"If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one. Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds...."
J. Robert Oppenheimer
The Thunderhead War of '85
In early spring of the year 185, some twenty years before the present time, Locastus, City of Mirrors, were sorely pressed in the ongoing campaign against the invaders from the North. The city itself were threatened by seige after an unexpected incursion of troops from the ancient Witchocracy of Ur-Kaol, the Northern Hegemon, had reoccupied the city of Akelor - and in so doing, had gained a strategic staging ground for their continued warfare to the south of the Thunderhead mountain range.
With control over one of the largest passes through the mighty Thunderheads, the Hag-Sworn armies, supplemented by many summoned abominations and alien entities, were able to quickly muster the strength for a final, inexorable strike on Locastus. The Locastrian forces, decimated and retreating in disarray across the plains, were woefully inadequate to stop the advance of the invading horde - and the sheer speed of the assault made a recall of overseas troops (among them Hinge's Maul Rats, engaged in territory annectation in the sub-continent of Nascogiba) impossible, there just wasn't any more time. The enemy was already at the door.
However, in Locastus itself, in the deeply buried, heavily fortified and warded laboratories of the Institute of Military Research, a desperate plan was taking shape, a last-ditch effort to turn the tide of war in the face of the enemy. For several years, since the renewal of hostilities with the Hegemon began, Dr Jeremiah Greyleaf and a small team of highly specialized technicians had been developing a weapon to end all wars, a true doomsday machine, a mechanism of destructive power on a magnitude the world had not yet seen.
And now, in the darkest hour of Locastus's existence, under the threat to the city itself, Greyleaf's project was given near-unlimited resources and hastened to a completion. The project, fast-tracked from pure academia to functional prototype in less than a month, was codenamed "Lighthammer".
Despite Dr. Greyleaf's many personal quirks a periodic alcoholic with a nasty temper and a history of mental disorder he proved equal to the challenge. It is said he cloistered himself in the assembly hall for several weeks, never coming out and demanding that food was left on a tray outside the door.
After twenty-two days, he emerged from his workshop, drawn and rumpled-looking, but with a wild energy dancing behind his eyes and announced to his superiors: "Gentlemen, I give you the Conversion Device".
Without another word, Greyleaf left the Institute for his modest town house, where he was found the following morning, dead. He had shot himself.
On a notepad found close to his body was scrawled his last words: "I am become death, a slayer of worlds".
The Conversion Device
Within Greyleaf's assembly bay, amidst scraps of rotting food and empty beer bottles, floor and walls covered in minutely detalied blueprints and equations, were found four innocous-looking devices, lined up neatly on a hastily cleared area of workbench. Each of these identical devices was a perfect, dark metallic sphere, roughly the size of a human head, but inordinately heavy in comparison to their size. Around these devices, the air quivered with a haze reminiscent of a heat shimmer.
When viewed through a pair of Aether Goggles, one could observe an incredibly dense, intricate knot of thaumaturgical energy flows behind the metallic shell, and if probed by an Aetherometer, the readings went off the chart. Anyone with any level of Talent approaching these devices could feel the heavily oppressive potential within these spheres, like an infernal butterfly still in its pupae, but dreaming of sucking the marrow of the world. Whatever it was that Greyleaf had constructed, it had power - of a kind hitherto unknown.
With the devices, Greyleaf had left neatly ordered instructions of how to prime and deploy his devices - which in his diary he referred to as his sons. It also became apparent he had given each device individual names: Ultor, Malum, Pernix and Acerbus.
Careful deciphering of Greyleaf's body of research revealed that the nature of the Conversion Weapons lay in creating a destabilizing effect in reality itself, acting as a catalyst for a dissolution of physical existence that ripples outwards in space-time from the point of detonation. Based on an extrapolation of the Conversion Unit used in, for example, Dirge Maces, it was capable of channeling mundane energy in such a manner that it could apply pressure to the fabric of the universe itself, fraying (and possibly tearing) it.
However, no mention of the effective range and persistance of this effect was ever found. It was also obvious that Greyleaf had destroyed several key documents, preventing full comprehension of the device, but also effectively blocking any possibility of making more of its kind. In his terminal madness (or perhaps through divine intervention), Greyleaf had made sure that the world would get no more of his Conversion Bombs.
With time running out, with the enemy's muster reaching its final stages, the Locastrian High Command had no choice but to trust blindly in Greyleaf's instructions and use the weapon in the manner he had suggested.
The Akelor Event
On the thirty-third day of the Season of Dust, the Locastrian High Command finally deployed their untried new weapon. Intelligence forwarded by far-ranging scouts and Blimp Dragon aerial reconnoisance told of a massive troop influx into the enemy camp at Akelor that could only mean one thing: the Horned Paladin, inhuman general of the Witchocracy's armies, had arrived to supervise in person the invasion of the Southern lands.
Mounted on a paraffin/nitrous oxide two-stage rocket delivery system cobbled together for this very occasion, and transported to its launch site by railroad, the Conversion Warhead its creator had named Ultor, was launched on the city of Akelor from a distance of eighty-seven miles. Sixteen minutes later, after a flawlessly calculated trajectory, it activated at an altitude of 200 feet above the city of Akelor.
The Locastrian Blimp Dragon Avanesse, serving as aerial scout, and keeping back below equatorial line-of sight, reported no apparent blast or shockwave, only a flash of light and, upon gaining altitude, an obscuring bank of fog coalescing around the Akelor valley. Upon recieving the go for a closer inspection flyby, the Blimp Dragon reported the bank of fog languidly spreading out from ground zero, pushing remnants of the Hegemon armies before it, running like madmen. Unfortunately, cornered by unfavourable winds, Avanesse was, shortly afterwards, engulfed by the advancing cloudbank.
Transmission terminated forty-one seconds later, amid screams and unpleasant gristly, tearing sounds. The nature of the fate that befell the Avanesse's 12-man crew is still unknown.
Study of the few Notherners that had managed to escape the Weapon's effects were inconclusive. Few remained sane and communicative, and no one could, with any degree of detail, describe what had taken place within the blast epicentre. Many exhibited strange disorders and injuries, such as pieces of their equipment fused to their flesh, glowing tumors sprouting from their bodies and, in some cases, their flesh becoming increasingly insubstantial, fading gradually into nothingness, amidst much panic and fear.
The Akelor valley, now deemed a contaminated zone and impassable to anyone, was quickly cordoned off by Locastrian forces, after a few unsuccessful attempts had been made to penetrate the cloud, and invariably ending in platoons lost, mad or horrifically altered.
Although the Akelor Event conclusively ended the war with the Witchocracy, slaying the lion part of its forces and summoned entities, along with its annointed champion, the Horned Paladin, for Locastus, the relief was momentary.
The effects of the Conversion Weapon had radically changed the weather patterns south of the Thunderheads, opening previously snow-locked passes in the surrounding massifs.
Within a year, Locastus again would be under seige, this time from migrating barbaric semi-human tribes that welled into the Southern lands through these new routes, fleeing the violent flash floods and hurricanes set off on their homeland by the Akelor event.
However, this time, The Locastrian High Command had recalled its most able commanders and best troops to defend its heartland, and an armistice was, eventually, negotiated, with the tribes assimilated under Locastrian rule. During this, secondary conflict, the use of one of the remaining Conversion Weapons were not even discussed, by anybody.
Akelor and its surrounding valley remains shrouded by its otherworldly bank of fog to this day, only it's once great towers poking through the unnatural cloud cover. At night, the fog is lit from within by an eldritch light, and if one listenes closely, one can hear inhuman gibbers and screams from within.
Soon after the military cordon were enforced, a fortified scÃence camp was established at the mouth of the Akelor valley, dedicated to the study of the strange and terrible effects of the Conversion Weapon. Short, heavily armed expeditions into the contaminated zone has yielded evidence of a massively altered wildlife and flora under the static cloud cover.
The general consensus is that the Conversion Warhead tore a hole in the skein that separates this world from the next, allowing some of the strange, alien beings that inhabit these dimensions to pass through into our world.
The once great city of Akelor, wreathed in dense, murderous mists are now populated by meat-eating tentacle-trees, protozoae the size of horses and herds of once-humans, twisted and perverted charicatures of men. The once-fertile plains surrounding the city is now just a hardpan of congealed dust and ashes over which fleet-footed, nightmarish creatures hunt each other, and insatiable tentacled horrors lie in wait beneath the surface.
At the centre of the city, perfectly aimed, lies the Conversion device, still functional, still distorting reality around itself, keeping open the portal into the vastly alien realm of Nerak Keltu, until such a time as someone, brave enough to dare the monsters and insidious effects of this cursed place, can penetrate into the city itself and deactivate it.
The Remaining Warheads
In a hidden, incredibly well-warded chamber deep beneath the Locastrian Military Armory (itself a part of the High Command headquarters), in niches sealed beneath sheets of lead crystal (to repell Cog Devils), rests the remaining Conversion Devices.
If one could, by some incredible feat of stealth and cat-burglar skills, gain access to this vault, one would, faintly, at the edge of detection, hear the devices whirring and clicking away contently as their meta-clockwork continue to hum along, keeping them primed and ready for such a time as they might be used. By all accounts they are as dangerous today as they were when they were constructed, twenty years ago, and no one has ever, ever tried to dismantle any of them.
One would also notice, beside each niche, a stamped brass plaque bearing the name of the Device within.
First in the row, reads the plaques, rests Pernix, then Acerbus.. But the third niche, the one supposed to hold Malum, is empty. If our hypothetical master burglar realizes the significance of this, he will undoubtedly be smart enough to understand that he is now, in one way or another, a dead man. There are SOME secrets that some very serious people are very intent on them staying a secret, so if he is an intelligent man (which he must be, or he'd never gotten this far), he will now make his retreat from this chamber, taking nothing and leaving no trace. Particularly leaving no trace.
The Secret of the Acaste
Unbeknowst to the general public, a second Conversion Warhead was deployed on that fateful day, twenty years ago. Acting against the wishes of the Concilium, the Locastrian High Command had decided to end the Witchocracy threat once and for all.
In the wake of the Akelor Event, carrying the warhead Malum, the military Blimp Dragon Acaste was sent on a long-range mission to deploy the weapon over Ur-Kaol, the cyclopean jumble of ruins that serves as the Witchocracy's capital, on the northern side of the mighty Thunderheads.
However, caught in the after effects of the detonation of Ultor, Acaste was blown off course and lost. The last trace of the Blimp Dragon and its dangerous cargo is an emergency transmission some twenty hours later, quickly silenced. After that, no trace of the Acaste or Ultor has ever been found.
It is generally believed that the Blimp Dragon crashed somewhere in the maze-like high valleys and crevasses or the Upper Thunderheads. Although many (incredibly secret) expeditions has been mounted at theoretical crash sites, not a shred of evidence has ever been found of the Dragon or its cargo.
One thing is certain, though: Malum was never detonated, and the worst case scenario, the one that makes the movers and shakers of Locastus wake up in a sweat, is that there is a fully functioning Conversion Device still there, on the side of a peak in the Thunderheads, for the Witchocracy to find.
I thought I'd do something different for this sub, and actually include some plot hooks. OK, they're rather obvious, but exploitable. I'm thinking I might sit down and write an official Locastus adventure one of these days, and I might just use what I've done in this sub.
Atmosphere is important here, I feel... I'm looking for something that just smacks of doomsday machines, Trinity tests, Manhattan Projects and post-bomb Hiroshima and Nagazaki. Im after the War is hell feel, a double serving of futility with cynicism sauce and a sprinkling of dark humor.
I want sarcastic project names and lots and lots of angst over building and deploying a doomsday device.
OK, first plot hook is simple: Go to the Akelor Zone, sneak past the cordon, battle a gazillion monsters into Akelor itself and then find a way to deactivate the Device, preferrably without mutating too much yourself. See, simple. Just remember to avoid the house sized bacteriae that you go mad if you look at. Other than that, its a walk in the park.
Second plot hook: Go find the Acaste and its payload, lost somewhere in the rugged mountain terrain. Oh, and find it before those Witchocracy guys find it. You know, the ones we dropped the first bomb on?
By the way, I am a great fan of Oppenheimer. I stole a little of his essence to make this sub, but I dont think he'd mind.
Any sort of steampunk at all from thaumatech to simple old-fashioned steamtech.
Wind up your imaginations and start the kettle boiling!
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? Responses (12)-12
I just have to say: well done.
The head researcher killing himself reminds me of the last frame of this comic: http://community.livejournal.com/scans_daily/4611731.html
Once again, I am stunned by your mastery of prose. I really love your submissions. They're always beautiful pieces of wordcraft. Very nicely done.
Sidethought: can the creatures exist outside of the cloud bank? I would assume that certain ones couldn't, due to the nature of various realities, but others very well might. That could be an iiiiiinteresting plot hook. Woo for "The Mist".
This is an awesome idea, as is the notion that the devices can be 'shut down' and potentially reused; a sufficiently callous government could send expendables into the wild zone until one of them finally managed to shut the device down, and then move the normal army in to mop up the remaining disaster.
This has given me an idea for another weapon. Hopefully I can find the time to work on it between novel-writing and work.
Magical nuclear weapons. 5/5
At-mo-sphere. Or At-mos-fear? Excellent sub, Ouruboros. You receive two thumbs and thirty one tentacles up.
Wow this is one amazing sub, just imagine what the witchocracy would do with its lethal payload.
That is simply just disturbing
As is the source: there isn't much that rivals complete and utter annihilation of millions of souls in the space of a few seconds. It's a devastatingly horrifying thought. I think Ouro captured that feel quite nicely.
Man, this is quite awesome and fits your world perfectly! Glad you are back posting!
Thanks for all your kind words, my friends. Yes, what I envisaged the contaminated zone to be is like something from "The Mist", full of weird monsters and unseen horrors. And, of couse, the way Mieville, in Perdido Street Station, describes the city of Suroch, after a "Torque bomb" has been detonated over it. The term "cockroach tree" paints a neat picture...
I thought of that almost as soon as I read the effects of the weapon. Locastus gets a Cacotopic Stain that i might, eventually, manage to shut down again! How lovely for them, if only it weren't nearly impossible to get to the device causing it.
...Hey, is that an Inchman over there?