth and if they don’t escape sooner than later, they may forever believe that they are natives here. That game world factoid, though, is one of several built-in tools to keep continuity going despite absent players.

Their latest demo video shows Monte using that tool along with some of how these other pieces work together. MCG’s philosophy is that Invisible Suns has three “modes.” Action and Narrative modes are basically the times we do combat and role play in a regular RPG.

The third, Character Development mode, is where the app comes in, allowing a GM to do online play or even use it as a mini-RPG table for one on one play at the coffee shop.  And here is where it circles back to the game play itself. In Development Mode, virtual cards instead of dice are used and the mechanics allow players and GMs to create flashbacks that add to the story. As an added bonus, introverted players who may not speak out at the table may excel in the online texting or one on one play.

It’s an exciting bit of RPG development and history in the making.  It’s the first time I’ve seen someone designing the tech, the game and the world from the ground up with these sort of goals in mine.

 Gamer Bonus Round!

Absentee players do suuuuuuck, but you’re not sure psychedelic magical dimensions are for you? Still committed to the long haul for your campaign?

GMs have been coming up with little in game conventions to explain away that suddenly slack-jawed PC for years.  Here’s some suggestions for you to borrow, better yet, leave an idea if you like.

Fantasy

  • A magical curse randomly freezes a PC in crystal. The absent player’s name just happens to be Random (See what I did there?)
  • The PC still suffer from the magical backlash of a bad teleport spell
  • The soup is filling, but adds no calories because it’s made from astral spiders. … Opps
  • Loki! Not again!

SciFi

  • On their way out to the stars, the PC used faulty cryo-chambers. Absent players cause narcolepsy
  • The PCs are actually remote controlled androids with faulty reception
  • A hyperdrive accident makes the PC slightly out of phase, and sometimes completely out of phase.
  • Radiation poisoning makes them reliant on meds that they have to go back to base for.

 

#CypherSystem

#pathofsuns

 

 

Now Fen and Awrin have to use every skill and trick that posses to escape the Shan Kingdom capital as it burns all around them.

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Clockwork River

By Christopher Robin Negelein

CHAPTER SIX

Excerpt

 

The wharf was worse than the streets but also added bobbing, unmoored boats and panicked people pushing and shoving with the unlucky ones already swimming in the river. Each place is worse than the last. Fen thought. We go from the kitchen, to the pot, right into the fire tonight.

The soldiers were here too. They had shoved all foreigners onto slave barges, olive, ebony and chalk-skinned people shoulder to shoulder with imperial bureaucrats, merchants and mercenaries who were chained together. Then one of the caravan survivors, Lord Vita, already in leg irons, looked in their direction. Please don’t see us, Fen thought. The urge to step further back in the shadows was strong, but the sudden movement would be more a tip-off than standing still. There was a moment when his gaze went from resigned to hatred before a guard pushed him onto the boat, his leg irons rattling.

The stare was long enough. A leader pointed in their direction and young red rebels raced down the wharf. The siblings bolted, but they couldn’t outrun the cry and alarm. Despite her exhaustion, Fen drew her sword and her trick scabbard while putting Arwin behind her.

The plan was for that to get him out of harm’s way for as long as possible while he watched her back. That plan was the first casualty.

“We have company, Heron,” Arwin said.

Why must he always state the obvious? She grunted, but kept the thought to herself. Time was better spent weighing her options, trying to find — no make — an escape route. She had been reacting to the whole night, no plan and no strategy. No, they were backed in a literal corner with no way out.

She spun to face her pursuers. “Go look for a boat, have dad tell you how to say ‘we can protect your boat with magic’.”

Arwin raised an eyebrow. “Indeed. While you dance with your new suitors? I think not.”

Fen blew a ginger strand out of her face. “I don’t care how you get the boat, but get one. I’m holding them off.” She reached out with her long arms and toppled some crates in front of her. If they tried to climb over, she would skewer them. “Go. Now.” She heard his footfalls faded into the chaos all around them.

Two young rebels raced down the wharf to be the first to try her, smirking. While she weighed more than the shortest young assailant and had reach on them, all the boys could see was long hair and her chest. Sadly, they didn’t see what happened to their friends. She smirked and tilted her head down. But I never tire of teaching this lesson, and these boys I could teach all day.

The young men clumsily wiggled around the crates while the others hung back. The chargers’ grins faded as she bellowed like a true clan warrior and stomped up to them as loudly as she could.

She straight-armed her sword as she barreled forward. Metal scabbard at the ready. Her focus and fury narrowed her gaze into tunnel vision. So she saw the archers only at the last second.

With an, “Oh, shit,” she dove for a crate. This is what those boys were grinning about. I lost my perspective. Arwin screamed something unintelligible behind her. Like a deer putting trees between her and a predator, she zigzagged towards him while keeping the crates between her and the flying arrows.

She dodged left as she heard an arrow dive in at the right. It bounced off a crate and clattered onto the wharf. They never stick in the wood like they do in the stories.

Fen then slid around a corner and found Arwin already climbing onto a river boat. She never slowed down. Taking a running leap while keeping her blades high to avoid cutting any passengers, she hit the crowded deck hard. Fen tried to stop rolling forward and getting tangled with the rest of the refugees. Her left shoulder banged into something. In the dark she wasn’t sure what it was but it hurt. There was no time to wallow in the pain.

She stood straight up and strode up to the starboard side of the deck trying, to hide her hurt by letting her left arm limply hold the scabbard. “Arwin. Now would be a good time.”

“No need to say it.” He sighed.” But it will be tricky to aim it without the red ball.”

“Tuuurtle?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.”

Arrows, lit by the burning rags wrapped around them, arced beautifully towards the boat. She raced along the edge duckling around those leaning away from the projectiles. Putting herself in the way of the largest grouping of projectiles. People yelled at her.

She had no doubt that some refugees were screaming how insane she was. One fellow tried to grab her but she danced out of his reach as he pleaded with her. Even if they spoke the same language, he couldn’t have changed her mind. But he snagged her bad arm

Which sent shooting pains into her shoulder. Fen didn’t have time to gasp while she fought back the tears and bellowed at him. The man’s sense of self-preservation kicked in and he’s backed into the others.

Arrows descended on her like a rain of spikes. I only get one chance at this. Fen breathed out and inhaled slowly as the arrows crossed the water. One graceful swing with a flourish and five arrows bounced off her blade. The vibrations sent tingles up her good arm. Three other arrows skidded across decks to quickly be stomped out. One fell short as another sailed past and landed in the river with a “pfft.”

“Duck!” Arwin yelled.

She obliged.

From behind her, a gleaming streak shot over her and across the water. Diving towards the archers, Arwin’s haw buzzed the whole archer line. In their rush to avoid the razor-tipped avian, men ducked and screamed with one dropping his bow into the water. They were joined by the wharf rope that had been cut loose from the boat.

Enchanted smoke trailing from every vent and joint, the clockwork bird made another pass.

For the rest of the chapter, get it here.

By Christopher Robin Negelein

First off the apology. The last two weeks have been taken up by deadlines of a nature that I can’t really get into right now*.  But in the short term that meant my Preacher recaps had to go on the wayside just as the last two episodes were airing.

So in a twist of fate, I saw them back to back almost as if they were two-hour movie. And I think that was probably a better way to watch them since I learned that this series is all about the payoffs, even the ones we didn’t know we wanted.

Spoilers ahead.

In episode nine, it’s no surprise that Jessie makes good on his criminal skills and does a hasty dive out of the Sheriff’s moving car using the pen that Odin gave him to sign over the church. Jessie spends the episode running away from the law along with some establishing scenes of him on the lam, like eating pancakes with homeless people.

We also learn the motivation for the Angles, Fiore and DeBlanc. Early on in the series we thought it was all about them covering up their mistakes, but we finally learned that it was about their fear of being separated from each other.

Of course that brings in its own fun of considering whether Angels can be lifelong friends or more, or if there is really any difference after a few centuries of hanging around together.

That love of staying together forces them to go to Hell.  How they get there is cute, evidently all you need is the right travel agent and remember that you can’t bring carry-ons even if they are your favorite comic books.

In another twist, this escape is to find their own infernal hit man, the long-suffering cowboy. What we thought was some historical flashback turned out to be his own personal punishment in the afterlife. Sadly when angels push for leverage, it’s the end for DeBlanc. But the viewer’s reward is pitch perfect for the quiet and confused grief projected by Tim Brooke’s Fiore over losing his friend and partner.

But things upstairs feel the rushed despite having 10 episodes.  It’s to the point that characters start doing things that seem both to prove that no one is innocent in Annville while moving things to a conclusion that needs to happen regardless of an arc playing out as it should.

Most are given some justification. Emily, the meek church mouse who does what she can to survive and get a little bit of happiness despite living in the fairly nihilistic universe, talks herself into committing murder (with some help from Alfred Hitchock.)

Some may say technically it wasn’t a murder, but she phoned Miles the Mayor to lure him into the house and then locked the door behind him to make sure that Cassidy get enough proper humans blood to heal up. To wit, Miles was started to get rather dickish once he felt that Jessie was out of the picture as competition. (One of those typical “I’ve been friend-zoned long enough that I deserve this attitudes.)

And in usual Preacher fashion, Cassidy end Jesse learn to forgive and bond together by burying the mayor’s body in a mass grave with the discarded angels husks, which also lets them snag a dead angel hand. Turns out that Jessie had snagged the Heaven Phone during the awesomely ridiculous hotel fight.   Which still has Terminator Angel sitting in her own blood in the bathtub.

And we learn the driving force behind Tulips vendetta against Carlos. The botched bank heist gave her a miscarriage as Carlos abandoned them. That felt like a very legit motivation but not so much for Carlos when his turncoat moment came from his bitterness over how Jessie/Tulip (Jessulip? Tuessie?) so happy together. So in a show where the redneck bully learns that mercy can be returned by giving the Preacher a hiding place, Carlos feels like the two-dimensional bag that he becomes.

Cassidy, however, is currently in jail without any preamble to find Sheriff Root believes in Cassidy’s vampirehood and uses it in a creative torture technique. Root also seems easily talked into a mercy killing for the young woman in the angels’ hotel bathtub. And thus unknowingly releases Terminator Angel to go hunting again with a fresh body that has all of its limbs. Root has swung all sorts of ways this season to the point I feel like his character was a walking plot plug.  Which was a waste of a both a character and a good actor.

The scene where Jesse dials in God with the angelic telephone is pretty much everything we hope for. From God’s cheesy appearance to the usual platitudes and the eventual reveal that the Angels are playing house while God is AWOL.

The montage of how people eventually deal this fallout feels pretty on point except for comic book fans were hoping for more when it came to Odin’s God of Meat. For those might be tempted to looking to the Preacher comics, I’m going to leave that just as open as I said It.

And here’s where learn that the series tries to make every potential bit payoff from the eventual discovery of the competing team mascots and their secret rendezvous to the comment that the meatpacking plant is also a methane power plant that has release valves all over town.

It was something that seems so inconsequential that I never really mentioned it my past recaps. Once or twice per episode the power plant would edge towards being over pressurized only to have an old, fat old man bring it all under control at his console. Now knowing that God was gone, this fellow decided to go out via death by prostitute. Leaving the poor woman unable to deal with the eventual pressure cooker of a power plant.

So while comic book fans were probably disappointed by Odin (which by no means does it mean Jackie Earle Haley turned in a slouch of performance — his awesome acting was a  highlight for the series – if not for the year), they got their thrill in seeing the town explode in a methane-fueled Fist of God explosion.

And in a bold ass move, pretty much wiped out 80% of the cast. I’m not over worried, though. This is TV land and a supernatural series. So if we see these faces again, it will be surprise, but not a shock.

That just leaves us with our main three of our five main characters deciding to go on the road trip that starts the comic book series off. Cassidy still secretly pining away for Tulip, and Jessie finally showing off his power in a creepy fashion to Tulip. Who promptly rights his ship over it. Eugene hangs on as a hallucination for now, as a way to keep Ian Colletti on contract until his Arseface shows up for real.

The fifth and final one is the cowboy, which I’ll just call him by his proper name the Saint of All Killers, who introduced in an appropriate ruthless fashion as we get ready for season two.

Overall the series was good, but with so many characters and stories to juggle it felt like we should have either gotten more episodes to let them play out or do massive pruning and make it an even smaller season down. Netflix’s Stranger Things showed that you can do a successful series in eight.

So we can hope that with a tighter focus on less characters that Preacher’s next season will set a new bar for the series and keep us riveted in our seats to see what new craziness comes next.

*But cross your fingers that I might be able to say something soon.