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 The Mask of Winters

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yanamari

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PostSubject: The Mask of Winters   Fri Sep 27, 2013 10:20 am

Mask of Winters
Lord of Thorns
Keeper of The Juggernaut




Height: 7'
First Age Life: Larquen Quen[, Solar, Twilight, sorcerer
Previous Mentor: Kal Bax (foremost authority on Manse construction and design, he was instrumental in the creation of the Invisible Fortress)

The Mask of Winters left the other Deathlords slackjawed when he brazenly attacked and subjugated the Realm satrapy of Thorns, and incidentally made himself the most (in)famous Deathlord in all Creation. For centuries, the Deathlords held a tacit agreement that they would move subtly against Creation, lest they suffer as the Black Heron does or give the living an enemy against whom to unite. Such subtlety became impossible once the Mask seized Thorns. Since then, other Deathlords have scrambled to match his accomplishment—some more capably than others.

Flush with success, the Mask of Winters shows little interest in expansion. Instead, he consolidates his hold over Thorns and stamps out all resistance. He also seems to enjoy worming his way into the politics and diplomacy of the Confederation of Rivers, forcing the heads of other states to accept him as a power with whom they must negotiate. The Mask’s other great interest is destroying his fellow Deathlords. At any given time, nearly half of his substantial number of deathknights operates abroad in elaborate machinations to undermine his rivals. As usual for the Neverborn, the Deathlord’s masters take their time in registering an opinion. Perhaps they tolerate his perfidy because they think the Mask cannot destroy all of his rivals without fatally wounding Creation in the process. Perhaps they’re giving him rope with which to hang himself. Perhaps their dreaming minds have not noticed. The Mask of Winters believes their silence constitutes an endorsement of his pursuit of his great destiny.

The Mask of Winters was once a Twilight Caste named Larquen Quen who survived the Usurpation and did not actually die until centuries after the first 10 Deathlords forged their pacts with the Neverborn. Larquen fled the Usurpation at its onset along with a group of other Solars led by the ancient and illustrious Kal Bax. Master Bax had constructed an ingeniously hidden manse—an Invisible Fortress that even the Loom of Fate could not find. He and his protégés fled there to wait out the Usurpation. Their wait became long indeed. In time, each of the Solars died of old age, suicide… or murder by one of their fellows. When Larquen Quen died and fell into the Underworld, the Neverborn sent an emissary to meet him, the Walker in Darkness. To Larquen’s astonishment, that Deathlord was actually one of his former compatriots from Bax’s Invisible Fortress. The Walker, however, remembered nothing of his mortal life—which was good since Larquen Quen had murdered him. Larquen concealed his recognition of the Neverborn’s emissary, followed the Walker into the Labyrinth and sold his name to the Abyss for the power of a Deathlord.

The Mask of Winters typically appears as a towering figure standing more than seven feet tall and wrapped in undulating black funeral robes. Beneath the robes, he wears soulsteel superheavy plate that whimpers in pain when struck with the voices of newborn children. The Deathlord wears a helm with
two mask-like faces, one on the front and one on the back. One is a face of sublime beauty, while the other is so horrific that it causes mortals to flee in terror. The Mask of Winters has learned to use of these visages to disturbing effect. He can see out of both masks, so no one can surprise him from behind. If attacked from behind, he uses his Mutable Form to reverse his joints and turn his entire body back to front and vice versa at a cost of one mote. Alternatively, if he wishes to discomfit others, he can turn his neck 180 degrees to look at them with his other face.

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(From the wiki)
The new master of Thorns, a former Realm satrapy, the Mask of Winters comes to mind when those of Creation speak of Deathlords. His face is concealed behind a mask of enchanted ice, grinning maniacally or with a furious countenance, and the tattered funerary robes he wears are hemmed with silver letters that sicken mortals and slay animals that look upon them. The youngest Deathlord is a massive figure, made all the more imposing by his soulsteel plate armor, Grieving Shelter, that screeches as a wailing child in the rare event he is struck. Frigid Razor, his grand daiklave, is forged of pitch-black soulsteel and perpetually covered in frost.

Creation was, in fact, unaware of the threat posed by the Deathlords until the Mask of Winters conquered the city of Thorns a scant year after the disappearance of the Scarlet Empress. Riding in his dread fortress on the back of the dying Behemoth Juggernaut, the Deathlord swept away the pitiful defenses of the beleaguered Imperial tributary, and now he sits as the "benevolent ruler" of a new empire, a puppet king nominally in charge of the conqueror's newly acquired city. More disconcerting than most other known facts about the Mask of Winters is that, following the battle over Thorns, a massive shadowland spread to encompass the city in a matter of days, rather than the centuries of strife normally required for one so large. Still more disturbing, it continues to grow.

The Mask of Winters is the prototypical villain, a master of lies, deceit and war. While certainly not as accomplished as the First and Forsaken Lion on the battlefield, he has made greater gains in Creation than any of his peers, and at astonishing speed. His agents infiltrate the courts of anyone he deals with, including his fellow Deathlords, and he plots and schemes against everyone constantly. His goals are simple and direct: to rule both Creation and the Underworld completely and masterfully.

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"I dreamed dark dreams in the days just before I drew my Second Breath. I saw the world swept over by clouds of ash, so that even the beautiful green savannah of my homeland was nothing but grey grass swaying in a grey breeze, and soon even that fell, weeping, into an endless void. I had this dream for nights on end and always lurking, deep in the shadow of nothing, was a two-faced mask of frozen tears.

"I didn't understand the dreams, not until the day my brother and I met those poor, lost ghosts and were touched by the power of the Solar Exaltation. In the grip of that first brush with strength I saw clearly, as if for the first time, and my sight was an arrow set on Thorns. In the fetid Shadowland that city has become I saw an echo of my dreams. In the citadel atop the monstrous, walking corpse called Juggernaut, I saw the icy mask that haunted my nights. And in the wail of the tormented dead, twisted into service and never let to rest, I heard the name of he behind the pain: The Mask of Winters.

"It was a name I had heard before, whispered fearfully in the councils of my people. He had seized Thorns for his own, and sent emissaries to Harborhead and the Concordat. But he had sent no messenger to the Marukan and had the stones to claim that our towns of Shenden and Three-Steeds-Dancing flocked to his banner without his dark influence.

"The Mask's destruction was the bright purpose for which I was Exalted. He no longer haunts my dreams but one day soon, by the might of the Unconquered Sun, I will haunt his."


-- Storm of Amber, Zenith


Last edited by yanamari on Sun Sep 29, 2013 1:07 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Mask of Winters   Fri Sep 27, 2013 10:21 am

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Thorns

During its height, Thorns was one of the greater cities in all of Creation. Thorns flowed with sophistication and cultural achievements. It was a center of great craftsmanship and competition for excellence. That legacy is now gone and Thorns sits under the dark shadow that is the Deathlord Mask of Winters and his armies of the dead. The remaining living citizenry lives in fear of their very lives, but they are a proud people and may not welcome the intervention of outsiders in freeing them from the yoke of oppression. The city now sits atop bone-white cliffs, a wreck of hollowed out ruins and monolithic structures when viewed from afar, yet something far different when viewed from within.

To those outside of the city, the realm certainly has the feeling and look of a corpse waiting to be shuffled into the underworld. To the citizens within, it is an entirely different world.

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Society
The largest number of ghosts in Thorns serve the Mask of Winters as his occupying army. At night, they patrol the city or roam at will. While they are not spectres, few of the Deathlord’s minions care about Thorns. They view its people as a captive source of Essence and the emotional interactions craved by the dead. The less terrible (but more obsessive) among them simply demand that mortals play out little melodramas with them, from the ghostly maiden who wishes she’d made love with a certain boy to the artisan who wants to tell off the shop foreman he hated. The real people are long gone, so the ghosts seek stand-ins among the people of Thorns. Some ghosts take things further, though, such as those who want to torture victims who look like old enemies.

Quite a few of the ghosts bully any convenient person they find into praying to them, or to opening their veins for an impromptu blood offering. When dawn approaches, however, they return to the corpse-fortress of  Juggernaut and leave Thorns to its misery.

The native dead abhor the invaders. They are, indeed, some of the most fervent members of the city’s resistance movement. Pride in their city is one of the passions that sustains them against Lethe. Seeing their cultured, powerful city enslaved and brutalized outrages them. Still, they do find a few compensations. Every night, they get to mingle with their living descendants. Most of them hesitate to ask for worship and offerings as such. Even if they lack true Immaculate piety, they identify the ancestor cult with the lunatic demands of the invaders. But telling an appreciative group of Thorns folk about their lives in the good old days or breaking bread with co-conspirators and some of the bread goes in the fire… that isn’t worship, is it? It’s just friendly remembrance and hospitality. Most of the Immaculate monks who remain in hiding, however, draw the line at admitting ghosts to their covert worship services.

The smallest cohorts of ghosts visit Thorns for reasons of their own. Some of them are spies from other ghost-countries. Others seek the same interaction with the living as the invaders, they just don’t want to sign up with a Deathlord to do it. Still others want things from the mortal world. A ghost can’t really eat or drink, but one can appreciate the taste and odor. Enterprising ghosts sneak into Thorns to acquire casks of wine and beer, salt fish and fruit preserves—anything they can ship far from Thorns and sell to ghosts eager for a literal taste of the mortal world. All such ventures are dangerous.

The Mask of Winters dislikes all unauthorized visitors to his city, whether living or dead. Captive ghosts can expect to be enslaved through necromancy and sent out as spies against their former allies—if they aren’t simply smelted into soulsteel.

The Living Citizens
The living folk of Thorns fall into two categories: slaves of the Dynasts and freed servants from far lands.

When the Mask of Winters took the city, it teemed with the life of a satrapy of the realm owned by dynasts and filled with house servants. Their lives were always bent to the power of their Dragonborn owners, as prideful and powerful over their own lower ranks of people as the dynasts over them. Once the Mask gained power, all of that status was destroyed.

They do not enjoy life under the Mask of Winters. The once-prosperous city continues in a new way while they go hungry, serving the ghosts, the freed common men, and the Death Knights. These people work in positions never once held before, from dung handlers to rat catchers, and see no reward except to live and work another day. Ghosts and informers watch for any sign of rebellion, and any defiance is punished harshly.

The living of commoners born outside of the Dynast city-states are given chance at new lives. The Mask of Winters purchases slaves at times from the Guild, or reward the warlords in the fields southeast, people that should never matter to the world. To these he offers a life as merchants and punishers, to hold the homes and positions once held by Dynasts and their servants.

The Mask of Winters can parrot the words of a reasonable head of state, but his policies clearly show that Thorns’ population is just as useful to him dead as live—maybe more so. All of those living in the city have opportunities to attain a place in his undead armies and city, either as soulsteel, warriors, or savants. In truth, the citizens are slaves to the dead and are waiting for the last vestiges of life to die out.

As the people of Thorns look up at the alien stars in their night sky, they fail to think how the conquest of their city looked from the Underworld. It was, if anything, even more appalling. The undead behemoth called Juggernaut left a trail of destruction reaching thousands of miles into the East. The Mask of Winters crushed dozens of ghostly towns and kingdoms in his passage. The slow crawl of Juggernaut gave plenty of time for terror to spread throughout the Eastern Underworld. Before the first ghost or zombie stepped out of a shadowland to attack the living city of Thorns, the Deathlord had already flattened its necropolis and dispossessed its ghosts.


The Dead
Like most cities, Thorns had an associated community of ghosts. Over the centuries, the dead built homes, shops and other buildings to remind them of their lives. The Thorns necropolis was a bit smaller than usual for a mortal city of that size. The Immaculate faith discouraged people from becoming ghosts or, if they did, from lingering long in the Underworld.

It’s gone now. A behemoth stepped on it. Then the real Thorns took its place. Cities have become shadowlands from the mass death of their populace. Less often, people have built cities in or near shadowlands, as the Silver Prince did in Skullstone. Never before, though, has an entire city merged with the Underworld while still living. People in both Creation and the Underworld have not yet learned the full implications of the Thorns shadowland. They are too busy coping with the Deathlord who made it.

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Economy
Thorns’ economy is in ruins. The once-wealthy satrapy now produces little that it does not need for bare survival or for equipping the armies that march out in every direction. If the Mask of Winters notices that ghostly entrepreneurs see Thorns as a potential trading post between Creation and  the Underworld, he does not seem to care.

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Foreign Relations

In Creation, the Mask of Winters sends mortal, ghost and zombie armies against Thorns’ neighbors while trading diplomatic communiqués with the Confederation of Rivers. In the Underworld, he makes little pretense of diplomacy. Thorns already forms the capital of a growing empire. Every province and village of the dead within 200 miles now bows and prays to the Mask of Winters. The Deathlord’s armies conquer new territory monthly.

Farther afield, dozens of petty states pay tribute to the Mask of Winters and submit to his envoys, in a macabre analogue to the Realm’s satrapies. They send soulsteel, pyre flame, Essence containing gems, jade, grave goods and any ghosts with the skills and Arcanoi to work with such materials. In this manner, their leaders hope to delay their outright conquest, or at least to obtain a favored position in the Deathlord’s empire. So far, only the dead of Marukan seem able to resist conquest, and that only because they are so hard to find. Some among the dead care enough to try to warn the living.

The Morticians’ Order of Sijan relays a trickle of letters from dead monarchs to their living descendants, telling them to fight the Mask of Winters as hard as they can.

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Military
Thousands of ghosts, zombies and mortals make up the Mask of Winters’ armies, but the Deathlord goes beyond such simple warriors. The Mask of Winters also flaunts his necromantic power by deploying necromantic war machines. Juggernaut, of course, is his ultimate achievement, but the undead behemoth requires great effort to animate and control. Most of the time, the Mask of Winters settles for spine chains and other modest horrors, which he finds relatively easy to produce and deploy in large numbers. He has enough zombies to perform the necessary scutwork in Thorns. Now the cadavers of slain soldiers or deceased citizens go to the necrosurgery
labs.

(For details on the Mask of Winters’ zombie, ghost and mortal troops, see The Compass of Terrestrial Directions, Vol. I—The Scavenger Lands, pp. 109–112.)

The Mask of Winters needs Thorns as a way to bring his zombies and necromantic war machines into the Underworld. Since these creatures lack souls, they do not naturally pass into the Underworld, but the interpenetrating realities of a shadowland enable zombies and necrotech engines of war to enter the Underworld at night, just as anything else from
Creation might.

SPINE CHAIN SCALE
Description: A few dozen spine chains charging together make excellent shock troops. Apart from the damage they inflict as they run past enemy soldiers, they are just plain revolting—especially when a damaged section drops out and the head, slimed with rot and clotted gore, slides out of its “socket” in the preceding segment’s ribcage. A unit of spine chains needs some intelligent supernatural creature, such as a nephwrack or an Abyssal Exalt, to direct them. On their own, they are dumb as rocks. Properly led, however, they can achieve moderately complex tasks such as scaling walls or bridging trenches.
Commanding Officer: Varies
Armor Color: N/A
Motto: None
General Makeup: 50 spine chains
Overall Quality: Average
Magnitude: 2
Drill: 1
Close Combat Attack: 2 Close Combat Damage: 3
Ranged Attack: — Ranged Damage: —
Endurance: N/A Might: 3 Armor: 1
Morale: N/A
Formation: The Mask of Winters has 20 scales of spine chains. Normally, he deploys only one scale at a time, as a terror-weapon (or at least a gross-out-weapon). He wants his enemies to think he has a limited supply of these necromantic weapons. Then, when they mass a sufficiently large army against him, he will unleash a full 10 scales, with the other 10 in reserve, and crush them! Or, that’s the plan anyway. Although they are mindless, spine chains can fight in skirmish or relaxed formation. The Deathlord’s commanders prefer the latter, so the chains can reach the enemy quickly.

IVORY HOPLITES
The ivory hoplites are a grotesque experiment with a pretty name. The Mask of Winters regards the Seventh Legion of Lookshy as the only force nearby that can seriously hinder his plans, so he develops necromantic analogues to their magitech arsenal. His most successful experiment is the loathsome osseous shell, a bone and metal carapace that he believes can duplicate every feat of the Seventh Legion’s mighty gunzosha armor.

Like that armor, a loathsome osseous shell needs a mortal wearer, who interfaces with the armor with the help of certain mystical and surgical alterations. The bone and soulsteel implants in the body of an ivory hoplite are more than slightly conspicuous. The warrior also has the runes of the Shade Prison Amulet spell (see The Books of Sorcery, Vol. II—The Black Treatise, p. 32) surgically engraved on various important bones of his body, making him a living prison for the hungry ghost that powers the armor. The Mask of Winters expects the loathsome osseous shell to shorten its wearer’s life span the same way gunzosha armor does too, but he doesn’t consider this feature a drawback. So far, the Mask of Winters has 200 loathsome osseous shells. The wearers are volunteers only in the sense that, as members of his elite Thornguard, they are already brainwashed to fanatical loyalty. He sends scales of 20 to 50 on testing missions in the Underworld. Only once the Deathlord feels sure the shells perform satisfactorily will he deploy them in Creation and in larger numbers.

For an ivory hoplite scale, use the Seventh Legion Gunzosha unit from The Compass of Terrestrial Directions, Vol. I—The Scavenger Lands, pp. 59–60, only reduce the Magnitude to 2. These test units are usually commanded by Abyssal Exalted.

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Districts of Thorns

The Shroudvaunt District
The Shroudvaunt District is the center of the city, the heart of what was a once-thriving Thorns. Monolithic statues of the Mask of Winters dominate every major street plaza and the district remains quiet. It is the seat of government, reserved for visiting dignitaries and the living and dead citizens that serve the Mask of Winters. Although the Shrouds vaunt District is exceeding pleasing to the senses, it is more of a tourist trap, a place where guests can be impressed by the Mask of Winters' benevolence and sophistication.

The Twilight Amphitheater
This impressive structure sits less than a mile from the Palace of the Autocrat, a depression in the ground. It is covered by a dome of black glass and black-iron latticework that shades the audience from any rain or wind. The Twilight Amphitheater offers only the finest of entertainments, usually state-sponsored pageants of a vast scale or operas written by the dead in the service of the Deathlord. The Mask of Winters uses the Twilight Amphitheater as another apparatus in his vast propaganda machine, attempting to use it to impress dignitaries with the beauty of the city and the culture that the city still retains.

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