Souls of The Citadel (Contest Submission)
Story Title: The Last Bastion: Souls of the Citadel
One of us comes here to die: The Prophet, the World, or I.
- Ladybomb, Destroyer of worlds
"A broken mind
A severed spine
Held by twine
In great divorce
Of great divine
All good stories
(All in good time)"
- H.C. Anon: Dreamer of dreams
Apocalyptic fantasy "Osmosis Jones" with esoterism, death/rebirth of divinity, and breaking the cycles of the zeitgeist. It mirrors the familiar using fourth-wall "external gazer" nods in a high fantasy setting.
In the past, SOUL MAGIC advanced the OLD WORLD into a utopian age. However, evil creatures threatened to destroy it. THE LAST STAND was a great war that lasted nearly a decade, and the final battle took place at CITADEL PRIME, the last refuge of human-kin.
A man called "THE PROPHET" had foreseen the despair to come and created a device to save those who could reach CITADEL PRIME. The GREAT WEAPONS of the OLD WORLD and the SOUL FORGE of the PROPHET were ignited to protect the survivors from harm at a great cost.
The SOUL FORGE powers a protective barrier that shields CITADEL PRIME's inhabitants from the dangers of the new world. It is every CITIZEN'S responsibility to defend it at all costs, birthing a predatory industry that churns gladiators out to a culture that is obsessed with materialism and celebrity appeal.
To achieve this dream of fame and fortune, wannabe heroes have been chosen by SPONSORS to represent them in a never-ending quest to protect the SOUL FORGE. These heroes train their entire lives for one event: THE GAUNTLET.
By surviving THE GAUNTLET, they earn their fame and title as HARVESTER, but it matters little because once you hear the voice of the LADYBOMB call to you from within the GAUNTLET, all that consumes your thoughts and desires is to return to the GAUNTLET once more.
Summary of key events
The Old World was a peaceful utopia, thanks to the mastery of soul magic and the use of portals called "Gates".
gates are commanded by a device called a MacGuffin (you know the ones... the UI... the DM... the iPhone... the thing that helps players understand information: the narrator)
The kings of many nations used their great weapons of destruction to glass the world over in arcane fire, destroying the world until it was unrecognizable.
The last great King of Human-Kin, an Orc King, relocated his great weapon to The Last Bastion in the heart of the mountain pass.
The Prophet had already foreseen this and prepared for the coming refugees, convincing the Orc king to allow other races to take refuge in the region.
Fort Elder Bay became known as the last bastion of Human-Kin and word went out to survivors of all races.
The elves fortified the seas along the woodland coastlines to the East, while the Dwarves expanded the fields with massive bunkers and tunnels to the West.
To the north, the Humans and half-humans took to the mountains, and barbarians and druids roamed the passes.
In the Underworld, even the subterranean races declared an armistice with surface dwellers as they dealt with their own invasions.
To the south, Orcs labored to build massive fortress walls with elven wood and dwarven stone, with plans to stretch the walls to Elder Bay, but the Great Walls were never finished due to the insurrection.
the insurrection is ...Fetching data... one moment, please...
opening the gates... error
Corrupted memory... error
... failsafe protocol...
commence the countdown.
Vocal authorization required....waiting for handshake...error
.. manual override... I'm sorry, that information is restricted on your device.
Artistically, I often imagine Bexhill in the film "Children of Men" directed by Alfonso Cuarón. I also imagine Treasure Town as depicted in Tekkon Kinkreet directed by Michael Arias.
Grim Apocalyptic Fantasy, with a flair for overcrowded slum city commercialism. Old Technology allows for pirate anarchist radio and government-approved TV broadcasts. Vices and entertainment abound in a city you can't escape. "Fishsticks" (which is code for rat meat) is the only protein available to the masses. Urban Gardening is a must. Trinkets and bobbles are money used to barter. Antiques of the old world are priceless. Privacy is rare, and most law is enforced by street gangs in masks, or company employees delivering vigilante justice after hours. With limited real estate, only the most talented Sponsors and Harvesters hold residence: A capitalist nightmare.
The city looks like a brain and functions like one too. (for good reasons)
The Last Bastion: the original fort at the heart of the city. It houses the Prophet's Tower, which houses the forge of souls, and a restricted library called "the forge master's requiem." It also houses a private lodge by the same name reserved only for GAUNTLET HARVESTERS and their SPONSORS.
The Aqueducts of Chaos (West): Flooded sewers underground leading to the marshes, westward. They say the Devil lives down there, feeding on the fear of drowned souls.
The Fallen Keeps (South East): The Orc King's most ambitious project never finished; a labyrinth of half-constructed architecture for what was meant to be a massive fortified canal system. Only ferals and assassins roam there.
The Planes of Regret (East): Miles of tree stumps Eastward to the coastline. Deforestation has awakened the Mother Tree, and the spirits of nature manifest in rock. and ash, and air.
The Muckmire Wastelands (South West): When the oceans receded, the coastal shelf drained, leaving only the corpses of countless pilgrims who could not make it to the Citadel in time, buried in shallow mud cracked by the arid sun. Ancient Reptiles, inbred and malnourished, feast on the arachnids that burrow in the dust of what once was.
Defiled Ancestrial Crypts (North): For a time, the undead served in the fight for Human-kin's survival (a bleak necessity of war). Now, the Necromancers have lost their humanity, and they serve another king from a forgotten age in that terrible silence; that blistering cold full of shadows casting shadows that are darker than darkness itself; Where Iron Golems roam looking for the masters they no longer recognize.
The Corruption (North): Nicknamed "the hellhole" for it being as close to hell as you can get on earth. These Volcanic underground caverns are where "The Gatekeeper" Ifriti waits for HARVESTERS to attempt their trek to the 13th gate. It does not sleep, nor eat, nor does it carry a finite form. It is neither masculine nor feminine. It cannot be killed. Its only purpose is to stand in your way when the time comes to confront it.
The Prophet: A hermit once known as "dark star", alien in his abyss of a tower, witnessing past present, and future. No one has seen the prophet in years. Many rumors circulate but are only whispered in secret.
The Ladybomb: Most believe she is an idea more than an entity, but those who have finished the GAUNTLET have heard her voice.
Mrs. Wright: Librarian. An elderly woman with dwarfism. Although much older than nature would allow she is still spry and quick-witted. Highest Committee member, and Messenger of the Prophet.
Main and supporting characters (from the past and present)
Sponsors come and go, but brands are forever.
The Black Market Guild Sells illegal and illicit items in Slum District 12 "Throat of the World" (ToTW). The TotW was the name of a Gargantuan Ship that was never completed. Over the decades since the HAPPENING, the ship has been dismantled to build slum shelters in and around the canal where it was constructed. The BMG is the location for the ship's anchor which accesses restricted levels of the Aqueducts of Chaos beneath the city. Although the "Guild" has no master, a Bodega owner named Barry keeps the BMG in order, and hosts a secret underground fighting ring which is conducted by dreams shared between the fighters. Most of the vendors in the BMG deal with different branches of smugglers, or, are outcasts of their own tribe, selling out their secrets to survive.
The Bastion Guard is the main law-keeping element of the Citadel. For generations, it was strictly a family business, but as the years' march on, through the endless parlaying of legal rights activists, other races and half-breeds can now join the ranks. In its prime it was a symbol of protection, but now the Guard is mostly understaffed checkpoints, customs, escort security, and noble house strongarms.
Ascension Springs is a sacred site inside the Bastion. It is a by-product of heroes whose souls were recovered, or preserved by "bloody letters". Collecting bloody letters in the wastelands is how HARVESTERS level up. The springs are a place where heroes can bathe in the silver waters, and commune with great fallen spirits of the past.
Originally a Dwarven clan, Aqueduct Engineering (AE) was decimated when the underground fortresses flooded. Now its name is nothing more than a merchandising brand, similar to a teenager buying a Misfits shirt at Spencer's Gifts because it looks cool. Young Dwarves claim the name ironically, and carry a morbid humor about drowning, being wrapped in chains, and the Devil, tho they probably wouldn't want their grandparents catching them paying homage to such dark fantasies.
A Gatekeeper was once a title similar to "blacksmith", tho it may be closer in task to a navigator, or a pilot. Now there is only one Gatekeeper who haunts the outside world with terror and dread, and like all boogeymen, young people will obsess over morbid curiosities. "Gatekeepers Anonymous" at its lowest levels is just working-class 4-chan anons who enjoy trolling the city with false alarms and misinformation. A prankster gang. It's not an organization as much as an idea that can be donned and doffed among those who prescribe to its disenfranchised tabloid tomfoolery. At the highest levels of this hivemind, there may be some genuine sage minds who wish to unlock the lost secrets of Gate functions independent of the PROPHET and government research. Think of "Fight Club" but without fighting, and not as organized. All bark no bite. Meme culture.
Joelle Featherplea was a human diplomat and well-respected by all in the Old World. His story is a beloved legend about human perseverance and comeuppance. It was his great-grandson's idea to form "Featherplea En Memoria", which is a public park and memorial similar to the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall. The Featherplea Family runs the park, declares holidays, hosts public events, commemorates the dead, and glorifies the living Champions. The funds that make these events free are covered by the many vices the Featherplea family owns the monopoly on.
inside the last Bastion, the FORGE burns hot with silver fire. A guild of master blacksmiths (mostly Dwarves and some humans), make weapons, armor, tools, and gadgets for the city's champions here. They call themselves Fabled Ironworks LLC. These blacksmiths are among the few who are permitted to live within the inner cloister.
"Forge Internal and External Leadership Division". Some call it a propaganda wing of the Prophet, but those less jaded appreciate FIELD's commitment to encouragement, positivity, and patriotism. Its ultimate function is recruitment, and testing combatants in semi-annual challenge trials to grade "young bloods" who apply for the GAUNTLET.
"The Peace of God is a Number". This cult of adrenaline junkies believes the "rule of 4" (which is that every gauntlet run consists of a team of 4, drafted by a lottery) is utter bullshit. They focus on speed, min-maxing, and trickery to speed-run the gauntlet as solo operators. Tho they are not allowed to solo the gauntlet legally, these masters of evasion can rarely be stopped when a lone wolf rushes the gates.
The story of Duum (a popular name for orcs) tells of a small and weak orc who trained hard to be the best but was still unimpressive by orc standards. He later teamed up with a drow baroness in search of riches. When a young teenager and his friends got lost in an abandoned mine, Duum agreed to rescue them but ended up falling into the pit himself, breaking his back and becoming paralyzed. The Elven baroness, moved by his courage, spent all her personal riches to pay miners to extract his body, and even went into debt to heal him. Duum served in the baroness's secret service, training abandoned orc child soldiers, who went on to conquer and enslave the horde that had abandoned Duum. The moral of the story is that willpower, wisdom, and experience can be stronger than the strongest of hordes, and even a weakling and castaway can be worthy of a noble burial. Those who run this Gym call themselves "The Children of Duum".
A now-defunct business. An over-ambitious start-up that rose to the top of the Zeitgeist, but didn't produce quality heroes for the Gauntlet. It seemed to be a strike of bad luck that none of its champions could survive. The equipment and merchandise were liquidated. Now it's nothing more than a vintage name brand only scavenged and bartered by the poorest of poor.
A noble and stubborn ruling class dwarven family. House Mountainbelly rules the heavily guarded Dwarven District and its well-moderated home owner's association (and where all the best shops for heists take place!).
Holy Order of the Old World : A long-dead secret order of paladins and inquisitors who carried out the insurrection. Few ever mention their names anymore, except in history lessons. Their true history is a lynchpin in the grand scale of it all, but the zeitgeist remembers them vaguely.
Dr. Ho Gwash invented an antifreeze formula safe for consumption which revolutionized fishing traps. It's called "Miasma". The factory transports the Miasma to fish factories all around town. As winters are becoming longer, the value of Miasma increases. Food franchise monopolies with vested interest often try to steal Miasma via train heists using gangs and mercenaries, so Hogwash Chemicals work hand in hand with The Bastion Guard to make sure train deliveries are safe and on time. Some people claim they are being affected by Miasma, but that's just conspiracy wackos who want compensation for their poor choices!
Little is known about the Historic Crypt Keepers Society, but occasionally a champion using the dark forbidden arts of necromancy will survive the gauntlet, and earn their legal right to practice openly.
A franchise of hospitals, and a brand name of medical supplies. The Goodtouch family lineage produces combat healers for the gauntlet.
George Jones once sat on the Prophet's Committee, but his solutions to the pandemic were too unorthodox for traditional thinking. Gracefully stepping down, the aristocrat used his riches to SPONSOR heroes of the gauntlet in his elder years. Recently he passed away, and not peacefully either. He went mad, and his staff did their best to cover his insanity so he could be remembered how the public had always seen him: as a generous and patriotic tycoon. A very private man, the knights of GJF were hoping for an inheritance since he had no children of his own, but his legacy went on to shadow fund his secret agents, laboratories (and its experiments) long after his death.
The citadel's largest fish factory, which traps, cleans and distributes its fish stick products. Fishing is one of the City's most dangerous jobs, and insanity can take your mind down there. The Factory is owned and operated by healers, divers, and engineers who have taken culinary arts to a higher spiritual, physical, and scientific level. If this fish factory fails, many in the city would starve.
They say there is only one way in and out of the city. The Ladybombs know that isn't true. They are smugglers and assassins operating inside and outside the citadel beyond the government's reach. They are the most powerful and feared gang in the citadel, but rarely will anyone deal with them directly. They used coded messages, couriers, and patsy tactics to carry out their business. They only trade smuggled goods to the most reputable gangs, and it's very difficult to get your crew on that list. Tho there are males among the lower ranks, many believe it is ruled by a matriarchal system.
Jonathan Roche is an entrepreneur who runs a chain of Grocers/Restaurants. He is the off-brand soda to the Featherplea Empire, and his stores are located in poorer commonwealth districts compared to his noble competitors. However, his desire to be the next great folk hero of human comeuppance makes his story both an inspiration to the working class and a cautionary tale about how far one would go to be the best.
Political parties come and go as each commonwealth district struggles to find the system of government that works best for them. Mayor Mandalcio has been the bedrock of district 4 for almost 3 decades now. Consistent? yes. Corrupt? also yes.
Birdfolk were once slaves to elves in darker times. Now they live together in relative harmony. The Mallard Clan has chosen to forget the past for the greater good of Human-Kin, but they are still pirates and voyagers at their core. Recently, the first open elf/birdfolk relationship went openly public. The birdfolk lover was a male GAUNTLET champion of the Mallard Clan, and his union with the elf is now a celebrity marriage; a spotlight in which she loves, and he loathes, causing strain on the young marriage. Caged within the city, the mallard clan keeps busy with courier duties and parcel deliveries.
If you know the right people, you can get invited to the wildest rave parties hosted by the Library Rooftop Club. Just be smart, okay? Most people there want to have a good time, but there are always predators who want to exploit or abuse you. And unfortunately, the LRC will take care of their own before they believe an outsider's accusations.
The most luxurious resort this side of the Apocalypse! A respite from the dying world. This massive compound is a vice city. it's an adult amusement park of pleasure owned and operated by the Featherplea Family. The biggest attraction is the dream chambers, where people can go to act out all sorts of fantasies alone or with others. Many Champions use these chambers to train in combat simulation as well. Joelle Featherplea XIV recently took over as patriarch after the mysterious death of his father Joelle XIII who died suddenly in his sleep. "Young Joelle XIV" is the youngest to inherit the family business, and he has a big vision for his own legacy. He is also convinced that someone murdered his father, and is obsessed with finding the killer.
Mutants often transform during puberty, and it's a surprise for everyone. For decades the treatment of these half-breeds was barbaric. RIP Law is an activist group of "lobbyists" committed to Mutant rights. RIP Law was formed about 15 years ago after the curious case of code name "Brimstone". "Brimstone" was a young teenage male who burned down a city block by accident during his transition into a mutant, and the riots for his execution were halted by the Bastion Guard who stood to protect him. The grateful "Brimstone" joined the junior guard, and when he became an adult, he was the first ever mutant to join the Bastion Guard. He went on to be Gauntlet Champion but never returned from the 13th gate.
The Throat of the World slums is not governed as much as it is conquered by respected figures in the community who hold power by reputation alone. That reputation has earned the elderly woman "Beatrice" the title of "Matron Mother" and "Queen of the Slums". They say she knows all and sees all, but she is very hard to find, and she rarely speaks or intervenes. Beatrice is in search of someone she calls "The Avatar of the Ladybomb". Her reasons are her own. Nobody dares challenge or disrespect the Matron Mother.
Thirsty Steed is a Chain of Taverns and venues. Every district has at least one. They all look the same. As the song goes:
It was indeed a thirsty steed
With brittle bones and marrow
Twas left to croak with wagon yoked
And never found its fellow
It walked and walked until it chalked
It's enough to make one think
How you can lead a thirsty steed
But never make it drink
A warrior death cult fixated on body modifications (specifically of the cyborg nature) and understanding every aspect of death (including the most efficient ways to deliver it). They worship at the Altar of Zeitgeist, which is the philosophy that thinks reality can be whatever a large enough group of people believe it is. Many people, hungry for purpose, are coming into this radical religion. Tho it contributes the most fierce champions that the Citadel has seen in decades, it is watched with a careful eye by The Prophet's Committee so as to not become the zeitgeist in pursuit of understanding the zeitgeist.
199.9mf, STFU The Ladybomb Pirate Network.
This is a Pirate radio station that promotes anarchy and rock & roll. They seem to know way more about things than they let on, and talk in an esoteric code, but TPC nor FIELD can never find their station. Music is sound. Sound is vibes. Vibes are Power
Dr. Warthrop is a TPC committee member and a hermit. His study is focused on blood, and its effects on people. He wishes to study vampirism, climate change, and tomes of ancient knowledge to unlock the power of the human genome. He has a vision of a mutant master race, but unlike George Jones, Dr. Warthrop keeps his unorthodoxy under the radar.
A House of Elvish numerologists and astrologers. They've probably solved the pandemic 6 different ways by now and have their escape plans ready, but they'd never fix the world, just so they could watch and study the end times. Similar to freemasonry mysticism, These clock workers have turned mathematical precision into cryptic poetic pantheons, and over time, worship the symbols they've created more than the knowledge it was meant to represent.
The Prophet's Committee is the "board of directors" for the Citadel, and they make decisions based on the Prophet's will. To gain a seat on the committee, you must first survive the GAUNTLET and then submit your realm of expertise to the TCP, and then be voted on by current committee members.
Other Notable Aspects of the World:
Items of significance: MacGuffins, Wild Gates, Bloody Letters, Tomes of War.
Souls are captured and stored by MacGuffins. They cannot be shared. Only by killing can Souls be Syphoned. Souls act as a primary resource while Heroes run the GAUNTLET. There is a minimum requirement needed to escape. If the requirements are not met, oftentimes the Harvesters will attack one another in order to take their ally's souls to survive.
Flora and Fauna:
Rats are called Fish, and Fishermen are trappers who brave the Aqueducts below. Other foods are conjured by Culinary Guilds. Most of the city utilizes Urban Farming. Most animals are extinct, and only learned about in artists' renderings of picture books. Most animals are an enigma in the minds of young people who have never seen them, and as such, many gangs wear animal masks with the same curious obsession that we may feel about dinosaurs. However, there have been stories about underground laboratories that are housing exotic animals.
Systems of Government/Magic
Similar to North Korea, where people never speak ill of their government. TPC and Bastion Guard enforce a curfew and restrict travel between districts. Most people are faithful to the prophet, but his lack of personal leadership has left much room for corruption among the government ranks.
Brands are ideologies. Religions and cult fanatics come and go as fast as modern trends do. New heroes rise and fall constantly, and people are always wanting the NEXT idea or philosophy that will save them from this nightmare.
The Meta Narrative follows the planet as a dying deity. The overarching theme is that the body is decaying, and the brain has not realized it is dead. The Aspects of the world follow the themes of the Seven main Chakras, with the prophet at his lotus tower (Sahasrara) and the dormant LADYBOMB awaiting Kundalini to awaken with the root (Muladhara) and ascend to the throne. I call this "Severed Spine Theory", which goes as far back as nearly any story where the princess is always in another castle. It is an esoteric tale about the dysphoric "feedback" shock of the body and mind separated by sudden death. It is the story we always tell again and again and again, as we process our own mortality and the purpose of our existence.
This is the story we always tell in fantasy, except mine is with a bit of self-aware humor and focuses on an exploration of Zeitgeist, and how it distracts us from enlightenment, even if that enlightenment is the end of all things. We tell these fantasies until we reach the limits of our mind, which defaults to the Lovecraftian abyss and insanity beyond the structure of Spine theory. It's in our DNA, our bones... it is the snake on our back. The Ouroboros is in our game design. It is hidden subconsciously in our stories and our faiths since the beginning of our collective being, encoded for survival. In my world, that code for survival is quite literal, and it stands outside the gates of the walls you've built, waiting to consume you into enlightenment.
Forgive the video below. It was already made for a very small group of people who were already immersed, and it borrows a lot from copyrighted material as homage, even tho my story can stand on its own. skip to 23:48 to learn more! (SPOILERS!)
@TableTopProphet just FYI, the broken image links in your submission are an Imgur thing. They don't allow their images to be directly embedded, so you'll have to click them individually to see the images.
Thanks for submitting!
@FlamingUnicron alternative suggestions for image upload?
@TableTopProphet you should be able to use the image upload functionality here, which the second-to-last button on the right-hand side of the editor. Is that not working for you?
@8BitKid it is! i just didn't want to fill your beautiful site with my pngs, and i didn't want to resize them. I'll give it a shot! thx.
@TableTopProphet Dear lord...where to start. I mean, first off, bravo. This is very in-depth and obviously a labor of love with countless hours of content creation time put into it, and crafted with care and a desire to really immerse players. I like the various musical queues that are linked throughout, but feel that some of the names are a bit generic. Maybe consider flavoring some of the names of locations? (for instance; Underdark is a well-established D&D setting in their Forgotten Realms).
Overall this is quite interesting and would be a fun multi-media storytelling experience.
@SerasStreams I agree but my logic is that names are better off fixed in production. in fact they are generic for the point that they are archetypes and simpler to follow along. If "Kingdoms of Amulur: Reckoning" taught me anything... it's to keep the names simple. I'm no Tolkien. haha