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The premier issue of Initiative Magazine by Robot Pigeon Publishing, the makers of Figure Painter Magazine, is now available. This issue features an article written by Patrick Keith covering our pulp sci-fi adventure skirmish game Counterblast.
Neira to My Heart – Part 1
by Vicky Morgan-Keith
The metallic tang of blood lay heavy over the hastily raked sands of the famed Arena Eviscorita, the grandest gladiatorial arena in all the Neiran Empire. It’s infamous displays of gory violence drew more spectators than biteflies as travelers from all over Neira and even star systems beyond flocked through its massive stone archways. Once inside, they found shaded seats beneath brightly colored awnings, the cloth specially treated to resist fading in the world’s triplet of suns. A steady roar of savage anticipation rolled and tumbled about the stadium, spilling from its walls to be heard even at the very fringes of the city as gladiators fought and died on the pale lavender sands. Other arenas in lesser cities might trade in staged or even nonlethal combats, but here in the great Neiran capital of Zu Jiin, heart and soul of the Neiran Empire, combat was often entertaining, frequently exotic, and always to the death.
One particular spectator hoped for more than mere entertainment this day. Nuvos, House Aoth-Kol’s Chief Merchant, turned from accepting a glass of shasberry wine and a skewer of tender grilled shoth from a vendor’s serving slave as the crowd roared excitedly. Absently waving the slave away, he took a sip of his wine, then leaned forward for a better view of the current combat. On the sands below, a muscular Alanti of the psygrif subspecies had been pinned to the ground by a vrak’ulgo, a dangerous ursine indigenous to Neira. The Alanti had lost his weapon, but was savagely biting the vrak’ulgo with his razor sharp teeth, tearing away chucks of flesh even as the creature’s maw closed about his chest. The crowd cheered as the Alanti’s head fell heavily to the sand and the vrak’ulgo shook the now limp body like a youngster’s target doll.
Nuvos refrained from cheering, but applauded politely. After all, the Alanti’s spirit in the face of death was admirable and deserved some token of acknowledgement. Besides, he didn’t want to risk offending his host. Normally Nuvos would have enjoyed the games from the booth reserved for important members of his powerful House. Today, however, he was the honored guest of Ramosh, Chief Steward of the Arena Evisicarta, a direct servant to the Royal House itself! Until he learned the reason behind Ramosh’s invitation, he wished to avoid starting any potential negotiations at a disadvantage.
His host drained his cup, then beckoned a slave to refill it. Swirling the fresh wine in his glass, Ramosh addressed his guest. “I wish to offer my congratulations on your successful thwarting of the attempt on your life, friend Nuvos. The loss of you as Chief Merchant would have been a great loss to House Aoth-Kol…and many other Houses.”
Nuvos stiffened at the mention of the attack. Three evenings ago he’d been accosted by two Shadowsister assassins while returning home from a party thrown by a lesser House. Fortunately, he’d not been injured, but two of his personal guards had been slain and a third badly wounded while protecting him. One of the assassins had escaped into the night. His remaining guards cornered the other, but she managed to kill herself before she could be restrained and interrogated. Nuvos’s fury had been so great he’d almost killed the surviving guards for their carelessness. Practicality alone made him merely have them flogged. He needed the answers the Shadowsister might have revealed. What House had dared the attack? And why?
Vohalfa, his House’s warlord, or Jamad, displayed only cool displeasure regarding the incident. After all, Nuvos was only a male. A mere merchant, not a huntress or clansister. It wasn’t as if a House had dared to attack a true warrior of Aoth-Kol. But Nuvos knew Vohalfa was secretly outraged. She placed great value on Nuvos as the master trader and steward of her mighty House. And he knew although he’d insisted on meeting Ramosh in public with only his normal contingent of guards, Vohalfa would have at least a huntress and several clansisters among the spectators, alert for any danger to him. In spite of his bravado, Nuvos breathed a small prayers of thanks to the goddess Aoth for his lover’s protection.
He studied Ramosh through narrowed eyes as he took a measured sip from his own glass. His host seemed to exhibit no more than neutral interest. Keeping his voice steady, he replied, “You are too kind, Chief Steward. But surely that’s not why you’ve invited me here? Our past dealings have always proved profitable–for all parties involved.”
“Ah, but it is!” Ramosh assured him. “As you will soon see!” Looking to the arena, he smiled. “Here, my colleague,” he bade Nuvos, gesturing to the sands now cleared of both the victor and victim of the last conflict. “Attend! You in all prudence seek another bodyguard, do you not? Perhaps I can offer you a solution. Witness this truly rare exhibition! Our glorious Firstmother surely blesses all of our spectators today!”
Nuvos looked in the direction Ramosh indicated. A lone Shrinaar male strode through a far gate into the arena, and many of those attending cheered at the sight of him, tossing coins and other tokens which spattered the sands about him like a brief shower of rain. Nuvos could not recall seeing him before, but it was obvious the Shrinaar was a successful gladiator and a favorite of the crowd. He was large, even for one of his kind, powerfully built, with heavy muscles rippling beneath dense striped gray fur, marked here and there with white. Yet for all his size, he moved with a deadly fluid grace that promised speed and agility. He wore a breastplate, grieves, and bracers, but no helm. His only other attire was a simple loincloth marked with the emblem of the Arena Evisicarta. His weapons were a set of metal battle claws, called Shre’quo’ro by the Shrinaar, on both front paws.
Nuvos raised an eyebrow, giving his host a dubious look. Annoyance flashed through him at this waste of his valuable time, swiftly giving way to disquiet. Perhaps this invitation was merely a ploy to expose him once again. With all his will, Nuvos keep his voice offhand. “A Shrinaar?! Really, Ramosh! I admit he’s an impressive specimen, but such gladiators are anything but rare!”
The Chief Steward of the arena settled himself more comfortably in his cushioned seat and sipped his wine. His mouth relaxed in a wide, maddening smile. “Patience, my esteemed guest. His opponent has yet to appear.”
Retaining an air of skepticism, Nuvos resisted the urge to glance toward his bodyguards. He stared at Ramosh thoughtfully, deciding Aoth-Kol would have little to fear from an agent of the Royal House. He returned his gaze to the arena, his curiosity getting the better of him. He wondered what the mystery combatant was to be. He knew Ramosh too well to think his host would arrange a bout presented before, no matter how spectacular. So what could it be? Did Ramosh intend to pit the Shrinaar against one of the strange humans, the newest race of arnts to join the loathed Galactic Council of Worlds? That would indeed be rare. Neirans had not encountered many humans so far, but if what Nuvos had heard of them was true, a human would stand little chance against this particular Shrinaar. While perhaps unusual to see, the combat wouldn’t prove to be much of an entertaining fight.
Cries and shouts of astonishment roused Nuvos from his musings. Several spectators had leapt to their feet and were gesturing wildly, pointing at the wall below the booth he and Ramosh occupied. Intrigued, Nuvos leaned forward to peer over the ledge. His breath caught at the sight of the creature emerging from the gate below them, moving cautiously into the arena on six undulating tentacles. He had never seen its like before, but he had certainly heard tales of the alien creature from the huntresses and Jamad of his House. Momentarily forgetting his dignity, Nuvos excitedly pounded a fist on the ledge as he watched the alien cephalopod move warily toward the Shrinaar, a strange metallic axe studded with blue spheres held ready in its grasp.
Ramosh chuckled as a thrilled cry burst from Nuvos’ throat.
(To be continued)
From Sunday July 10th through Saturday July 16th all Alanti (shark folk) minis are 20% off! See the selection here.
Rite of Khom Zo Naad
by Vicky Morgan-Keith
The motokk was close now. It crept through a stand of dense redpine, its massive paws making not a sound on the carpet of needles strewn across the forest floor. Sosora caught a glimpse of the plated scales along its back as the beast circled, making its way ever nearer to her hiding place. The motokk swung its heavy maned head about, slitted nostrils testing the wind, alert ears tensed to catch the slightest sound. It pulled its lips back from long savage fangs with an angry snarl as it tore the leaf-littered ground with razor claws. A sharp, musky odor hung heavily in the early morning air causing all three of Sosora’s hearts to skip a collective beat. Challenge scent! The beast knew an intruder was nearby, and it was ready to fight! Instinctively her hand sought the hilt of her sole weapon, a ceremonial dagger hung on a loop of her simple leather belt. Called a jek, it was only bestowed to Neiran huntresses attempting the Kohm Zo Naad ritual. Her two fingers curled about it tightly, finding the touch of the cool, metallic hilt comforting After a moment, Sosora willed herself to release her grip. She was Sosora of the House Sokaf-Do! A lesser House perhaps, but nevertheless worthy of respect. It had taken her a long time to get here, and she had not traveled all this way only to kill the motokk and fail in her goal.
Sosora was one of the few huntresses their Jamad had deemed ready to forge a link with a bondbeast. In fact, she was the youngest in many years of those granted the right to make the attempt. Her peers envied her good fortune, resenting her for not being chosen themselves. Many of her elders sneered at her youth, saying she lacked the experience and wisdom necessary to succeed. But Sosora knew if she accomplished her task, then those of not only her house, but all houses, yes, even the Royal House of the Empress herself, would owe her respect.
The young huntress had begun her ceremonial journey much as others did, by visiting the grandest temple in her home city of Zu Varoh for guidance. There she had prayed at an ornate marble alter to the Firstmother Aoth, leaving a jeweled medallion on its cool stone surface as an offering. The medal had been left to her by her mother. She had fallen in battle defending a small outpost world from invading forces of the upstart Galactic Council of Worlds. It had originally been awarded to Sosora’s great grandmother for bravery and exemplary service in battle, adorning her trophy sash for many years before being passed down to Sosora’s grandmother when she successfully completed the Khom Zo Naad. It was the most precious thing Sosora owned.
The young huntress had almost wept when she lifted her bowed head from the altar to see a small leather pouch lying in place of her offering. Aoth had deemed her worthy! The Oracle had bestowed upon her the sacred gift of Fahz Jiin!
Praising Aoth for her blessing, Sosora set out for the Ataak Nuwaur, a remote wilderness region of Neira. The journey by foot from Zu Varoh to her chosen testing ground took several weeks. She encountered many travelers as she made her pilgrimage, although their numbers dwindled the farther away from urban areas she went. No one impeded her progress. No guards stopped her to question her about her business. Embossed with the cartouche of the Khom Zo Naad, the metal tag clipped to her battle sash ensured all stepped respectfully aside to let her pass, but not one offered assistance. That was as it should be, and Sosora’s stride gained confidence. To be offered aid would have been a great insult, implying she was incapable of completing her task on her own.
Sosora was weary and footsore when she passed beyond the dusty rural roads and overgrown foot trails to finally reach the perimeter of the Ataak Nuwaur. Here she paused only briefly to rest before continuing onward to the heart of the region where she was sure her goal awaited.
Her journey into the interior took almost as much time as she had already spent traveling. She navigated through tangled scratchbramble and dense redpine, scrambling over trecherous mountain rocks, ever vigilant for dangerous predators such as the motokk she sought. Some days inclement weather would force her to seek shelter before she could continue her search for a suitable bondbeast–a lone adult and, if female, without cubs.
At last her efforts were rewarded. She came upon the territory of a young male and put all her training and skill to observing him without detection. The area he had claimed as his own was not particularly large, and Sosora noticed several slashes on his shoulders, most likely from neighboring motokks discouraging him from interloping on their territories. The huntress smiled to herself. This motokk was not afraid to test his rivals. The thick mantle of coarse fur on its shoulders marked it obviously male. And a considerably large one at that, although he would only be of moderate size if female. He seemed healthy, neither scrawny nor sickly, apparently managing to sustain himself on the available game of his small domain quite well. He was most likely a cunning and efficient hunter. Her respect for him grew, and she decided. This was her motokk. Trying to control her mounting excitement, she had crept cautiously forward.
A hissing snort followed by a low, rumbling growl brought Sosora back to the present and allowed her to pinpoint the beast’s location. He was almost upon her! It was time.
Cautiously she reached into the simple leather pouch tied to her belt, withdrawing a fingertip of fine azure powder. Mouthing a soundless prayer to the Firstmother Aoth, she smeared the dust over the nostril slits at the back of her jaw, not quite sure what to expect. The effects were surprisingly immediate.
Strength surged through her while any fear or doubt departed. Her senses gained a heightened clarity she had never before experienced. Time seemed to slow for everything about her while she passed through unhindered. A furious roar came to her ear canals, rolling long and deafening, like thunder. Sosora whirled to see the motokk charging toward her. Her eyes noted the powerful bunch and play of muscles in its haunches as it bounded forward, its wickedly hooked claws throwing up dead vegetation and clods of dirt from the forest floor. She heard the heavy thud of every footfall, the snap and rustle of branches as it came rushing toward her, every huff of its breath beneath the rasp of its savage snarls.
All this she noticed in but a moment before charging from her hiding place toward the beast herself. Muscles that only moments before had complained of fatigue from her arduous journey were now silent. She hurtled toward the motokk screaming the name of Aoth and her House again and again. The distance between the two closed rapidly. The motokk made a final leap, its dark furred face twisted in a feral grin, eyes gleaming scarlet fire, taloned paws reaching for her, its triumphant roar filling Sosora’s ears.
Suddenly the huntress dropped to the ground, sliding along the leaf-strewn earth, throwing out a leg to neatly trip the beast as it hurtled past overhead. The motokk tumbled to the ground with a scream of outrage as Sosora sprang to her feet and leapt upon the creature’s head, her strong, wiry arms encircling its heavy neck. Two minds as one, she thought, pressing her face to the motokk’s own and gazing unafraid into its fiercely glowing eyes.
The motokk scrambled to its feet as the Neiran huntress clung to its head, reaching up a foreleg to rend the offending nuisance to bits. A furious roar began in its chest, then abruptly stopped. Its sharp claws raked almost absently along Sosora’s back opening shallow wounds. She winced in anticipation of the pain, but oddly, she didn’t feel it. She opened alien eyes to see her own confused face staring back at her and watched as a great paw slowly lowered to the ground. She could see blood seeping from the wounds on her back, smell its metallic tang in wide nostrils, feel the flex and ripple of powerful muscles, the splay of claws from mighty paws, the deep rumble of breath in strong lungs.
Sosora felt a rush of joyful elation mixed with irritated puzzlement. For long moments the two remained thusly, still as stone, oblivious to the world around them. There was only her mind, the motokk’s, and the bond she was hoping to form.
The motokk was less than pleased and resisted. Its will hammered at hers, raw and feral, in an attempt to free itself. Sosora felt her vision blur as her senses shifted. Although she once again looked upon the world through her own eyes, Sosora thrilled to match her will with the motokk’s, pleased it had not meekly submitted. She was worthy of this spirited beast and he her! And while the powerful creature could certainly have slain her, in a battle of wills the Neiran huntress had the advantage. Determined, she held on as long as she could, feeling the tenuous bond grow.
Finally the beast hissed, tossing its head irritably as if to shake off the psychic link, but refrained from outright attack. Sosora released her hold on the motokk, dropping lightly to the ground, and gazed at it appreciatively. Its muscles were strong and solid, and its teeth, which it seemed to have no problem displaying to her with frequent hisses, seemed in excellent condition.
Pleased, Sosora walked about it, running a hand along its hide despite its low snarls until she stood by its great head, then scratched it behind an ear. The motokk rumbled, then lay down at her feet. I, Zor, the huntress heard in her mind. No, she replied firmly, with a grim smile. We are Sosora Zor.
Ron Cover ran an Alien Infestation scenario over the the July 4th weekend at his local game store. They managed quite a dust-up.
Pulp Sci-Fi meets Cult Sci-Fi, as a team of Lancers tried to recover Ultonium from a facility overrun by Aliens. A quick hit on the edge of the base, and then fading back to their ship as they heard the hive starting to react to their intrusion. A fair bit of luck left them battered, with only their HOpR Bot falling to the Alien attacks.
There were Aliens in each building and cargo container, along with varied amounts of Ultonium. The Lancers had to open each one and deal with the Aliens before they could get the Ultonium.
With three different sculpt categories, Ron created three different levels of power for the Aliens (Stalker, Infant, and Warrior per their descriptions from the AvP game the models came from). The player was warned that firing their Particle Multiblaster at full rate of fire would be more likely to bring out additional Aliens, so they limited their additional dice rolled to mitigate the noise.
Group activations were very important, as they allowed the Lancers to clear two cargo containers before they had to deal with Aliens in combat. The first building they tried to clear had four Aliens, and bad die rolls left all of them alive after the group activation that opened the door. The Lanceguard with the particle multiblaster survived being attacked, and then rolled lucky to clear the field with a full burst. They grabbed the Ultonium in that building, and fell back to their ship before the hive reacted to the noise, carrying half the Ultonium they could handle (each unit took a Gear slot), but losing only their HOpR Bot to get that much.
Bombshell Miniatures is very excited to announce Babes III coming to Kickstarter September 19th 2016. We have made special arrangements with artist Chris Walton to reproduce a selection of his fantastic designs for fantasy women. In addition to these, we have several existing designs in the Bombshell archives that may also be produced if we exceed our funding goal. Sculpts are in the works now and over the next several weeks we will be posting progress pictures of them. Join our Facebook Group or sign up on our mailing list for all of the updates leading up to the launch.