Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Into the Labyrinth: Musings on the Monsters Within

Last week, I talked about labyrinth and the Skairos.  I've been hard at work writing up the labyrinth as an environment.  But once I had done so, I found myself pondering the dangers of the environment, especially the monsters therein.  These things are all tied together, so I can discuss one element, but it's hard to fully explain without exploring all of it, but we'll have to take this one step at a time.

One of those steps was thinking about the Skairos, which we already did last week, but in particular, the Skairos as Monsters.  What sort of weaknesses do they have and what sort of motivations do they have? If we were playing a monster hunting game and trying to kill one of the Skairos, what would that scenario look like, while remaining true to the lore we've already created.

This creates a bit of a condundrum, though: are the Skairos actually monsters? I find the best metaphor for them to be the fair folk, as they tend to be "dark mirrors" of Maradonian society, just as the fae tended to be "dark mirrors" of medieval European society.  But in another sense, they're also the angels of the Akashic Order: it is from them that the Akashic Order learned to explore deep time and to transcend temporal limits in their Shadow Councils.  But at the same time, during the tumultuous origins of the Akashic Order, the colonists of Persephone were being killed by the things within the Labyrinth.  Indeed, much of the Akashic Order's imagery are things meant to protect the Order from the Skairos.  Their gargoyles at their temples are meant to "ward away" the monsters of the labyrinth, and while the veiled eyes of the Akashic Oracles might serve as a convenient way to allow a Skairos to slip into their midst, it might also act as a form of protection, a way of tricking some things into thinking the Oracle is Skairos, or it could be a way of protecting the oracle from making eye contact with something.

So, what conclusions can we draw from all of this to work out how our sci-fi time-lost race, how you kill them, and why you'd want to.

Are the Skairos Angels or Devils?

If we think of the Skairos as "like the Fair Folk," then the answer to the above question is "Yes."  The Skairos have the capacity to both help and hurt humanity.  And, I would expect, even the most benevolent would have the capacity to be evil enough that one would seek to destroy them.

I would rather leave the specifics of what the Skairos are and what they come from largely undefined, the sort of thing one speculates on in theory posts and creates a personal head-canon about, but I think the easiest way to model their motivations would be this: They are time-travelers from a distant future whose future is tied very strongly to the actions of humanity and have come back in time to ensure their own creation in the future.

(There are other possible models.  They could be parachronic travelers trying to "shift the quantum state" of the Psi-Wars timeline closer to theirs so they can colonize it, and the closer it gets, the more powerful their labyrinths are.  Or they could be an especially ancient race who have the capacity to see very, very far into the future, and see a few minor options for their return to a golden age of galactic dominion. Or they're literally just mirrors of us, reflections created by the time-manipulating shenanigans of the Akashic Order, hence their obsession with humanity is actually our own obsession with us, and why their technology never seems better than ours.  But the above model works well for creating an obvious sense of how their motivations work).

Thus, the goal of the Skairos is to ensure their specific, desired future happens.  But which future?  Well, let's break it down into three camps, since I like doing things in threes.

  • The White Court: This future is the familiar future.  A human race devoted to the Akashic Order listens to their wisdom and reshapes itself along lines devoted to a central, politically- and psychically-powerful emperor.  This humanity overcomes the Coming Storm and becomes the foundation for an enlightened, subservient society that spawns a crystal-spires-and-togas version of the Skairos.  These Skairos seek cooperation with humanity, but a humanity carefully controlled by the Akashic Order.
  • The Black Court: This might be the origins of the corrupted Akashic heretics.  Perhaps the desired future here is a galaxy dominated by a corrupt and degenerate humanity, one stripped of the protective insights of the Akashic Order.  This group does not want to see humanity falter or fail to control the galaxy, but to dominate it and then become weak enough that the Skairos can later overthrow them and take control of them.  This Skairos seeks to corrupt humanity, undermine the Akashic Order, but not so much that control of the Galaxy is lost.
  • The Red Court: In this version of the future, humanity overcomes the Coming Storm on their own, without help from the Akashic Order or the Skairos.  When the Skairos "return" or "arrive," humanity is instrumental in destroying them.  This faction seeks the total destruction of humanity.

This helps explain why you might see the Akashic Order both embrace and fear the Skairos.  They are the source of the Akashic Order's power, but also its greatest enemy.  This also suggests some infighting among the Skairos, which might be more complicated than we need, but at least it gives the GM a few options to play with.  In a sense, I see the Skairos as highly individualized based on the GM's needs.  They are an enemy of quantum uncertainty about whom multiple contradictory things are true.  The above model helps emphasize this.

Shades of Peril

But I keep finding myself returning to the concept of the temporal shadow as the primary peril of the labyrinth.  These "ghosts" might represent beings on the edge of our timeline trying to push in. They're trying to make their timeline, and thus themselves, real. Until then, they're intangible, extra-dimensional beings pushing on the edges of our reality.

These seem to be the real threat. These are the things most driven the manipulate and control reality, so they can properly manifest.  And there's likely a relationship between shades and Skairos, in that a shade is a Skairos who hasn't yet made its way into the world. 

The original "Skairos-as-ghosts" write-up had material on them "dissolving" people by stealing their reality and then using it to step into reality.  A more interesting option might be "Castling," where they "trade spots" with someone under specific circumstances.  They can find some way to draw you into their timeline, they can trade places with you.  This means that some shades aren't Skairos at all, but human. If you let one of these Time Shades into the world, you might get a person instead of a monster, perhaps even an ancient, time-lost person.

If we're going to accept people-as-time-ghosts, this opens up quite a few new possibilities.  What about alternate timeline versions of you?  An evil twin, or a fetch, who wants a particular Skairosian timeline to come into being because then they, too, will be in the timeline.  Perhaps they seek to replace you, and sometimes people go into the Labyrinth and "come back changed" because they've been replaced.  These temporal shadows might be other things too, things that the Skairos fight, the other monsters of the labyrinth.  We might also see "after images" of Oracles who are "walking the Labyrinth;" perhaps those journeys aren't entirely in their own mind, but actually expressed as remote experiences in a physical place.

So these seem ripe as the primary "monsters" that the Akashic Order seeks to protect the world against. And their motivation is clear: they want in.

How do you kill the Skairos?

So, we have some imagery and some ideas about the monsters that might act as our primary antagonists.  What sort of weaknesses would "monster hunters" use against them?

The Labyrinth Trap: For ghosts, at least, it seems that the structure of the labyrinth itself is what allows these temporal shades to exist.  It's only within the labyrinth that the walls of time grow thin enough to allow these shenanigans to take place. This explains why the colonists of Persephone weren't overrun with monsters until they started exploring the tunnels, and even if something serving the Skairos were to "come out," the goal would always be to pull the hapless victim into the labyrinth.  Thus, the labyrinth itself acts as a "trap."  The patterns of it might further act as a trap for labyrinthine creations that are outside (or possibly even inside) the labyrinth.

Gargoyles: So, we know the Akashic Order protect themselves with images of "the Devils of Persephone."  This might be symbolic, but I think this might be good fodder for a weakness, especially for the temporal shadows.  It seems likely that the temporal shadows don't "see" or "interact" with the world the way the rest of us do, and perhaps the "skairosian beast" are dangerous to these ghosts, and thus they naturally tend to fear them and are easily fooled into retreating from them.  Alternatively, perhaps the presence of one of these beasts, or its psychically resonant facsimile in statue form, force the ghost into a state where it can be struck or attacked.

Veils: The original reason for the veils of the Akashic Order was to create symbolism for others, as well as an easy way for one of the Skairos to sneak into the order.  But perhaps the veils do more than that.  Perhaps the subtle placement of cloth blinds the time shadows, or prevents them from making attacks that require your direct site to work.  Perhaps the blind are safer from temporal shadows than the seeing are.

Noise: One of the themes of the fae is their vulnerability to "church bells."  This rather makes sense for the Skairos, as they're all blind and thus plausibly have sensitive ears. 

The Written Word: Less a vulnerability and more of a blind spot.  If the Skairos are blind, how do they read?  Does awareness let you pick up letters from a page?  Possibly, but it might be interesting to speculate that they interact with written mediums differently.  They might see meaning rather than words and it's possible to deceive them with clever wording.  Their written language might more closely resemble the chimes of the Wankh of the Planet of Adventure: a set of complex symbolism that exemplified concepts, meaning, rather than specific semantics.  The Akashic Tarot might be based upon this language, preparing those who learn Fortune Telling to read the Skairosian language.

Iron?: Fair Folk tend to be vulnerable to iron, and their technology resembles ours, except for being more beautiful, but more fragile against "cold iron."  Can we imagine an equivalent for our Skairosian technology?  What sort of material can humanity wield against time shadows and the Skairos to drive them back?  Episteel?  Diamondoid? Was the Force Sword and Diamondoid armor conceived as a way of defeating the Skairos, or a gift from them to us?  I'd need to think about this one.

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