Ghost Story -- "Welcome to Hell"
by
Wyldcard



Come on, kid. Follow me, and don't wander off. Just be glad that I found you, and that I'm going to let you know about what the real deal is here.

Who am I? For now, let's just get to some shelter, away from prying eyes, and I'll tell you everything. Trust me on this. Let's go, before something else finds you.

Good, you managed to keep up. Name's Cassidy. Dick Cassidy, Private Eye. I'm going to be your guide to the Underworld. What do I mean, "the Underworld"? Well... there's no easy way to put this. You're dead. Whether you were killed in a drive-by, knocked down on your way to school, or thought "fuck the world" and sliced your wrists open, your body's long gone. But your soul... your soul had something to hold on to. Something you couldn't just let go. And so, instead of passing into nothingness, you're here.

Hell. I should have thought you weren't going to believe me. See this table? It's a real table. Solid mahogany. You can feel it, if you want. But, to prove I'm a ghost, I'm going to put my hand straight through it.

There. That wasn't so hard. I can see it now, in your eyes. You might not want to believe, but you know it's true. Aw, Christ. Calm down. Remember to breathe. You don't have to, not here, but it will calm you down.

Better? I hope so. As I said, you're dead. But you had something you couldn't do without, something that made you yell out 'I can't be having with this'. So, you became a ghost. Life sucks, nothing goes right, you're brought screaming into the world, housed somewhere that's never warm enough and all your mother does is make you depressed, make you cry... and then someone reaches down, flips the big off-switch inside you, and it's all over. Except it isn't. You came here instead.

Here... This is the Underworld. Most people call this part the Shadowlands. It's not quite the real world, but it's close. Depressingly, damnably close. If you look hard enough, you can see real people walking by. Maybe your mother. Maybe your wife. But all you can do is look. If you try too hard to touch, all you get is what I just did with the table. You go straight through them, and they never notice. Another thing. Don't look too closely. Because we've been through death, crossed through the Shroud, what we see is tainted by our experiences. The newer ghosts call that the Deathsight. We can see if one of the Quick is close to death. Yeah, I called them the Quick. I think it's some kind of gallows humor, from that film, 'The Quick and the Dead'.

The Shadowlands aren't all we have, though. Be very careful, and come with me. You see it there? Like a hole in the floor, sucking you into a storm-tossed place of insanity? That was a Nihil. The best way to think of it is as tears in the Shadowlands. This world we inhabit is so very, very thin that on occasion we get tears down and out, through to the primal, maddening storm of the Tempest. It used to be that we hardly saw them, these days they're coming faster and faster. Stay the hell away from them. There are things in the Tempest that would make your brains leak out of your ears, and though that may not sound so bad, trust me that it is.

There are Islands, in the Tempest, and stable roads. The roads can act as ways from one point in the Shadowlands to another,or to one of the islands. For us, Stygia's the main island, but the best idea is to stay away from it for now. Odds are, someone would snatch you up and take you down to the forges, and that's about the best that could happen.

Look, just shut the fuck up with the questions! I'll get to them when I am good and ready!

What? What'd I say? Damnit, the peanut gallery must have gotten loose again. Seriously, kid. You can ignore the rest of what I say, you can call me insane or whatever the hell you like, but listen to me on this one. Listening? Good.

When you died, the part of you that didn't want to go held on. That's what you are now. But another, smaller part is also within you. It's a part that's always been there, the part of you that you always denied. The part that wanted to lash out at your mother when she wouldn't buy you those new trainers. The part that wanted to punch the jukebox onto something new while you were all set on nailing the bastard that stole your girlfriend. It's within you now. I'm going to bet you can hear it now. Maybe it's whispering, maybe it's shouting. But all that part of you wants to do is to take control. It's called your Shadow, kid. And you're the only one that can fight it if you don't want to become a Spectre.

Okay, okay. A lot of words, a short space of time. 'Ghosts' is a general term for anything that carries on after death. A Wraith is like us, one where the part that's in control wants to carry on. A Spectre is the flip side of that coin. They're the ones that let their Shadows win, and now they are working for Oblivion.

What's Oblivion? That's a tough one. It's the force that is at work throughout the lands of the dead. It's the slow, crawling decay that wants to see everything eaten in the end. Spectres are it's armies, throwing themselves out in suicidal charges, riding on storm winds to kidnap or Harrow as many Wraiths as they can. And your Shadow, however indirectly, works for Oblivion.

Whoah. Slow down, and keep listening. I'll get round to things. Before I can tell you much more, I have to let you know what you are. You're made of memories and emotion. That's what we're all made of. To make it simpler, we call that stuff Plasm. It's hard to do almost anything if you've had chunks torn off your 'body' - your Corpus - and we have other tricks we can use. All of those require energy, energy taken from raw emotion and distilled down into the substance we know as Pathos. Even now, you can use Pathos to heal yourself, were I to tear your arm off or something.

No... You're not thinking straight. You look the way you do because that's how you remember yourself being. Just because I pull off an arm, or a Spectre decides to make a paddle-ball out of your head and spine, you're not going to die again. Well, not directly. Your Corpus can take a lot of punishment, and with Pathos you can heal that. But you can only take so much punishment, before your self image becomes too weak to hold yourself together. Then, you get Harrowed.

A Harrowing, like just about everything else here, is a bad thing. It's where the world changes, and you go somewhere - I don't know where - and your Shadow tries to make you give up and lie down, once and for all. One too many Harrowings will see Oblivion take you and then you won't be coming back.

If you do come back, you'll make it to a Fetter. They're well-named, really... Fetters are our physical ties in the Skinlands, the living worlds. It might be your lover, your favorite bar, or the .45 you used to redecorate the walls with your brains. They're painful reminders of your old life. You can Slumber by them, resting and using the fact that you're close to a part of your old life to refuel your Pathos. And be careful. If you lose a Fetter, you're game for a Harrowing.

The other way to regain Pathos, and the driving force of our very existence, are our Passions. They're the drives, the things we want to do, the things we just have to do. They're what we feel the strongest, and by feeling the same from a nearby being, we can regain Pathos. But, if you find your Passions waning, you can't bring yourself to care about something anymore, and you lose that Passion... welcome to another Harrowing.

One last thing when it comes to Pathos. There is another, darker form. It's called Angst, and it's like Pathos in that your Shadow can use it to make your death more of a hell than it already is. Play into it's hands, and you're going to be rolling in Angst, which will see you with your Shadow in control.

Nobody said that this was going to be easy for you. But there are some things we can do that aren't bad. As you've already seen, we can walk through walls when we need to. We can go through any physical substance we need to, providing it only exists in the Skinlands. As well as the Deathsight, our curse, we also get the benefit of Lifesight. Don't ask why it works, but it does. We can see the life energy in someone, even see what they are feeling if we concentrate hard enough. Add in that dying made our senses sharper than any mortal human's and we do have some good points.

Then, we get to the final good point: Arcanoi. You ever hear talk of things flying around the room, of walls dripping blood or the dead walking the world? Ever wonder if the ghost in the machine and all of these stories of possession could be real? When you die, you usually get some instinctive knowledge of one Arcanos or another. It doesn't really matter which, all of the Dead have them. The Arcanoi used to be taught by the Guilds, but then they decided they wanted more power. Nowadays, the Guilds are more rumor and speculation than anything else.

No, I don't have time to see what Arcanoi you have. That's something you'll have to find out on your own.

One of the Guilds, the Artificers, came up with the whole idea of Soulforging. They melt a soul, destroying its sentience, and rework it into a usable item. Souls are the only currency we have, it's about the only way to make anything down here. Hell, the currency here is in Oboli. One Obolus, is one soul, shaped into a coin. You want something, you pay someone in Oboli. It's that simple. Just be careful you don't end up as one yourself.

Look, I have to run. I'm kinda persona-non-grata around these parts. We can walk and talk, but as soon as I reach the walls, I'm out of here.

The only other objects you're going to find down here are Relics. They're objects that meant a lot to their owners, and were destroyed. We're the ghosts of people, they're the ghosts of objects. No, I've never heard of the ghost of an animal. Never seen one, either. But relics are in damnably short supply, and many need Pathos to do anything other than look pretty. Hence why things are Forged.

Here. We're at the walls. Yes, we have our own cities. See that tower over there? That's the Citadel. It's kind the town hall and then some. It's where this place is ruled from. Everything else tends to radiate out from that, mainly in the buildings that the Quick leave abandoned. And the walls help to keep the Spectres out. And if I'm not lucky, me in.

I'm sorry I have to go, but I must. Try not to get yourself Forged, and maybe we'll see each other again. Welcome to Hell, and try not to get lost.


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