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Fantasci

December 2016 Issue 2

Halloween


May Jack-o-lanterns burning bright Of soft and golden hue Pierce through the future’s veil and show What fate now holds for you.

Contents

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Anon.

Featured Board Game Corner:

Betrayal At The House On The Hill ..........................................................3

Interview With A Designer:

Failbetter’s James Chew ................................................................................................6

Hyaku Monogatari:

A Game of Storytelling and Ghosts..........................................................8

Creative Corner:

Lilac Kisses.....................................................................................................................................12

Death Behind The Eyes..............................................................................................13

Brie or Tap? The Battle Continues!......................................................................17


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From the Editor... Somewhere within the foggy haze of a pathway draped in midnight, I welcome you to the second issue of FantaSci - the most popular (and only) publication of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Society! You may have noticed that everything is tinted with a little Halloween spookiness... despite the fact that it is now December!

Yes, I know the timing is a little off - but, similar to how there is no inapproriate time to eat an After Eight (except perhaps, at 8 o’clock exactly), there is never a bad time for a little Halloween-y fun. It’s just horror stories and the like, after all! In a way, you could conisder this our way of giving Halloween a good send-off - before Christmas comes and we are pelted with re-runs of Love Actually and The Snowman while glittering firs spring up from under our carpets. So! Join me by the fire and shiver, not from the growing cold outside (3 months of snow, you say? Surely not!) but from the chill of someone creeping across your grave. In this issue we will be highlighting one of the more notorious titles of SFFS’s Board Game Wednesdays, Betrayal At The House On The Hill - courtesy of board game enthusiast Luke Evison. After that, we interview Failbetter’s James Chew about The Neath, the underground setting that fuels Fallen London and Sunless Sea. Ever heard of Hyaku Monogatari? If you haven’t, great! I channel my fixation with all things Japanese to reveal the darker details of that mysterious game. Following on from ghost stories comes our Creative Corner, this time featuring the exploits of Ben Durodié and Hatice Cin. After that we finish off by featuring a few choice drinks from the Cider Tap and the Bree Louise, ground zero of the Bree-Tap divide, SFFS’s hundred-year war - where tastes are subjective and our minds are forever blurred. There’s little else to do but beckon you onwards. Read on and enjoy the eerie curiosities hidden within these pages. For now, I bid you adieu - see you on the other side! Jenny Steiert, FantaSci Co-Editor


You’ve reached the highlighter page! What colour will you pick? You have several to choose from - Films, Books, Boardgames, Videogames! Oh, that’s too many to choose between! Whatever will you do?!

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In every issue hereoout, we’ll pick out something from these categories to feature, because we think it’s worth looking at - that could be because it’s either really good, merely interesting, or even hilariously bad. You’ll discover our reasonings by reading them, and whether you choose to heed our recommendations - or not - is up to you! This time, we’ll be looking at a hauntingly fascinating boardgame known as The Betrayal, and turn to Luke Evison, with his vast knowledge of boardgames, for a little insight about what lies within that innocent looking box...

One of our classics straight out the gate, Betrayal At The House On The Hill, or just “Betrayal” to most, has got to be a contender for one of the most played games in the SFFS board game hoard. It seems like no Wednesday evening is complete without at least some cry bemoaning the latest bespookings.

Overview

Betrayal is super easy to play. You pick a character ranging from creepy old priest to creepy six year old girl. Each character comes with 4 numbers. These numbers change what happens as you wander around the creepy house that you’ve apparently decided to visit with your creepy (and demographically diverse) friends. You all start by working together to explore the house, which is made up from a huge selection of square tiles. The Betrayal is one of those games where layout of the house and the rooms inside it change I can happily say that if you haven’t every time. Your particular House on the Hill is heard of it you’ll almost certainly more likely to have a statuary corridor, chapel, and have a great time playing it. Less a coal chute than it is to be a 3 bed, 1 bathroom, with convolutedly worded, you might infer a compact kitchen. House wanderings are all fun that it’s pretty beginner friendly. I’ve and games, with various bits of sufficiently spooky broken this debut Featured Board Game text to be read aloud as you discover new rooms, Corner into four parts. If you are one objects, and omens of the terror to come. of the aforementioned then take a gander through the Overview, but if That terror comes somewhere just after a third of you’re already in the know and are the way through, when one among your number is interested in my thoughts see revealed to be THE BETRAYER. Bet you never The Haunt. saw that coming!


4 Now for the downsides - but given that I’m prone to rants I’ll keep it brief. Betrayal just isn’t very scary! It does little to promote horror or suspense beyond the flavour text, which can get a little stale after a while. Yes - Betrayal has 50 scenarios in the box, but novel items, omens and rooms, stop appearing after the second or third play which changes the front end of the game from fun exploration and character building to tedious repetitive set-up style affair. The game’s mechanics are mercifully THE HAUNT straightforward, at least until the rather Surprise! It’s time for a haunt of our own, and rushed feeling ‘special’ traitor rules and if you’ve been reading closely you may have abilities start coming in, forcing far too many rules and designs into a limited picked up on the omens: and yes, it’s true, I’m afraid to say: I AM THE TRAITOR. By design space. The games reliance on dice can be frustrating too, mostly for all the which I mean I don’t actually like Betrayal. agency issues usually tied up in games Shock! Horror! Betrayal! dependent on a limited dice pool for their resolution mechanics. Most of the Let’s start with the good: Betrayal is components are in good shape and have approachable, it has straight forward mechanics, a great array of bits, is drenched in largely held up after what must be well over 50 plays – yes, the prepainted miniatures are its theme, the house building is cool, the a little shonky, but the house tiles hold up explanation time is minimal and turns zip and the cards have yet to be destroyed. by. If you haven’t played Betrayal yet, get out there and play it, the first plays are the best, and I recommend it to everyone to play There is however one serious issue with at least a couple of times, from first timer to Betrayal’s components - the damn sliders. grognard war gamer. Some recommendations These cursed bits of plastic are vital for tracking stats and health, yet they slide if you do though: about like nobody’s business. Even the most 1) Read all card text aloud to the table, liminal, ghostly bump will send half of preferably in silly voices, maybe get these trackers skittling about the table! the person to your left to read it to you However, it is the haunt itself where the (which builds suspense with hidden most glaring issue of play can be found. consequences to your choices and actions) Dragging a player off to try and make sense of a poorly worded, oddly structured and 2) When the time of the Haunt comes, if incomplete Traitor’s Handbook risks a new player is the traitor, grab someone ruining any given game, and is especially who has played Betrayal before to help difficult and cumbersome for new players. them through their new rules (since they can be poorly written and confusing - it Although… it is possible to remedy this. should only take a minute or two though). This is where Betrayal comes into its own, with 50 different traitorous scenarios (or ‘Haunts’ as the game calls them), you never know quite what terrifying spook will take form; you could be trying to stop the escape of hundreds of blood thirsty vampire bats, attempting to tie a world eating snake into knots, or pass off one of your team as the perfect groom to a hundred year old corpse bride. All whilst one of your previous gang controls this spooktacular menagerie of horrors.


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CONCLUSION Play it. If you haven’t played it, play it. If you have played it and like it, then keep playing and exploring for all Betrayal’s got to give. Don’t stop reading spooky text and mucking about with the glorious box of spooky house generation that is Betrayal. However, if like me you rapidly found that it began to lose its appeal after a few plays, or set-up became a chore, or you’ve had one too many games plain broken by early haunt rolls or misunderstood traitor roles then perhaps turn your gaze to a Horror RPG - such as the Jenga tower featuring Dread, the traitor-mongering suspect’em up Dead of Winter, the atmospheric world of Tales of the Arabian Nights, or cheesy and flavourful cooperative treats like Thunderbirds. In the world of board games, you’re never short of options.

Luke Evison likes board games. Okay Luke hates a lot of board games. But his sense of entitlement is always apparent. Listen to Luke. Like good boardgames. Write in the third person.


Interview With A Designer

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James Chew is a Writer-In-Training at Failbetter Games, an independent Games Studio known for titles such as Fallen London and Sunless Sea, set in a world where London now lies beneath the surface, upon the shores of a vast underground ocean known as the Unterzee. I sought him out to learn a little more about the curious world of The Neath, and what’s it’s like working as a Game Writer...

Let’s talk about inspiration. What events transpired to birth the wondrous, murky depths of Fallen London and the Neath? I think a really vast and pretty disparate array of sources has gone into the architecture of Fallen London - you can certainly see Twin Peaks, Poe, Chambers, Doyle, Dickens, Shelley and Wells in there - as well as things like the Tarot in the design, Tanith Lee’s books of Paradys, Bioware’s early games, Planescape: Torment - and I think a fascination with the anxieties and complexities of the dying days of the 19th century.

Both Fallen London and Sunless Sea contain a vast number of stories to discover and play through. What might you call your favourite? Why? I think I’d have to say either the Cave of the Nadir (which is mid-late game in Fallen London), or the new ambition in Zubmariner, Death Hath No More Dominion. They’re both stories that I think encapsulate a lot of our themes - death (obviously), obsession, loyalty, longing, and, of course, love. They take some of the most esoteric elements of our setting and craft incredibly haunting, human narratives from them. They’re also stories that only work in an interactive medium, crafted around player choice and complicity - and allow for a very nuanced range of player responses.


Everyone brings something different to the Neath, I’m sure. Is there any element of the story or the world that you brought when you joined the team?

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I think I’ve definitely added more than a few grumpy nuns to Fallen London since I’ve started. I’ve just come out of a medieval studies program, so elaborate processions, the rituals of power, and clandestine religious orders are all things I tend to bring to my work. I also used to work as an intern for a local MP, which definitely influenced the work I did on our Election Festival over the summer.

Half the fun of the games (I find, at least) is how hilariously mad everything and everyone is amongst all the horror. What did you draw from to create this particular potion of terror, tragedy and humour? I think humour is absolutely essential to our games - writing effective comedy is something I’ve definitely had to learn since starting! For me, Terry Pratchett is always a touchstone for how to combine serious emotion with laugh out loud comedy, especially Good Omens, his book with Neil Gaiman, which is a fair bit darker than his usual stuff. Jeff Vandermeer’s Ambergris books (especially Shriek: An Afterword) takes an incredibly baroque, bizarre setting and really zeroes in on how simultaneously appalling and bonkers everyone is, and how the horror of that setting invades and corrupts the mind-sets of everyone who lives there. Finally, there’s a story by Edgar Allen Poe called ‘A Predicament’ about this absolutely dreadful reporter, called Signora Zenobia who bungles her way into a hideous fate, and it’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish. I think the disconnect between the action of what’s happening, and the person’s reacion to is underpins a lot of the humour in our games.

It’s mentioned on the Failbetter website the trials and tribulations of getting into Game Writing and Narrative Design. What led you into the profession? What made you want to pursue it? I’ve been a fan of Fallen London, since it launched in 2009 - so getting to write for it has been a real dream come true. I’ve always been writing, since I was around 10 - and pursuing a career in writing was always something I wanted to explore. It was only when I was in uni, writing extensive tabletop roleplaying games for friends and saw Failbetter was looking for narrative designers that I realised what I was currently doing counted as writing interactive fiction, and it was something I could make a career of. It took me a few tries - and a lot of practice - to get to where I am, but it was that experience of writing something regularly for other people to play that really lit the spark.


Hyaku Monogatari: a game of storytelling and ghosts

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(He-ya-ku Mono-ga-tar-ree)

The world is filled with many strange things. Some we can explain, and some we can’t, and others we attempt to explain away with varying degrees of success. No-one is a stranger to these existences I’m sure, but there are a number of people who try to dabble in the mysterious and ghostly all in the name of fun and scaring each other witless. There are a number of ways at your fingertips: indulge in the horror genre, dare your friends to stay the night in a haunted house, or meddle in the dangerous powers of the Ouija board! All are popular options. You could also gather those friends of yours, huddle in the bedroom or the living room (or the bathroom if that’s your style), and tell each other ghost stories. People do this everywhere, all over the world – even in Japan. The funny thing is that Japan, being Japan, likes to take things one step further.

Time passes. The light slowly fades as each flickering candle is suffocated. Smoke rises into a growing forest of charred wax. Tension grows. Soon there are no candles left. But what then? What horrors wait in the darkness? That’s a hard question to answer. Something. Someone.

Let me tell you about the game of Hyaku Monogatari.

he-what now? Hyaku Monogatari. The word means “Hundred Stories.” Can you guess how to play? It’s pretty self-explanatory. You gather your friends, and collect together 100 candles – you place them in a circle and light them. Then, someone tells a ghost story, a ghoulish tale to make the best of us shudder. A personal experience, perhaps, or a legend from their home town. Afterwards, they douse one candle. The role of storyteller passes onto the next person – they tell their story, and snuff out another candle.

A depiction of a well-spirit - or maybe the ghost of someone who drowbed there. (illustration from “Books and Bookmen,” 1899, via Internet Archive Book Images)


trails of history, tales of terror

An illustration of the Futakuchi-Onna, a Japanese monster with two mouths - one on her face and the other on the back of her head.

(Information sourced from Yurei: The Japanese Ghost by Zack Davisson) You might be wondering, “So what’s so special about it?” Unimpressed, you declare, “It doesn’t sound that unique!” And you’d be right. Really, it’s not that special – every country and culture has its own variant. Something to pass the time as the veil between worlds grows thin. Bloody Mary, The Three Kings, The Midnight Game… playing Hide and Seek with a doll. We all test the handle of that door… you know the one. You’ve done it, too. Hyaku Monogatari’s origins lie more than 300 years in the past. No-one really knows where it came from, but some say it was created by the samurai as a test of courage, a diviner of whose bravery would hold out against the horror, or who surrendered to their fears, shrouded in darkness. In a collection of stories titled Tonoigusa (Toh-noy-goo-sah), the game is described through the experiences of several young samurai. After last candle is extinguished, a giant hand seems to descend upon them, ready to crush them. One samurai jumps up and swipes at it quickly with his sword – the hand is revealed to be merely the shadow of a spider. Mockery pelts the men who shuddered in fright. Soon, everyone plays the game – peasants, aristocracy, warriors – everyone. People would search high and low for new stories to impress their fellows with – because who wants to be the sucker who fell back on that “Dark and Stormy Night” again like a broken record?

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(Illustration from “Ehon Hyaku Monogatari”, 1841, via Wikipedia)

power, fear, belief The power of Hyaku Monogatari lies in the Buddhist and Shinto beliefs that make Japan as unique as it is. Extinguishing the candle was supposed to summon spiritual energy that would continue to grow as the room darkened, transforming it into a beacon for the dead. A bit like the Ouija game, but here no cup or pointer holds the spirit at bay. The players are at its mercy until the lights return. There’s a belief that when something lives for over 100 years it develops a spirit of its own – foxes and cats gained the ability to change shape and play tricks on unsuspecting humans. Paintings would come to life. Even cooking pots would become… changeable. They were referred to as “Tsukumogami” (T-Soo-Koo-Mo-Gah-Mee). People had a tradition of throwing old things away as they neared their hundredth birthday. Better safe than sorry, you know? But it only worked if those things were younger than 99 – otherwise you’d make the spirits angry. And no-one wants that.


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any favourites? There are several stories that have retained popularity over the years. Maybe you’ve heard of Yuki-Onna, The Snow Woman? Below is Lafcadio Hearn’s translation of a tale regarding the Oshidori, a breed of duck that is (in this context) hailed as an emblem of “conjugal affection”. A bit like lovebirds but what happens when a pair is parted? There was a falconer and hunter, named Sonjo, who lived in the district called Tamura-no-Go, of the province of Mutsu. One day he went out hunting, and could not find any game. But on his way home, at a place called Akanuma, he percieved a pair of oshidori, swimming together in a river that he was about to cross. To kill oshidori is not good; but Sonjo happened to be very hungry, and he shot at the pair. His arrow pierced the male: the female escaped into the rushes of the further shore, and disappeared. Sonjo took the dead bird home, and cooked it.

Then again she wept aloud - so bitterly that the voice of her crying pierced into the marrow of the listener’s bones - and she sobbed out the words of this poem:

At the coming of twilight I invited him to return with me -! Now to sleep alone in the shadow of the rushes of Akanuma Ah! What misery unspeakable!

And after having uttered these verses she exclaimed: “Ah, you do not know - you cannot know what you have done! But tomorrow, when you go to Akanuma, you will see - you will see ...” So saying, and weeping very piteously, she went away.

When Sonjo awoke in the morning, this dream remained so vivid in his mind that he was greatly That night he dreamed a dreary dream. It seemed troubled. He remembered the words: “But to him that a beautiful woman came into his room, tomorrow, when you go to Akanuma, you will and stood by his pillow, and began to weep. So see - you will see.” And he resolved to go there at bitterly did she weep that Sonjo felt as if his heart once, that he might learn whether his dream was were being torn out while he listened. And the anything more than a dream. woman cried to him: So he went to Akanuma; and there, when he “Why - oh! Why did you kill him? Of came to the riverbank, he saw the female oshidori what wrong was he guilty? ... At Akanuma swimming alone. In the same moment the bird we were so happy together - and you killed percieved Sonjo; but, instead of trying to escape, him! ... What harm did he ever do to you? she swam straight towards him, looking at him Do you even know what you have done? - the while in a strange fixed way. Then, with her Oh! Do you know what a cruel, what a beak, she suddenly tore open her own body, and wicked thing you have done? ... Me too you died before the hunter’s eyes... have killed - for I will not live without my husband! ... Only to tell you this I came...”


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Thy soul shall find itself alone ’Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone; Not one, of all the crowd, to pry Into thine hour of secrecy. Be silent in that solitude, Which is not loneliness — for then The spirits of the dead, who stood In life before thee, are again In death around thee, and their will Shall overshadow thee; be still. (from “Spirits of the Dead”, Edgar Allan Poe)

And with that, this story ends - but what of the game? It’s only just begun! Find your candles, friends, ready your matches - the next few pages contain a collection of stories sent in by you, our lovely readers! We didn’t quite manage to reach a hundred, but maybe you can pick up where we left off, now that you know how to play. What ghostly terrors lie waiting in the darkness for you, I wonder? Read on and find out for yourselves...


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Creative Corner Lilac Kisses, by Hatice Cin They called on the lips of my mother when they needed escape. Her lips were like ashy tins, left on window sills in the rain, soaking up dripping debris. Tongues searched her cavities for answers to questions asked during the day. It was their pleasure to know that she would be a sloe gin and comfort their worries. They would bury their pain in her skin and pour lust into her. Knees grubby on the floor of her kitchenette she would receive them whilst she stared at the gap in her floorboards. It was in the corner of the room by the larder door. She loved to perform in that particular spot and look. She’d never look away from my two eyes staring back at her, encouraging her craft. Mother knew of a transcendence that would help her to reach me again. Each time she felt the warm clutch of skin against her thighs she would be closer to me. It was as though she cleaved her skin to form a bond of cells that would call to me. I loved to watch how her elbows would creep up towards her shoulders celebrating special endings. And the men would be fast and leave late. Rarely sober, always sated. Afterwards, hiking her legs up against the cupboards of our kitchen she would smile, either to me or herself and let the remains climb into her womb. When I first told her you can have my baby if you want, the disgust on her face was beautiful. The way she cared. She knows I understand the decisions that she made. Her struggles were worthwhile as she made me fit below those floorboards. I was segmented but back to my original whole as she cradled my lovers dead child. Watching her was a tutorial on how I could have been as a mother. But she missed me and wanted to remake me. This time I would be reborn. She’d get a second chance. For now, I would just have to watch her toil. Tonight. Gently she laced up her heeled boots again and blew kisses at me from her flaky lipsticked mouth. To find another. To try again.


Death Behind The Eyes

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A Warhammer 40,000 fanfic by B. Durodié

Silver-inlaid doors slid smoothly apart to reveal the crime scene. Sprawled on the parquet floor lay the body of the late Medicus Blakk, the consultant House Blakk had insisted on assigning to the case crouched over him with some kind of scanner. Kryze du Quasa sighed, wishing House Blakk had chosen either to hand the matter over to the Adeptus Arbites entirely, or keep the affair internal. That would have been the more usual approach of a house of the Navis Nobilite, but then there was nothing remotely usual about the murder of a Navigator. “Marshal.” She turned to one of the arbitrators flanking the door, accepting the dataslate with the preliminary analysis. She frowned as she scanned the list of security measures that had been circumvented without any indication of interference. The only trace of physical evidence was a scorch mark where Medicus had fired his hell-pistol. Even the body didn’t have a mark on it. The toxicology report was still pending, but, between the stray shot and a link security vid, poison had been flagged as ‘improbable’. A tap brought up a high-resolution recording of Medicus in the chamber, sitting at his desk as he drew what du Quasa assumed was some abstract representation of a warp-route. He put down his stylus, reaching for a crystal tumbler filled with amber liquid – a rare vintage amasec, no doubt. Before his hand closed on it, he shivered and turned to look behind him. Medicus stood, hand reaching under the desk to pull the gilded hell-pistol that now lay a few feet from his body from a concealed compartment.

He moved with halting footsteps over the place where he would soon die, pistol shaking in his grip. At first, du Quasa thought the blurred edge of a shadow on the wall was the result of data-corruption, until she noticed Medicus seemed to be looking at it, too. Eyes and mouth wide, he fired a single shot before dropping the hell-pistol. The blurred area lit up a brilliant red as the las-beam hit it, revealing a half glimpsed silhouette, the light visibly refracting as it passed through. Medicus reached up to the turban he wore to cover the warp-eye that all Navigators had set in their foreheads. Thankfully, the vid-feed had an emergency shutdown for just such an eventuality, sparing the Marshal the third eye’s lethal gaze. She grimaced, returning her attention to the arbitrator who had handed the dataslate to her. “An invisible assailant bypasses every security measure, but without damaging them. They don’t even delete the vid-log. The victim tries to, well,” she threw a glance at the body, noting that although the Navigator’s forehead was uncovered, the only sign of his mutation was a slight bulge with what looked like an old scar running vertically down it. “Maybe he never got the chance.” “Eyes closed when we got here, ma’am,” the arbitrator confirmed. “Though the consultant seemed interested in the, uh,” he fumbled for the appropriate word to use. “The third. If he’s connected to the house, maybe his scans are picking up something we’re not.” “Indeed.”


Marshal du Quasa thumped over to the consultant, Catachan venomwood worth a king’s ransom threatening to splinter beneath the heavy tread of her iron-shod boots. She flicked through the settings on her photo-visor, noting signs of baffling on his energy signature. At such close proximity, its effectiveness was limited, and it was obvious that he was concealing a substantial energy source on his person. Perhaps to power a field projector or bionic augmentation. He turned at the sound of her approach, eyes glowing a devilish red in the shadow cast by the wide brim of his hat. That was almost enough for her to cave his head in then and there, but her photo-visor tagged the trace of infra-red energy. He blinked, and his eyes were an ordinary shade of green. “Ah, Marshal, I was wondering when you would arrive,” he said, standing to offer a gloved hand in casual greeting. A pair of gaudy rings had actually been pulled over the glove. Du Quasa sighed inwardly. She was used to a certain amount of politicking – the position of Marshal of the Court necessitated it – but it had never come naturally to her. The highborn were indirect in all things, in stark contrast to the black and white mentality promoted in the Adeptus Arbites. His clothing was not exactly fashionable, but the shoulders padded almost to the point of satire were considered a timeless style in certain circles fond of military affectations. It paired well with the gilded scabbard protruding from the chequered trim of his coat, and the unmistakable bulk of a bolt pistol holstered under the equally elaborate hilt revealed as his coat shifted. She wondered if he actually knew how to handle either. Gritting her teeth, she gave a tight smile and shook his hand.

14 “Kryze du Quasa, Marshal of the Homiritan Court of Arbitration,” du Quasa gave her name and rank by way of greeting. From the firmness of his grip, she suspected the leather glove covered a bionic. “You must be the consultant, Inspector Clousseau.” “Only if you insist on formalities. Otherwise please, call me Sherlock.” “Have your scans detected anything of note, Inspector?” She put unnecessary emphasis on the use of his title, gesturing to the scanner he was still holding in his left hand. “Perhaps your equipment is calibrated to scan for more exotic things than ours.” Clousseau looked at the scanner as if surprised to find the device in his hand. “This? A perfectly ordinary bio- and energy-scanner,” he said, apparently genuinely unaware that it was, in fact, far from ordinary for a device to perform both of those functions, much less in a form so compact it was a wonder it was able to contain its own energy cell. “It is, I suspect, far more that you don’t know what you’re looking for. How would you describe his expression?” Mouth agape, Medicus Blakk’s face was frozen in the middle of his final scream. His eyes – the two ordinary ones, at least – were squeezed shut, evidenced by the creased skin around them. The membrane sealing his third eye were comparatively relaxed, though she had no idea if that was simply because it was impossible for the skin there to screw in the same manner. None of it struck her as remarkable.

“Pained.” She shrugged. “Scared.”

“Scared!” Clousseau seized on the word as if it were significant that a murder victim had


been scared. “You might say…”

“How is that even possible? Some kind of cryo-beamer?”

He moved around to the other side of the body, crouching down at the head and placing his hand over the third eye. The marshal realised what he was about to do and lurched forward, but before she could stay his hand or even utter a word of protest, he had pried the warp-eye open.

Clousseau shook his head, scratching at his chin through the bushy flare of his beard. “The attacker hit the warp-eye rather than the larger and more obvious targets of heart or brain. We must anticipate some witchcraft was involved.”

She was surprised when she didn’t die.

“…petrified,” Clousseau concluded, grinning as if it was some hilarious jest. The eye revealed in the Navigator’s forehead was nothing like any of the stories du Quasa had heard. No portal to the hell-dimension of the warp. No bottomless abyss of despair. Just a polished curve of jet black. The inspector tapped a ring against it, producing a curious clink. “What in the Emperor’s name…” “Obsidian,” he explained. “Turned to solid stone! With a core temperature close to absolute zero.”

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“Homiritus has a low rate of psychic incidence,” du Quasa noted, struggling to recall a single non-trivial incident in her years as marshal, or the decades as arbitrator and then judge before that. Other than native-born psykers, undocumented arrival would be almost impossible under the strict monitoring of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, to say nothing of the infamous witch-hunters of the Inquisition. “There is a comparatively high rate of piracy in the Homiritus sub-sector. Including, of particular note, the Dar-,” he cut himself off, shaking his head as if suddenly remembering something obvious. “The Eldar.” “You suspect xenos?” She frowned. “There is no evidence to support that.” “A ghost then.”

She recalled the way Medicus had shivered in the vid, which she had dismissed at the time as some dread sensed by virtue of his “What?” being a Navigator, and later fear in the face of his attacker. “I take it that is not usual.” “Never mind,” he replied, waving his hand dismissively. “It was just something Adam “Indeed not, though without knowing said earlier,” he jerked his thumb in the what to expect I daresay it would have been direction of one of the arbitrators manning dismissed as some warp-based anomaly.” the door – the one who had handed her the dataslate. Du Quasa made a mental note of his “Probable cause of death: acute hypothermia of ident code to reprimand him later. “I think he the third eye,” she spoke aloud as she amended was joking. Well, I hope he was joking. the analysis on the dataslate. Navigators are a finite resource, and essential to our long range interstellar travel. They’re worth more alive than dead to any human.”


“Plenty of anti-mutant groups would consider that a reasonable sacrifice,” she countered. “True, but have you ever encountered one with the resources to actually make a move like this?” She scowled, though all he could see of the gesture beneath her helm was the clenching of her jaw. “If I had, they would no longer be in a position to do so.” He chuckled, though she was unsure whether it was amusement that she had shot down her own argument, or simply derision. “No doubt. In any case I’m sure you can have the Arbites archive scoured for any recent reports of xenophile cult activity, unusual psychic occurrences and so on. While you have them compile a summary I will arrange for a psionic assessment of the crime scene.” That was a step too far for du Quasa, her patience already worn thin by the inspector’s informality and apparent inability to take things seriously. She forced herself to remain calm. It was fortunate that he could not see her eyes, for they fixed him with a murderous glare. “With all due respect to House Blakk, they called the Arbites in on this. I don’t pretend to know why, and I am willing to allow you to consult on the case by their appointment, but I will not have you giving me orders. The authority of the Navis Nobilite is not unlimited.” She expected entitled indignation. Appeals to the authority of House Blakk. Instead he seemed, if anything, impressed. “Quite right, Marshal… du Quasa, wasn’t it?” Clousseau said, using her name for the first time as he reached into his coat.

16 Du Quasa blanched when she saw the rosette in the form of an “I”, crossed with three bars and set with a skull. She wondered whether she ought to kneel, but he didn’t give her time. “The authority of the Holy Orders of the Emperor’s Inquisition, however, is. My name is Obiwan Sherlock Clousseau and, to all intents and purposes, my word is the will of the God-Emperor.” In the darkness at the edge of reality, it waited. It watched the shining soul-lights as they moved about in the insubstantial, washed-out grey of the corporeal world. Among the pale lights, it perceived one to emerge brighter than the others. The bright soul flared with energy, screaming into the void. The light was blinding, eclipsing the backdrop of the mundane world from which it shone. It was like a clarion call, summoning the hunter to its prey. Where it moved, it left a wake of darkness. If you would like to submit your writing to be considered for the next issue’s Creative Corner, send it to fantasci@gmail.com where we will be only to happy to take a look. And if, by any chance, you need a push to get yourself off the ground, then by all means peruse the prompt below, provided by James Chew, the dapper gentleman we interviewed earlier. “A veiled stranger is at your door on the last day of the year. She will not come in but would like to share a drink with you on the porch. What does she want with you? What will she take from you?” We look forward to reading your submissions!


Bree or Tap?

17

The Battle Continues!

Last time we turned to the voices of the Bree-Tap Divide in an attempt to bridge the gap and forge an understanding in a war presiding over one simple question: ‘Where shall we head for a drink? The Tap or the Bree?’ Today we dive back into no-man’s land to bring you a pint of cider from each, or at least, one that’s worth trying. We’ve over-analysed the ethanol out of these potions to give you a good depiction of the drinking experience. It’s up to you whether you try them or not. So, below, our choices! This time there’s a theme - Trick or Treat!

MILLWHITES RUM CASK, 7. 5% The colour is a pleasant golden glow, cloudy like a sunset on Mars. As for the smell? Potent, certainly. A careful sniff returns a peaty, leathery smell. A rather acidic scent tickles the nose, similar to vinegar. The taste is an experience in its own right. Light and pleasantly sweet at first, until the acidity returns like a sucker punch as you swallow the tricksy brew. The delayed sharpness follows the sweetness in hot pursuit and you start to imagine a familiar liquid, thicker, red like arterial blood, stored in a bottle stamped proudly with ‘Heinz’. That’s right, this is the ketchup cider. You may have heard of it. The after-taste is just as bold and unexpected. Lingering wafts of gaseous flavour tickle your tonsils suggestively, growing in strength as the glass drains. It’s a Trick cider, after all. Changeable like the British weather, I have heard many say that it can taste amazing, sometimes. Or sometimes it can taste like ketchup. It’s a gamble – a boozy, entertaining gamble. Well worth trying, whatever the result!

SNAILSBANK TUMBLEDOWN, 5.2% The colour of this one has much greater clarity, and offers a lovely rich copper hue. You might compare it to the jewelled brown of a tapestry, or the shimmering depths of a topaz. Oddly, there’s not much of a scent. It’s very subtle – you’d have to focus very carefully to distinguish it. A faint sweetness, but also something vaguely reminiscent of varnish. The taste is sweet, almost Koppaberg-sugary, but this is lighter and fainter. It’s quite pleasant really, and there’s no strong alcoholic taste. No cursory kick in the teeth afterwards like there is with Rum Cask. There’s a strange duality to it. When the weaker, watery elements of the cider flow down your throat, the flavour is slow to depart... just like a snail. While it lingers, you notice a bitter element to the taste – it’s almost soapy – and faintly carbonated as well. The bubbles pause at the back of the throat, allowing the flavour to endure a little longer. Every gulp offers you two swallows! It’s a pleasant, refreshing Treat of a drink – if you get a chance to try it at the Tap, be sure to give it a go! After all, it’s not like the Cider Tap, loved by all, is going anywhere… right?


The doctor’s on his way!

18

And I Can’t Find My Apples!

Maybe we were a little too quick to assume that this battle of Bree and Tap would never end. For the past month or so there’s been talk of closing the Cider Tap and replacing it with the East Lodge, an outhouse dedicated to beers of t’North (because we need another beer-focused Tap). For a while we thought this had fallen through and that the Cider Tap would live on, but alas, on the 12th November, the Tap finally closed to make way for its successor. I personally, am gutted, and my biases are clearly filtering through without even the faintest hint of shame. So, perhaps you could consider this a sort of obituary to the Cider Tap. It lived, it closed, but it will never die so long as we keep it living in our hearts. It’s a massive shame for people who prefer their intoxicants with apples over hops, since the Cider Tap was one of the few dedicated cider pubs in London. I can understand the decision, in a way – having a pub dedicated to cider is not the most accessible to people who don’t like it – but come on, they had mead! And whiskey! Never mind the Euston Tap across the road that deals mainly in beer! I hope you’ll forgive me for being sceptical of such reasoning, given beer’s much wider popularity and availability. It seems to me like the conundrum of the café – literally French for coffee – where getting a good cup of tea is a genuine rarity to be likened to naturally-occurring bismuth. Sadly, we’ll never know the true reason (probably) why the Cider Tap came to be supplanted by a Tap serving northern beers. Maybe it’s because Euston is a gateway to towns such as Manchester and Liverpool, maybe they just felt that cider wasn’t popular enough to continue the venture (lies!), or maybe it’s for a completely different reason. I have wailed at the bearers of fermented apples and pears, and they have offered no answer – only more cider. They don’t know the reason, either. But there is cause for some hope. I’ve been told that the new Tap will continue serving a few popular ciders – Beesting hopefully among them – so that alcoholic flag of the Bree-Tap Divide will continue to flutter in the breeze and down our throats... in memory of what came before. Friends, let us try to allow the passing of the Cider Tap of Euston to go without a bitter taste in our mouths – we have beer for that purpose, after all. Either way, I’m sure I will continue to see many of you at the Tap many times in the future. But if not, then… who’s for the Bree?


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