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"not supernatural but SUBnatural" Topic

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doc mcb17 Nov 2012 4:54 a.m. PST

Letters between the archdruid and his research director on the -- I almost said "nature" -- on the characteristics and source of the undead minions of the Vasty Vault. I expect this will go into sidebars for those who are interested in the cosmology of the Splintered Lands.

Comments and critiques are welcome; Maereth is a bit of an unimaginative academic plodder.

Your Wisdom,

While I am honored by your tasking me to chair the College's inquiry into the nature of the Vasty Vault (V-V), I am concerned that we will be unable to give you any clear or useful answer. The V-V is Nihilism, which means Nothingness, and you seem to be asking me to tell you the nature of nothing. I'm not sure I can accommodate you.



I KNOW nihil means nothing; I had the same language classes you did. But the undead we are fighting are real enough, and they are either filled with something or emptied of something. I'm asking you to figure out WHAT. The disease may be Nothingness but its symptoms are skeletons and zombies and vampires and wraiths; if we can't cure the disease yet, we deal with the symptoms and ask: What do they tell us about the underlying problem? Stop whining and get on it.


Your Wisdom,

As you suggested, we have tried to analyze the undead. They are not alive. Their bodies are dead but do things (such as walk around) that the dead don't do but the living can. Whatever accounts for this unnatural existence must come from the Vasty Vault. But if V-V is Nothingness, which is NOT EXISTENCE, how do the undead that it affects exist?

So the undead seem to be a mixture of something natural the bodies with something not natural that allows or makes them to act unnaturally but acting requires existing. On one hand we have the natural world life and death both exist but not together and on the other we have something NOT, the Void, the Vasty Vault, Nothingness. And in the middle a mixture that should not be, any more than the Void should be or is?

Is this at all helpful? Because to me it seems to be going around in a circle. Or several circles.

One question that does occur to us is the cause-and-effect relation between the undead and V-V. It seems a bit "chicken-and-egg"; does the intrusion of the V-V into our natural world create undead (if we can use "create" for what V-V does ) or does the existence of the undead somehow draw or pull the V-V into our world? Because the undead surely replicate, surely make more of themselves. Doesn't that in turn make the V-V stronger? And if we eliminated all the undead, would THAT make V-V weaker?


Your Wisdom:

You are no doubt familiar with the claims of the Godfearers of Logres that their Gifts are from a supernatural power. That notion challenges our thinking, but it also suggests the possibility that something might be SUBnatural. The supernatural would transcend the natural, including it but then going beyond it. A power that resurrects, that restores something dead to full life, must be supernatural.

But the undead are not restored to anything. Instead, the processes of their natural deaths are somehow interrupted. Their dead bodies do not decay; that is SUB-natural. They retain SOME of the characteristics of life mobility and "muscle memory" but have lost others.

Skeletons, being emotionless automata completely under the will of the necromancer, have lost all their intellect and emotions and appetites; zombies retain some of their appetites or emotions (hatred, hunger, etc.) but not their intellect. Some force some SUBNATURAL force makes them act while blocking many of their natural functions.

(One further question is whether necromancers animate skeletons the same way shamans do, drawing on natural mana and requiring a LOT of it since we are acting in opposition to "the way things naturally are." We assume that necromancers get their power from the Vasty Vault, and perhaps need less of it to animate skeletons or create and control zombies.)

The "higher undead" and perhaps we should be saying the LOWER undead? including vampires and embodied wraiths retain their intellect and will, and they are nearly invulnerable to non-magic weapons. We presume, first, that they require a far larger amount of V-V power to exist and function. The invulnerability seems perhaps to fall into the same category as preventing decay; normal weapons are somehow prevented from doing normal damage. That is, does the vampire somehow "heal" or reconstitute his tissue as the sword cuts it? Or does his power somehow blunt or turn the sword? Interviewing our soldiers who have fought vampires with normal weapons and survived if we can find any might answer this. And why does fire natural fire have full effect?

Why do natural spirits fight vamps and wraiths at full power? Are evil spirits from V-V the same as ours, except for moral orientation? Or are they fundamentally different? If so how?

Seems like the more questions we answer, the more new ones we find.

Maereth, for the committee

Your Wisdom:

On further reflection, we wonder how skeletons MOVE? They have no muscles, just bones. By magic, obviously, but what is the relation between the magic at its source and the skeletons? If V-V is chaos and the void, it presumably has no structure, no order. We suggest that the bones provide the structure that the subnatural V-V otherwise lacks. This would explain why the skeletons can only perform actions that they knew how to do while alive. The skeletons (even though they are obviously physical but subnatural, remember) aren't "real" and are not what we are really fighting; they are the framework for otherwise inchoate V-V power. When our warriors "drive back" a skeleton unit, they don't retreat, but rather disintegrate. That's the V-V power rebounding onto its source. The necromancer can reconstitute the skeletons our fighters report this happening often but at a cost in power. This also explains why spirits fight undead at full effect; they aren't REALLY fighting the undead but their sustaining magic. It also explains why magic weapons harm vampires and embodied wraiths.


Chef Lackey Rich Fezian Inactive Member17 Nov 2012 6:39 a.m. PST

A response from a more experienced field operative:

You Wisdom

Maereth seems to have overlooked the fact that not only skeletons are animated via magic. They may be the most obvious example, but zombies and even vampires are similarly empowered.

Dissection testing of restrained zombies indicates that the presence or absence of actual muscle and connective tissue is irrelevant to their continued activity. Even amputation of an extremity sometime leaves the severed appendage capable of limited motion for some time afterward. Only total dismemberment, destruction of the brain, or decapitation is effective in achieving a rapid and complete de-animation. It remains unclear as to why damage to the brain (which is often little more than a mass of rotted pulp) is particularly effective, but experiments with trepanning indicate that it is the brain and not the skull itself that is the key.

Similarly, examination and interrogation of the vampire we briefly held captive last autumn indicates that a vampire's muscles are not the source of his inhuman strength, nor are all of his bones required to retain a full range of movement. Vampiric flesh is uncommonly tough and heals wounds from conventional instruments swiftly, but this regenerative ability fails when deprived to of regular feedings. This indicates that the animating force is not wholly external, and that some process occurs within the body that requires both blood and a relatively intact heart muscle.

In both cases, it is likely that the physical body of the undead is acting as a template or pattern for necromantic energies to act upon. Skeletons are little more than marionettes, dancing at the will of their masters. Zombies are more durable and capable of limited volition, perhaps due to the stronger sympathetic magic of their more intact forms. Vampires are stronger still and their bodies can almost pass for the living, especially shortly after feeding. This may indicate that the closer to life an undead form is, the greater its power but the bodiless wraiths appear to invalidate that argument. Can it be willpower rather than corporeal form that is truly relevant here?

Inquisitor Quorex

doc mcb17 Nov 2012 7:03 a.m. PST


Yes indeed! Bodiless wraiths may be "pieces" of the Vasty Vault itself. They can embody in a LIVING being -- elf or human or such, or perhaps even a plant -- without killing the host but imbuing it with invulnerability to non-magical weapons. These embodied wraiths may or not be considered
"undead" but are surely the most dangerous of V-V's minions -- even more so than vampires. Vamps can turn sentients into such as themselves, but wraiths can also replicate themselves, and are not dependent on feeding (other than normal nutrition to keep the body going).

Disembodied wraiths act like spirits, but seem to be the opposite of the natural spirits we shamans command. They are "anti-spirits." But they do seem to suffer the same reduction in power against mortal bodies. So they gain effectiveness by dominating some living thing.

Athdarch, Archdruid

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