[SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

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Invictus
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[SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Invictus » Mon Jan 05, 2015 4:18 pm

Because what's the good of SOTS if you don't write stories for it?

---

One

The sun stirred, blue-white coils sublimating into the endless void.

It looked about right, the Sunsmith decided.

Her excitement was a secret thing, but lights glittered in the control cortices that distributed her consciousness over the burning giant, and the machinery that sustained them spun and sang.

Light from the sun – her sun – was a blinding brilliance that brooked no impediment, suffusing the bronze-hulled statites that orbited it so closely with enough heat and radiation to reduce lesser craftsmanship to nothingness.

But even against such fearsome energies, her designs proved the greater. And that was why the great star of Irrigo was her rightful domain and keepsake.

It was her statites that bent the self-immolating fury of Irrigo back upon itself, suspending it in a state of perpetual roil. It was her low-hanging stations that cast their enormous electromagnetic nets, drawing off fuel for her industries and recording pleasing plasma-patterns for her art. The cunning layers of flare-shrouded turrets and quiescent kill-drones, the masterpieces that were her brain-slaved auphanim, interlocking chains of warning that shone on military sensors even against the backdrop radiance of the sun – all were hers, all to preserve the sanctity of her greatest treasure, her provider of riches, her muse.

But now, she asked of the sun something even more important.

Signals danced between neural inductors and sub-tachyonic transmitters. Contragravitics flared. The great void-manse that was the jewel of her heliocentric network, the fortress in which she deigned to keep her body, began to move.

There was something to be said about the view. Well-buffered sensors observed Irrigo unblinkingly from every drone and statite, and all that data poured through the Sunsmith’s network to be rendered into a sufficiently beautiful panorama by calculating cogitators of her own design. She was drawn into every detail and pattern on the sun’s boiling surface, recalling all the half-meanings that she had read and never let from her breast. At the same time, she appreciated the view of her own vassal-manse from statites that maintained marginally higher orbits, a shrinking dot against the all-consuming inferno that was the sun’s surface, delicately shedding its escort auphanim and other, more esoteric protections. She was placing herself quite deliberately in the way of death.

This view could not be called humbling, because the concept did not come easily to her species, but there was an acknowledgement of physical primacy, an admission of the brute physical presence of Irrigo that elicited a similar spike of emotion. Other branch-clades of her proud kind found it necessary to sublimate their natures in more vulgar fashions, and some of particularly elevated station had found suitably awesome things against which to ground their exalted selves.

But nothing less than the burning giant that was Irrigo would do for the Sunsmith, and the same went for her specially adapted kind.

A minute shift in the cradling embrace of life-sustaining machineries drew her attention to her actual body, unwelcome in its unfamiliarity. Her manse was moving her, decoupling her corpus from the central command enclosure and enwrapping it in a smaller self-sustaining capsule. This was in turn loaded in a smaller, spherical vessel kept in one of the manse’s recessed bays. The transfer caused inevitable fluctuations in the amniotic sensory deprivation that she was suspended in, all the more irritating when she was so used to the perfect homeostasis that her artifice afforded her. There wasn’t even the crystal clarity of her cybernetic sensory feeds to soothe her – they had been disengaged from her flesh by the process of moving her from the heart to the belly of her manse, and the network of star-spanning machinery was now a shadow she touched through mere tightbeam transmission, an order of magnitude less fidelious. Aligning her cybernetic senses with the infinitely less complex systems of the sphere-pod was scant recompense.

But the distracting fleshiness – the frailty – of her body was something to be borne, and the loss of control over her awesome power a temporary necessity. The Sunsmith needed all her focus for what was to come.

The bottom of the void-manse irised open, releasing her into the void above the sun.

The sphere-pod fell slowly, a gleaming bathysphere against the fury of Irrigo. It fell as much by gravity as by the careful application of force-shields and tractor beams from its mother manse, the same powerful cogitators the Sunsmith used to crunch her realm’s data now dedicated to align and account for every nuance of trajectory. If all the care seemed to dilute the risk of this descent into a thin farce, then one needs to know that this risk is at the very limits of the Sunsmith’s tolerance. And that whatever protections the Sunsmith may erect, the risks were very real.

There was no surface to Irrigo as far as a fixed boundary between space and sun was concerned. It was only a matter of what density of superheated plasma, what intensity of radiation, what field-fluctuations of magnetism that a witness found tolerable – and those shifted precipitously with the vast tides of the star’s inner processes. A witness less well-prepared than the Sunsmith would certainly not have survived the solar flare that bloomed forth and brushed over her pod, which briefly became a comet as its outermost ablative hull layer disintegrated into shining streamers.

The Sunsmith recoiled reflexively when the electromagnetic flux of the flare disrupted the strands of communication between pod and mother-manse. Devoid of even basic telemetry, it was as though the bulk of her mind winked out for an instant, intricate maps of cold sure data melting into mere imagination which then ran wild in the claustrophobic confines of her brain. She imagined her auphanim dancing jigs, the orbits of her statites rearranging themselves into vast catastrophic tangles, all her drones and slaved processors forlorn and withering into nothing and her never finding them again. Then the flux faded away and she was herself again, reestablished datalinks reassuring her that everything was still there and not out of place in the slightest, except where everything had moved from past to present without her direct and digital awareness, a lacunae of continuity which could have bred any manner of shadows.

The Sunsmith did her species’ equivalent of shaking her head, or at least the mental approximation of such in the absence of gross biology. It was a worry that she expected to bear and a risk that she chose to take, to embark on this temporary abeyance of her perfect isolation and perfect control. She could not let herself be distracted by it. Not when she was still falling into the sun.

A forcefield snapped into life, drawing now from the pod’s own power supply. It was special among her creations, many-layered but with enough of a pseudo-material pliancy that the Sunsmith could read data off impact feedback as though from her own fingers. And the instant the field stabilized, the Sunsmith was buffeted by such feedback – rainbow bands of magnetism that pulsed over the immense curvature of starsurface, curtains of coronal plasma like rain, all rendered unto her sensorium with such vivid detail to make the increasingly tenuous lifeline between her manse and her pod an afterthought. She allowed herself to bask in the sheer intricate beauty of it, the panorama of complex interactions beyond any network of artifice she could arrange – but that was not the reason she ventured here, to enjoy the view in the outer reaches of a star. She was listening.

The Sunsmith was all that her mind could touch. She was the sole occupant of her voluminous void-manse down to its computronium-laced fabric. Across sensor-statites that were her eyes and carrier-drones that were her arms and harvester-factories that were her gurgling guts, she talked to herself. She was the entirety of the data that she absorbed and digested, the sum of directives she saw done in her name. And with so much of her efforts fixated on Irrigo, how could she not in some sense regard the burning star as part of herself?

Irrigo had moods. It had superficial patterns of behavior that she found meaning in. It reacted when she prodded it with her apparatus, settling into new self-sustaining modes of behavior dictated by its own complexity. And when the Sunsmith found a way to code her own self-sustaining electromagnetic frequencies into the sun’s surface, Irrigo became yet another part of her memory. Somewhere in the tempestuous corona was transformed data that had been reverberating since her earliest fumbling forays, denoted in a code that no other living creature understood messages, thoughts and other such memorabilia.

All correspondence to herself, of course. In the Sunsmith’s universe, only she existed.

The pod and its cushioning forcefield shook in Irrigo’s howling plasma winds, straining at the end of its tractor-beam tether. There were communiques that could have been put to a saner medium, yielding predictable chatter. Nevertheless there were things that the Sunsmith spoke only into the sun, things that bounced and twisted in the unending inferno such that even when she risked her very life to listen, she could barely discern what she could deem to be a coherent response.

The Sunsmith did sometimes hope that thoughts injected into Irrigo would by some vast solar alchemy be transformed into something beyond what her cogitator network might formulate, novel perspectives which she could use to push her accomplishments to new heights. Beyond that, too, was perhaps her way of seeking affirmation from another even when there was no other she could acknowledge.

But at other times, the Sunsmith did cast thoughts into the chaos of Irrigo because she wanted them gone from the perfect recall of her network-mind, yet could not bear to erase them entirely. The Sunsmith had devised means of one-way transmission and data management that only left her with the awareness that she had deliberately forgotten something, without any meta-awareness of what she had forgotten. But a scrambled cognometric key remained, waiting for the selfsame frequency to emerge from the maelstrom of the sun to impact upon the pod’s listening-field…

The Sunsmith’s limited faculties were inundated in light, in codes. She scanned and read in every direction, ruthlessly working the pod’s purpose-built cogitators in the electromagnetic storm. There was something that she had lost. And there was something that she needed to find again.
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
-
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 2 - Advent Rey Returns: REVERGELTUNG
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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Invictus » Mon Jan 05, 2015 5:12 pm

Two

It was on Esarhaddon, in the season of the ion storms, when the star fell.

It descended across the deepening purple sky, scattered the crimson streamers of particulate cirrus that reflected color from Esarhaddon’s cyclopean sun, and landed neatly between the blocky, lightning-scarred hull of a conveyance dropship and the nautiloid form of a Samtic warp-dhow, which startled and almost dropped the fuel block it was snacking on.

It rumble-purred and unfolded onto golden legs.

The resupplymen, sanctioned abasants and praxis-hawkers who were zoning in on the new arrival all skidded into a halting heap, their multifarious visual organs taking in the predatory lines long enough to crash into a tangle of locomotors and spilled fuel platters. The hawkers gibbered and hastily readjusted their weighted ethic-displays. The abasants hurled themselves to the packed-sand spacefield and displayed more fear than what was probably professionally necessary.

Then the cockpit opened and the Ronin emerged into the steaming air, broadcasting her soul-slate with a negligent claw-flick.

Data streamed from the cognometric construct into the computing inputs of the sundry present, confirming her as a repeat visitor to the world of Esarhaddon, as well as proofs of her good credit, favorable karmatic ratings from a variety of reputable judges and the general reassurance that she will not tear them all from limb to limb for the slightest slight, as is often imputed upon her kind.

Of course, on the Trucial Star of Esarhaddon, such an action against its registered merchants would have impacted the Ronin’s so far impeccable ratings on several moral metrics, narrowing the quality of her purchases across the world’s agglomerated markets and impacting the credit of her further transactions. But perhaps slaughter was the Ronin’s purchase, leveraging the cost against the speculation of those who would trade upon such demonstrated talent - and upon Esarhaddon, sorting-house of sin, there would be many.

But the petty merchants who serviced Esarhaddon’s spaceports also had their terrible logics of profit and competition. One beetle-backed peddler clutched protectively a hose-sprayer attached to its abdomen and tentatively clicked, “Ship-cooling?”

On her sleek golden war machine, the Ronin’s head jerked minutely at the businessbeing, her shoulders betraying a twitch of tension beneath their flexmetal sheaths.

“No.” Her helmet said.

“Little cooling?” The creature insisted.

“No need.”

The sanity of commerce was resurrected in their minds. Grovelling bodies tidied their wares and surged forward. Handshake protocols were exchanged by attendant hardware. Credits wrenched from the sweat of sinners flowed. The Ronin accepted a script-mat laid upon the baked sand where she leapt, cat-like, and it squirted virtual perfumes of welcome. She caught from the press a piece of data-woven damask for her misting visor, contact with which suffused her suit’s memory suites with the choicest planetary gossip. The creatures gladhanded, glad that the rituals of exchange were upheld and that the fabric of Esarhaddon’s prosperity did not require their sacrifice today.

The Ronin traded patiently, performing the rituals necessary to maintain her place in this universe. Autistic filters in her visor reduced the heaving babbling press of alienity to abstract inputs and figures. She endured until her spacecraft completed its transformation into her mount, a quadruped approximation of her own form.

Without a further word she was away and upon the machine-beast’s freshly extruded saddle, the suddenness of her movements sending the crowd of peddlers into a fresh configuration of panic. But that too became an afterthought as the great shadow of the machine swept over them in one clean leap, and the Ronin joined the straggling stream of traffic that was heading for less exposed ground before the storms broke.

Under her tread the ground crunched. Propellant vapors left by arriving and departing spacecraft lingered, coagulating into blooms of fog that eventually settled and permeated into the surface of the sands, joining chemical spills, metamorphic byproducts and all the sordid run-offs of the world’s history. The Emirs of Esarhaddon have done little to develop its vast expanses of sun-baked chemical desert, finding more profit in the promotion of matters spiritual. They hold court in vast palace-cities, the wrestling between their atmospheric shields and the frequent turbulent weather casting long-standing auroras that towered over the horizon in welcome. How could they shape the world with their authority, they proclaimed, if their authority was but another offering in the metabazaars of the world and indeed, in the the very state of life itself? Let visitors from all worlds land freely on their sands, they said. Let them find their way to the their courts to pay homage, if they wished. Let them wander upon the desert and do their business there, if they too wished.

That little outside the shielded cities and the warded roads could survive in the season of the ion storms was perhaps part and parcel of the point the Emirs were making.

The Ronin felt some frisson of appreciation at this, if only because the landscape stayed fetchingly featureless, clear of all the twisted masses of purposeless diversity that the other species of the galaxy was so prone on producing. Her mount followed a track formed by silent consensus, flanked by conveyances of all sorts and dusty lines of foot-bound petitioners. They filed between tableaux of landed spacecraft, some open and disgorging their contents, other themselves being towed towards stormproof bunkers excavated under the desert surface. To one side a star cruiser was slowly leaving the ground, its nebula-scarred bulk suspended only by the purchase of its contragravitic impellers upon the spacetime fabric, the pace of its ascent gentle enough not to cave in the smaller ships and people that swarmed beneath it, as well as the crusted surface of the planet itself. The invisible zephyrs swelled with chatter, of ship captains negotiating for parking space and of satellite-beamed bulletins and of the fishwife-cries of those peddlers who were lucky enough to purchase an allotted frequency, and of other things that the Ronin steadfastly ignored.

Idly the Ronin peered up at the eventual route of the star cruiser’s departure, where chemical particulates formed the clouds in the sky at the absence of water vapor, a paltry veil that tore and reformed at every passage of spacecraft. Above that, Esarhaddon’s red sun beat upon her helmet with a familiar ferocity, yet wrong in every detail. She wondered that after all the travels she had made in search of her quarry, if she could ever return home.

What scant aerial traffic made way as the flight of protocol drones swooped overhead, official representatives of the Emirs. Flash-proof sensor domes opened to admit a hydra’s host of inquisition arrays, taking snapshots of soul-accounts all around. One of the machines locked its tendrils on the Ronin, who again suppressed the instinct to twitch as its flight path dipped down towards her and her mount.

“Welcome to Esarhaddon, ser.” It pronounced in a well-modulated tone of warmth and solemnity transmitted through one of the Ronin’s confidential tightpulse keys. “Your return to our bountiful world is greatly opportune, and our metabazaars are even open to your overflowing virtue - and credit.” The Ronin’s socialization suites picked up the slight hint of reproach there, of the not unspoken refrain that with all the coin and favor the world has bestowed upon her for her deeds, she ought to be just as busy ploughing such wealth back into the world. And indeed, the Ronin had been working without cease to accumulate coin and favor to her name in the strange cosmopolitan world, to a degree that most of her kind would find abhorrent.

“Your welcome is accepted and I anticipate offering my further services to the patrons of the world.” She composed in reply. “However, I have been absent long of late and the welcome dust of Esarhaddon has left me. Please inform my contacts that I shall be undergoing the usual pilgrimage.”

“The usual pilgrimage? Excellent. Such worship for the MetaLaws of the Emirs shall never cease to benefit one’s account.” The protocol drone settled to a respectable height aside the Ronin, hovering as she trod. “One would go as far as to suggest ser could afford a little indolence on her account and take one of our express hajj-shuttles to the Palace of Hosts, though one cannot fault ser’s diligent virtue. Indeed not.”

The Ronin detected the discontinuity in the drone’s inoffensive pratter. “Yet?”

“There is a...little matter that one would be greatly remiss to raise at this time. One greets, after all. One does not deliver.” The drone curled its inquisitorial tendrils in something resembling biological disdain. “One must however convey that the good Magister-Broker Hollog, esteemed and properly-accredited is he, wishes you his most profuse greetings upon your arrival.”

“He knows that I have landed?”

The drone’s tendrils waved in an exasperated manner, and the Ronin had to check if its internal temperature actually rose. “Strictly speaking, the good Magister does not! His sincere desire to express his greetings manifests, as it were, in a conditional form, with an eagerness that would strike one as overly profuse if it did not so masterfully exceed the standards of hospitality that one had to be moved to action! Only that ser’s arrival has allowed the sentiment to be rendered reassuringly concrete, putting an end to much vexing anticipation.”

The Ronin let her suit suites crunch on that for a while and let the impact of it hit her in a string of small, unpleasant waves, concussions to her carefully isolated world. “Do assure Magister Hollog that I will pay him a courtesy call.” She replied. “After the pilgrimage.”

“One does not deliver messages, though one is glad that the Magister’s sentiments are gratefully received.” They paused so that one gold-plated dignitary may pass, the behemoth hoverbarge swathed in banners proclaiming all the deeds performed in Esarhaddon’s service by the rider’s ancestors. “Pilgrimage is good for the soul, in any case.” The drone soothed.

Quick as a twitch the Ronin answered: “I have no soul.”
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
-
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 2 - Advent Rey Returns: REVERGELTUNG
Coming NEVER

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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Jan 05, 2015 5:40 pm

rayes of starlight singing in space

basking in sunshine swimming in the warp

antennas listen from curious worlds

a girl sighs in her tower and dreams of flight


I love this. Seeing a Myrranni Ronin in action is gonna be the best thing ever, bro. And your use of the openness and lunacy of the SOTS universe to craft even stranger scenarios and settings. :D
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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Invictus » Tue Jan 20, 2015 5:13 pm

Three

Gold on Esarhaddon is spun by its judges, its beauty is sponsored by its sins, and its storms are sung by its wisps.

On a world where every action has its rigorous moral measure, only the star-wisps are considered beyond sin. It has been honestly argued that they lack the required cognizance, or that their nature as emanations of hyperspectral energy renders them inherently transcendent to such concerns. Some say the Emirs need a class of agents immune to the fluctuations of the metabazaars, and thus sponsor such theories. But most retreat under the lightning shields when the storms come and consider them to simply be, as much part of Esarhaddon's fabric as the dreaming cities of Solaria or the monoliths of Shen.

Here on the Procession of Pilgrimage, they swarm.

The Procession is a raised highway of black glass and heat-molded stone, carved laser-straight across sandy seas and broken plains. There are many such Processions across Esarhaddon, terminating at the planet’s major settlements or the Emirs’ fabulous crystal courts; but their beginnings are marked by lonely follies or weathered natural formations or most often nothing in particular, arbitrary stretches signifying nothing but the distance pilgrims are willing to tread to curry the favor of the Emirs.

On either side of each Procession are raised parallel lines of metal pylons, lightning rods to the ion storm that would otherwise descend upon the exposed road. Tongues of lightning met with deafening crackles, scorching the air bitter flavors and licking errant sand particulates into dew that tinkled upon travelers’ heads. And everywhere were the rippling auras, the tangled tails, the ever-shifting glows on
every scanner that froliced as though they played, wild and free by strict decree.

It could be any one of them, the Ronin thought.

Her mount now moved among a press. Storm season brought the desperate and the parsimonious to rub shoulders on the Processions, for the extra credit it merited to brave the thunderous display in the sky. The Emirs demanded little as the princes of the planet - only that their arbitration is respected and that their authority is honored with sufficient spectacle, such as the mass of pilgrims that now pressed towards the Hall of Hosts under the dance of the wisps.

Straight upon her curl-saddle, the Ronin bore the pandemonium of it. She could, through her environmental suit, filter out the riotous pyrotechnics in the sky above as easily as the babbling jostling mass around her. Her species has had long to perfect the technology of solitude, as to suit its nature.

But nature was also why she could not. Nature was predicated on context, and even an infinitesimal slice of the infinitely crowded cosmos such as Esarhaddon was as removed from the environment of her kind as could be. Absent were the idylls on which she was raised, the assurance that no speck of moving matter could approach her rigorously maintained virtuality. Here beyond the thin sheath of her suit, not even the air was her own. She was outside her nature.

As for what was in her nature…

Perched over the rump of her mount was a little hired simian troubadour, gamely trying to drown it all out in symphonic sunsong. She let the music provide a backing to the pandemonium, skittery cybernetic reflexes sorting through the endless gauntlet of micro-aggressions, dismissing subcritical threat responses. The locus of her consciousness drifted to and fro, and on a few particular fellow pilgrims it lingered.

A giant to whom all around gave wide berth despite its fastidious footfalls, bent almost double to keep its monstrous heads away from the pylons’ discharges, clutching a great whitestone votive in some unknown script -

A column of scarf-swathed Sardicans, mercenary light infantry beloved by Wild Space, fluttering victory banners held high, driving the less disciplined aside in their march, faces all alike under their flash goggles -

A lesser Emir, resplendent on a limostradon whose legged segments stretched and squirmed to advance its inching bulk, his entourage casting favor-scrolls left and right in a much-witnessed display of charity -

Two rows of unidentifiable soldiers, a delicate crystal longship aloft between their power-armored shoulders, piled high with trophies and acid-scarred arms as well as the shrouded corpse of a fallen comrade -

The rare sight of a protocol drone, zooming low over the Procession on some special errand, sensor dome flashing with reflected light and ventral manipulators tucked flush over pedestrian heads -

“Ser!” It addressed her in tones of great stridency. “Ser!” It adjusted its tone slightly as the Ronin’s machine-mount instantly painted it with a variety of passive-aggressive arrays in response. “This unit bears dire import! It must confer with you upon non-hostile preconditions!”

The Ronin growled in frustration, but forced her suit’s combat-animi back into quiescence. Similarly, her mount retracted its multifarious weapon-mounts and started retrieving its fallen saddlebags, ignoring the flinching ripple of the crowd.

The Ronin also snapped her napping socialization suites to attention. “What requires my pilgrimage to be interrupted? You should not be here.”

“This unit…” And there was an audible pause there, more display of reluctant contrition than hesitation: “...admits that it is operating outside usual parameters, and must continue to do so. The urgency once again relates to the good Magister Hollog, who upon receiving the full import of your arrival renews his earnest welcome. In fact he would go as far as to express his desire to meet you in the person.”

“Which I will do so in the fullness of time.” The Ronin snapped.

“Ser!” The drone almost snapped back. “Please understand that this unit is already straining its meta-ethic principles of scrupulous non-suggestion. Much may already be beyond the Magister’s and Ser’s combined remit. But Magister Hollog’s sincere wish is to receive you at a place that bears little similarity to yonder humble pilgrimage and furthermore, secure…”

Light, a terrible multispectral scream of it, erupted from the closest pylon. The Ronin was blinded and deafened in an instant, and in that instant she rolled instinctively under the protective bulk of her mount, establishing touch-based telemetry with its more hardened sensors.

Combat prognostics at sixth-tenths and restoring, the data told her in ice-cold instinct. The vast majority of incoming sensory information was incoherent haze, negative in tactical value for the interference it caused. Through the haze, at least a dozen spectral profiles consolidated into probable threats. The former must be removed. The latter must be eliminated.

The Ronin yielded to the instinct and her machine spoke for her, unleashing darts and golden waves of counterfire. Radiations harvested from the unseen cores of suns streamed.

Armored ribs unfolded around the Ronin, scraping aside burning mementos. A less hurried stream of tactical analysis postulated that the pylon was struck by an electromagnetic discharge, resulting in the wide-spectrum agitation and release of its charged energies…

The Ronin felt nothing in her suit. Exterior inputs were being repaired on schedule, she would have felt it if she had already been hit, but perhaps it was a weapon designed to fool her into thinking so and that her mind, helpless and defeated, was already in the grips of her enemy.

But clarity was returning, dismissing that panic of data-starvation. Or perhaps context was instead being restored, absent the heat of reaction. Things returned to becoming.

Mere patterns of engagement intensity resolved into something more. The Ronin realized that the mild interference in her sensors were cries of distress and alarm, now somewhat reduced.

“Ser! Cease! Ser!” The protocol drone was shouting through the secure channel. She couldn’t tell where it was. “This unit’s behavioral restraints have been released in light of present exigencies! It must inform you that the pylons have been assaulted! It must further inform you that although assaulting the Emirs’ pylons is an offence in extremis, further private retaliation may carry significant ethical penalties! Ser must also know that Ser’s life may be under threat!”

The Procession swam back into focus, now emptier. The giant staggered on, seared and bubbling on one side. The Sardican mercenaries were only now circling upon their biological reflexes, longarms bared. The massive limostradon moaned, burned and distressed, but the point-defence casemates were snapping from its hide all the same. The troubadour seemed gone.

The Ronin finally regarded the distressed golden machine. “The flash. It was a distraction?”

“This unit can only presume. Perhaps Ser has already terminated all assailants so this unit’s forewarning has proved unnecessary-” It ducked at and the Ronin saw, through freshly reliable optic feeds, the missile that almost didn’t rend the drone’s upper dome in twain, the discharge of overspalling half-plasma melding into the backwash of igniting propellent from down the Procession, where the second wave of assailants must be bringing up the heavy weapons that couldn’t be uncovered in time with the initial discharge.

The Ronin was already vaulting back up for a proper vantage point when the second missile came, and this time her mount reacted with more judicious guidance. A curtain of plasma whipped from its tail, tearing a miniature canyon in the glass roadway and erasing the offending projectile in the process. The pilgrim-creatures who had not yet been incinerated dragged steaming bodies from the thermal bloom, themselves glowing blots on the Ronin’s prey-arrays.

A needle-thin spine flicked from the Ronin’s metal sleeve and flung itself away with a sharp shriek, travelling clean through the robed assailant and its foldaway launcher unit before errant frag-shot from the Emir’s mount clipped it into an uncontrolled spin.

Another assailant threw off its burning quiet-shroud with predatory grace, belatedly revealing the signature of the warm missile upon its shoulder. But a wave of needlegun fire sawed the creature apart before the Ronin could dedicate another weapons system to it. The Sardicans were not retreating without drawing blood.

The dispatch of combatants was not having the effect of clearing up the tactical situation; any number of pilgrims were joining the confused firefight, adding half a sector’s worth of variety to the detonating munitions and the quality of wafting, charred flesh. Scimitar missiles formed a glittering barrier around the Emir’s howdah, darting forth to parry bullets and decapitate their firers. Some armored insectoid rocketed through the air and slammed into the giant's knee, causing it to buckle. The alchymical monster faltered but did not let its burden fall; one of its heads rotated to lash the offender with frost and lightning. The dead and the dying smoked, shrieked, performed nontransactional interactions with their gods. It was pandemonium, no less wearying in its variety.

And above it all, the wisps danced.

It would be easier to let her hardware do the work. Hot between her haunches was the pinnacle of killing craft across a scoreful worlds, and the very temerity of challenging its supremacy almost demands it answer on its own terms while she basked, appreciating the outcome.

But that was not her business (and oh, how she still detested the very word) on Esarhaddon, to bask.

The last active signature was a large one. Even with her eyes she could discern the relic-carriage that now barrelled towards her, flanked by a dozen of the same robe-shrouded militants. They boiled away in fleshy confetti as the Ronin directed the full attention of her mount’s anti-personnel systems at the assemblage, scarcely distinguishable from the mass of the carriage itself being transformed into streaming ejecta.

But under the ablating mass, the energy signature was still growing, focusing…

They leapt, motor neurons entangled to mirror-circuits. Ronin and machine sailed over the beam of exotic particles designed to kill even her armor. The smoking carriage shook off the rest of its ablative outer layer, and contragravitics flared.

They had brought a gunship to the pilgrimage.

The Ronin tore through the smoke and the flames even as the thing’s bulbous nose cannon began to refocus, a star of killing radiation singing across her sensors. There was an aesthetic note to it that drew the briefest of her attention, some slight connotation that evoked a memory she could not afford to recall. And she did not have the time to speculate if the nature of the weapon was some totemistic imitation of her species’ technology, as though her assassins sought to seek an edge through sympathetic magic.

Instead, it just made her even more furious.

Her mount closed the distance on four rippling legs, tearing a trail of heedless ruts into the black glass roadway. The gunship’s propulsion could do far more than support the weight of its bulky weapons and cooling systems, but it dared not gain altitude and leave the protection of the pylons over the Procession. And in any case there was suddenly no more room to maneuver when the golden war machine made contact in a thunderous crack of collapsing fields and exploding air.

The Ronin was almost thrown off her mount, the adaptive saddle barely compensating. Her consciousness, hammered into a single note by the flux of violently colliding force-fields, was hardly necessary in the clutches of predatory instinct. The gunship slewed abreast, contragravitic motors clawing like nails on glass against the force of impact. But the Ronin-machine had already found purchase on its insectile fuselage, clawing and tearing. It fired again, but impotently; the beam could not aim past its own armored mounting. Twisted armor flew. So did point-defense flechettes aimed by eviscerated optics. Some of them may even have hit the Ronin in her flexmetal suit - she didn’t notice.

Carapace-plates shifted and Ronin-machine seemed to rear into its quarry, leonine jaws extending to unleash its own wave of armor-piercing fury. The air itself screamed and steamed as the gunship was split like a fish, and claws gripped glowing edges to pull until the rent gaped and bled.

Machine rode machine down into the shattered roadway, but the Ronin was not done. She was a mirrored flame cast in burning debris and the ambient tempest, flowing from the shoulders of her mount and deep into the wrecked gunship, alloyed claws seeking.

She ripped through the last remnants of inner bulkheads, through the pilot-pod basted in emergency coolant, and through the gelid harnesses that bound the machine to its dazed operator. With an awful heave she tore the sodden creature out into the air, under the sky where the wisps and the ion storms danced.

The motion, or perhaps some afterkick of combat stimulant, jolted the batlike creature awake. Its eyes - and what wide dark eyes, the Ronin was suddenly briefly aware - snapped open in terror as they beheld themselves distorted against the Ronin’s visor. Its mandibles perhaps formed words, but the Ronin could not make them out through the roar of post-battle, the echoes of the electromagnetic blowout or the probably ruin that she had already made of the pilot’s physique.

The creature left her hands, trailing blood.

Up and up it went, propelled over the lay of the Procession, passing as a slack missile out of the protective embrace of its pylons. And the wisps swarmed, attracted to the banquet of electromagnetic energies that was its living soul…

The Ronin lifted her head at the spasming body, limned in living foxfires, until all lost resolution in the crackling conflagration of the storm. Only then did she stop screaming into her hermetically sealed helmet.
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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Wed Jan 21, 2015 5:06 pm

I love the depiction of Myrranni combat and how the Ronin is such a hard bitch. And, yes, the weird ass culture of Wild Space and the Trucial Emirs.
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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Invictus » Mon Feb 02, 2015 3:56 pm

Four

When she was younger and less brilliant, she would often take time out of her castle of mirrors to rove the straw-colored serengeti of her estate, surveying what she had yet to know.

At first, she found it rather thrilling. At the appointed hour her entourage would issue forth from the Gate of Substantiation, trailing the magnificent banners of heraldry that she had picked out from her halls. Thirty full rides of golden-mailed lifeguards added to her presence with horns, holos and playful casts of hooded raptors. Upon her stately sim-barque she would order her retinue to and fro, taking directions from particularly impressive flora, or the swell of the wind, or from random conjugations of the clockwork sky. After all, all of it was hers and none of it should steer her wrong.

But something was wrong. It was not that she grew tired of halting the barque to leap among the tall bright grass and confirm that the whole expanse of it was there, taking the conclusion from the strands that shuffled and whispered from her movements. It was not that she was dissatisfied with the mindless herds of hornbeasts that fled from her passing, or the flocks of brilliant pageant-birds that took flight when spooked by the raptors and horncalls of her riders. She did not need to visit the serengeti to expect such things there.

“What am I expecting?” She asked the mirror-viziers in her chambers. “How can I know what to expect?”

“Of the serengeti we know no more than you, hung in these halls as we are.” The mirrors considered and performed the customary displays of abasement and apology. “Of our lady’s heart, we mere mirrors cannot read. We only reflect on what we can see.”

“Well!” She grumbled. “For nothing have I relied on you ever since I lived in these walls! One day I shall be bright and wise enough to catch the falling stars, and yet you will be of no help at all.” Her disappointment was such that the mirror-viziers chipped and shattered, and the pieces danced in further apology.

Yet the broken mirrors whispered in one voice. “We know nothing that our lady does not know, but perhaps we see what our lady does not see. How can our lady truly see, surrounded by banners and din?” They danced as a host of tiny cameos, each a fragment of her image.

At the next appointed hour her entourage issued forth from the Gate of Substantiation with only ten rides of golden-mailed lifeguards, and even third banner crowning her fluttering host was left bare. She roved longer and saw further, and encountered more of the great herds that fled her approach and the flocks that soared the high places, and even glimpsed the spiders that made their nests in the nooks of the clockwork sky, intricate and unreachable. She marvelled at the novelty of these things, coming not from what she knew but from what she could see, but they were things that she already knew all the same. She remained disappointed.

“Is it true that I already know everything?” She asked the farrier at the shadowy stables in the roots of her castle, where she rarely visited. “Can what I already have yield me no surprises?”

The old farrier was a wise creature, it was said, though she had never seen the shadows that it shod. It performed the gestures of abasement as its indeterminate form allowed.

“I don’t know my lady, so p'raps I know something my lady doesn’t know.” It rasped. “Such as shadows."

She glanced through the stables, but saw no shadows there. "Well!" She tutted. "For nothing do my servants work, and build my castle upon such hollow foolishness. One day I shall be bright and wise enough to cast no shadow, and what shall your nonsense speak of then?" Her disappointment was such that the farrier tore and scattered like an old cloak.

"Shadows are tricky things." The tatters of the farrier hissed. "But they rove and go far, because they know nothing at all. If she truly wished to know, my lady should swap her barque for a carriage drawn by her finest shadows."

So she swapped her sim-barque for a rather plain carriage drawn by shadows she couldn’t see, reduced her lifeguard to a mere three rides because shadows were apparently skittish creatures, and had her court astrologers calculate a whole new appointed hour for good measure.

At the appointed hour her entourage issued from the Gate of Substantiation at a terrific clip, not quite concerned about music or heraldry. If there was anything she learned about her shadows, it was that they were terribly swift steeds. The serengeti swept past her, grass bowing and parting like waves in a sea. All the hurdy-gurdy motions of the clockwork sky seemed to race backward for her enjoyment. At the same time, the size of her new retinue meant the herds and the birds did not flee as readily and she was able to admire their raw appearances in detail. She marveled at all the old sights made new, almost enough to overwhelm the knowledge that it was still the plain old serengeti she had known.

She decided this was a good sign and spurred her carriage onwards, after a pack of spotted scavengers that didn’t flee as quickly as she’d liked.

The chase was on, (and what a chase it was, unencumbered by banners or decorum or the canter of the close!) and the day grew long. She never quite caught her quarry owing to the great river that suddenly loomed in the path of her entourage, but the surprise alone seemed worth it.

“A river!” She exclaimed. She delighted at the vigor of its flow, the bright colors of the clay banks it carved, and the novelty of a far shore that she could not immediately and casually cross to. The last of which rapidly became annoyance.

She urged her carriage into the water, but her shadows would not comply. She ordered her lifeguards to throw themselves into the river to dam its current, but they were too few and were swept away. She took to the grass and, slipping and sliding through the mud, attempt to force a way across the river with her own strength, but the current still proved stronger. Her thrashings attracted the predators of the river who slowly approached, for shorn of her entourage and her displays of heraldry they mistook her for one of the hornbeasts they preyed on.

Bereft of her power, she was distressed as she had never been distressed, and she cried out as she had never cried out before.

Across her estate, the great lions that guarded her heard the cry and issued forth in their hosts, blazing across the serengeti like lightning. They stormed the river and and scattered the riverbeasts, then gently plucked her out of the water and placed on the other side of the bank. Their duty done, the great lions scattered back to the corners of her estate, leaving one of their own number behind to watch over her.

“I have never seen one of your kind before.” She said to the great lion that remained.

“You have never needed us as sorely as this day.” It replied.

She resumed her journey on the great lion’s back and tarried until night fell upon the serengeti, which was another new thing for her. She decided to rest in the grass and make the return trip upon the morn, with the great lion as her guard.

“How is it that things that I know can distress me?” She asked as they lay and watched the clockwork sky’s abeyance. “Why is it that knowledge cannot give me power over itself?”

“Can it truly be said to be yours if you have caught it by nought but its shape in your eye?” The great lion rumbled, its massive form resting like a monument in the darkness. “It would seem less so to us, who watch over you from the places where you cannot come.”

“Well!” She grumbled. “For nothing do I keep my guardians just so they could question my unquestioned authority. One day I shall be bright and wise enough to forge legions to my own designs, and where shall you be then?” But the true night that seeped from between the gaps in the clockwork sky sapped the strength from her words, and she sought to sleep.

Dawn came golden and cast long shadows across the serengeti. The great lion deposited her at the Gate of Gnosis, by which she could return to her castle of mirrors.

“That was one the whole a most horrible experience.” She concluded. “I think I shall not be exploring the serengeti again until I have made it all mine. All of it - the grass, the river, the clockwork sky, what I can see, what I cannot see. And whatever lies beyond too, for the temerity of shining above me!”

“And what will you find on the serengeti when you have made it all yours?” The great lion asked. “What will you do when you know all there is to know? Bundle it all in a shooting star and cast it away?”

“You ask too many questions.” She said.
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Tue Feb 03, 2015 7:42 pm

I am not sure whether that installment was about the Ronin's backstory, as the previous part alluded to her youth, or the memories of the Solar Mistress... or both, since I have a better clue about what you might be trying to do. I really dig the fable-like narrative you've concocted for the Myrran, which works in sort of showing the enigmatic drive of these highly advanced yet highly selfish, super-powerful creatures.
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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Tue Feb 10, 2015 8:02 am

Um, what he said^ :)

I have to say that I love both the fairytale imagery of the latest chapter and the cosmopolitan weirdness of the Esarhaddon pilgrimage road, the images that the pilgrimage invoke to me remind me of the Nikopol Trilogy, which is this series of bizarro comic books by a Czech-French guy called Enki Bilal... And you've probably heard of them already. But, anyway, I love the whole outlandish cosmopolitanism you conjure up with that sequence, these utterly weird creatures just ambling along together, but essentially ignoring each other because all this diversity is old hat to them, just another day on the road.

I am also fascinated by the concept of virtue-based economics :ugeek:
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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Invictus » Sat Feb 21, 2015 7:11 pm

Five

Rested and cleaned, swathed in gold and samite, the Ronin was quiescent in the receiving chamber of the good Magister-Broker Hollog, eminent among the Hall of Hosts.

A haze prevailed. Miniature stone-burners suffused the chamber with the bracing scent of native mineral salts. The Magister was clearly in the mood for business.

“My good ser!” He boomed. “It is good to see you among the the living. Some bloodwater for the occasion, perhaps?”

The Ronin did not trust her gorge to handle it. “I will have straw-wine.”

“Myrrani straw-wine it is then!” Jeweled rings on his eye-tendrils flashed in an intricate sequence, signalling for bond-servants to bring forth drinking implements. The Magister made an ostentatious roll, re-orienting his amphibian bulk towards his other guest, the MetaJurist Leischwal. “A toast!”

Leischwal took the form of an upright iron sarcophagus, except its seemingly solid surface writhed as though clusters of tangled worms pressed from beneath its surface, forming the equivalent of motions and expressions. As some measure of domestic consideration, servants had piled a selection of soft cushions around its base.

“A toast.” It acknowledged in musical tones. An aperture opened to admit tubes of salted efferservent.

“To the sinners!” Hollog proclaimed. On cue, servants pitched a globe of living elversherry, encased in a dissolving capsule, into his massive maw.

The Ronin raised her glass. Her helmet split open and folded into a mane around her visage, allowing access to beaten-copper lips.

Her glance flicked to the patterns that twisted on the MetaJurist’s surface, to which her tactical suites buzzed in unfamiliar alarm. Hotly updating socialization suites informed her that what the creature was expressing was probably curiosity.

“My face?” She hazarded.

“Ah, indeed. Your...unusually refined features, I mean to ask.” Leischwal ventured. “Granted the little that I know about your species, I did not know that such was a common modification. ”

The Ronin ran her hand over the perfectly fitted segments of her metal face, beautiful with iridescent pattern-weft and subtly polished star-grain, not unlike the flexmetal suit she wore. “It is not common.”

“She is a strikingly rare find.” Hollog advertised. “A direct retainer from the highest orders of Myrrani power, with the very peak of sunforged weaponry at her fingertips! Yet such autonomy! Such ambition!”

“An implausible combination, I am given to understand.” Leischwal murmured. Something about its pseudo-anatomy seemed suited to murmuring. “For you to come so far to Esarhaddon...”

“I was given leave.” Helmet-shards unfolded and the Ronin’s face was once again a featureless visor, speaking. “This entails changes. Changes in one’s perspective. Changes in one’s identity. If you were to serve at my mistress’ court, you would come to know individuality as a gift. As are features that signify it.”

The worms squirmed. “Almost unto a daemon of old, or an independent subroutine of a greater intellect, yet formed by the aptitude of a determinate being! Forgive me for some degree of suggestion, but would you consider your soul yours? Or your liege’s?”

“Come now, in my court her credit is always welcome!” Hollog raised a webbed hand the size of a small table. “If some great sun-lady parks her golden star by Esarhaddon to do business, not even the Emirs themselves would have enough to make change!” He made a few chuckling croaks. The MetaJurist joined quietly and melodiously.

Socialization suites issued soothing advice. “It...is a valid question.” The Ronin issued firmly. “Though now we speak of business.”

“Ah, business.” Hollog glanced reflexively at Leischwal. “And related concerns.”

“I trust that you have secured my bounty.”

“Yes, from your most recent excursion.” At Hollog’s cybernetic commands a holo sprang into life between the occupants of the chamber, outlining a gruesome shape. “Perfectly preserved to the buyer’s specifications, needless to say. Not even a very public assassination can prevent you from delivering!”

“I trust you too have an explanation for that.”

Hollog took a breath, sucking in the chamber’s ambient calming perfumes. “I was fortunately forewarned, though Their Eminences’ protocol drones do not make for the best in unscheduled message delivery.”

“Some inflexibility is to be excused. They are, in their case, definitely subroutines slaved to a vaster system.” Leischwal observed.

The bount's image flickered away, replaced by a slew of official feeds and after-action audits that swirled over the Ronin’s head in a glowing crown. “In any case, no harm done to the good ser! The outlaws and miscreants were seen off with inestimable flair. The learned Leischwal here was just relaying his convivial opinion that your actions, while inordinately destructive, were on the balance a credit to the Emirate. In my opinion, you did well to raise your star even further!”

The Ronin took another sip of the plain cool straw-wine, this time exposing naught but a flash of her lips. Baffling fields built into her freshly cleaned claws prevented them from cutting into the sparkling Haddite glass. “I know what I strive for. But the greater question remains.”

“I know what you’re thinking, and I swear upon the Guardians that I had no part in the matter.” Hollog protested. “And there are many, many other forces who look upon your career with favor, and to whom I must credit with the advance warning. To assault a pilgrim in the season of the ion storms! Such gall! No worshipful power of Esarhaddon could have contemplated it.”

“But who?” The glass was set down on the sideboard before her, trembling.

“Should you be so surprised that your sins might follow you? Considering the nature of your bounty, to hunt the most unorthodox of your own kind…” The worms that writhed on Leischwal’s monolithic surface formed an accompaniment of legalistic glyphs and pantomined parables. “But I suppose your species is noted for its lack of compunction about that.”

The faceless Ronin regarded the similarly faceless MetaJurist. “No.”

“Oh?” It said. “Does ser truly think she is free of sin and consequence?”

“No. I was thorough in destroying my bounty and his associations. If it was staged by some cell of renegades in revenge for what I have done, they shouldn't have had the opportunity to coordinate. Or the speed to locate and waylay me so soon after planetfall.”

“It won’t be me to question your expertise. Nevertheless, humor a little questioning from a world-class information broker.” Hollog held out his hands and servants came with polished trays and chests. From these they retrieved an array of delicate implements, with which they scuffed away at errant scales and lathered a thin layer of lotion on Hollog’s hands. More implements were brought forth to sieve a pattern of gem-like microdots onto the freshly treated epidermis, forming a network of processors that interpreted the smallest of sub-movements into cybernetic commands.

Hollog twitched his glittering fingers. The holograms in the chamber expanded, multiplied, grew into encrypted webs of radiance that reflected his true wealth - his intelligence assets on Esarhaddon, among the Trucial Stars, and in the greater expanse known as Wild Space. In the luxuriant haze, the display sparkled like the very galaxy, which Hollog’s myriad eyestalks scanned like telescopes. The servants quietly refilled the stone-braziers and served more drinks.

“One can always ask questions that can be answered to mutual benefit.” He mused as he worked. “Who might wish to commission such a costly hit on you? You have many enemies, but I suggest that rather fewer of them desires your death with such desperation. And there is the matter of the nature of the assailants, that I’m sure you yourself have noticed…”

“Myrrans.” The Ronin spat.

“There is a small population of your kind on Esarhaddon.” Leischwal interjected. “Of which you are the undoubtedly the best known. Though I hazard that such would not be a cause for pride among them.”

“Not that the good ser would approve of their means of credit!” Hollog boomed. “I may jest, but not all Myrrans come to serve with your preconditions. Most of you fall into services that some laws would find, hmm, less honorable.”

“We would not associate regardless.” The Ronin said. “I have a quest, a fate. They have theirs. Such things intersect to little benefit.”

“Little of theirs, certainly.” Leischwal’s tone was light. “As a MetaJurist, I cannot deny the utility of violence in the mediation between ethical systems, though the very bedrock of Esarhaddon is built upon there being more sophisticated currencies to use. Such things ser should consider before making a ruin of yet more roads.”

The holograms spun and lashed as Hollog recontextualized them with practiced movements. Stars of data wheeled in the broker’s eyes, meaningless in isolation and bountiful in congress. “Don’t forget the other half of the equation. Someone paid for military-grade weapons and assassins with disposable souls. All sins find their price on the market, but to attack the market itself is to sin beyond sin. A curious sort of sin, that is - the richer one is on Esarhaddon, the less one can afford to do so. That eliminates the factorums, the merchant princes, the Emirs themselves...but, ah.”

“Yes.” Leischwal lilted, as though it already knew the conclusion. “But why?”

The two suddenly focused on the Ronin, drinks and sweets and ceremonial tchotchkes forgotten before her. Again, she felt the black tides of the universe, sending her lost and hurtling among the endless stars.

“We may have stumbled upon a delicate matter.”
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
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REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

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Re: [SOTS Presents] RAYE RUNNER: The Stardust Record

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sun Feb 22, 2015 11:43 am

Dun dun dun.

Expositions, but have I said it before, that it's great how you take the hodgepodge space opera stuff of the background plus using your free creative license space to create such strangeness and weirdness? Like how those guys make PROPHET and SAGA?
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