Geist: The Sin Eaters
What are Thresholds?
As recognized by the Bound, Thresholds are states of deathly resonance. They’re the marks put on someone or something by Death. Death by violence, for instance, carries a supernatural tie to — and affinity for — violence.
The Sin-Eaters are generally aware of Thresholds, and treat the concept fairly seriously. While they don’t tend to elevate a Threshold to the status of a social group or belief system, it is true that most people who die by deprivation seem to have some things in common. As such, the Bound tend to take the marks of death and expand them into heraldry. The Torn self-identify as such because it gets the point across: they understand violence, and they accept that part of their nature. The Forgotten talk more about chance and accidents, because they have something of an investment in the concept. In the end, a Threshold means something to every Sin-Eater — but just how much it means is up to the person in question.
The Thresholds are intentionally broad, and some deaths could come under more than one Threshold. Does the Sin-Eater who died of poison from a snake bite or from an infestation of worms count as one of the Prey or one of the Stricken? If a Sin-Eater was struck by lightning while answering his phone, is he one of the Prey or one of the Forgotten? If someone suffocates because of a carbon monoxide leak, do they come back as Stricken (because he was poisoned), Silent (because he suffocated) or Forgotten (because he was just plain unlucky)? Does someone who slipped on a banana peel and fell into a river and drowned come back as one of the Forgotten or one of the Prey?
How to choose? In the end, while the Threshold gives some idea of how a Sin-Eater died that first time, the player is free to choose just what circumstance had the strongest claim over her character. One Sin-Eater killed herself with a bullet to the head after a bout of clinical depression and came back as Torn — the brutality of her death overshadowed the misery of her depression. Another kills himself in the same circumstances and comes back as Stricken — the act of violence was merely the punctuation mark on the long death of the soul that claimed him. A third jumps off a bridge and drowns, and he could be Torn, Stricken, or Prey. It’s left to the player to choose which Threshold resonates the most, and why.
About The Prey (Death by Nature)
Quote: “See? The rocks fell and broke his bones the same way they broke hers… and his. Every time. Every time, a pattern.”
The Eaten and Drowned Ones, Victims of the Elements, Marked by Claw, Wave and Earth, Chosen of the Pale Horseman.
Keys: Primeval or Grave-Dirt
She comes back vomiting water. The tears in her flesh knit in lumpy white scar tissue, and the eaten parts of her body grow back in a new, pale, unhealthy form. Perhaps her skull regains its shape, her arms and legs knitting together in almost the same shapes they were in before. Maybe the blackness recedes on the bloated arm, retreats to the flesh around the bite. Time goes backwards and suddenly she is whole again. Nature gave her back. Nature didn’t have any choice in the matter.
Call the cause of her death “natural causes.” Call it an act of God. But the manner of her resurrection makes her one of the Prey, the Eaten Ones, the Drowned Ones. Nature killed her, the way it will one day kill everyone.
The world has a massive, inescapable cycle, an order — or at least it’s all but irresistible for an Eaten One to think in those terms. One travels lonely roads and paths further from the beaten track, seeking out patterns in the way that people die. He follows hurricanes and twisters, draws intricate casualty maps, aiming to show the way Gaia claims her dead. He looks for the ghosts, trying to figure out how they fit into that same pattern, and brings to rest those whose deaths weren’t part of the plan — but were any of them?
Another aims to understand a bigger picture, trying to work out how all this life and death and resurrection, how all the monsters and demons and spirits and ghosts and people getting on with their lives are part of the vast system that surrounds us. The myth of Eden can’t be taken literally: Things have to die for life to survive, and the freaks and monsters are all part of that. Maybe that means laying a ghost for the sake of truly understanding it. But just as often, it means knowing what it is and where it comes from. It means finding its final meaning.
Even the geists, in all their appalling ferocity, are the products of nature, and in a twisted way, a sign of the way that even Nature has her loopholes. Nature gives second chances, just like people do.
Nothing is more natural than dying, even if nature ends lives before they’ve done with living. These untimely but “natural” deaths arrive in all sorts of ways.
A man was in a rented beach-house with his family when the tsunami hit. His wife, his children, and his house were all swept away. When the water went down, only he was left to mourn and live, alongside the watery fury that brought him back. Maybe they were buried under thousands of tons of masonry when the fault line moved, crushed beyond recognition, except for him. Or maybe they were under the house when the hurricane hit.
One Torn drowned after falling from a pleasure boat and sinking like a stone. He was found by the coast guard floating face down on the water, impossibly alive after days in the open.
A hiker goes up the side of a mountain and expires of hypothermia when the blizzard rises. He comes back not long before the search party finds him. He loses two fingers to the frostbite, but otherwise he’s none the worse for wear.
A young woman spends three days on the streets and fails to find a warm place to stay on the wettest, windiest night of the year. She dies of exposure on the steps of a theater, and the rich patrons step right over her to get to their taxis.
Another vagrant gets mauled by stray dogs as he lies in a drunken stupor, unable to fight them off, and dies of blood loss. Or maybe it was the rats that got him, gnawing at his extremities, leaving him a bloodied mess that nonetheless returns in the morning to some sort of scarred, pinkish whole.
She was getting back to nature, and set up her tent too close to an ant hill. The ants burrowed a gory corridor directly to her insides. Or she disturbed Africanized bees while walking through the woodlands. The cloud surrounded her, stinging her two or three hundred times and leaving her to die of toxic shock, surrounded by dozens of tiny corpses twitching just like her. She came back and finished her trip a day late — the buzzing will never leave her again.
A perfectly ordinary man walks home from the bar, and something big and vicious and unknown tears him to pieces: one of those big cats that they say got loose in the 1970s and started breeding loose in the wild, perhaps, or something even bigger and less mundane. He comes to himself in the alley the thing dragged his corpse into, his clothes in rags, 24 hours lost to him.
An inexperienced pet shop clerk puts his hand in the wrong snake’s cage. One bite later, and the dizziness and the swelling cause him to collapse in the staff bathroom. He wakes up in the dark, in a cold pool of his own vomit, long after the boss has locked up and gone. His hand is still black, and always will be.
Another tries to clean out the junk in her back garden and puts her hand straight on top of a black widow. An environmentalist on a trip to the Brazilian rain forest brushes her hand across the back of some terribly rare species of tree frog, and dies before her friends can get her back to base camp… but in the morning she’s all right.
The further afield you go, the more things can eat you, or crush you, or drown you: bears, lions, sharks, alligators, cougars, and other creatures rarer and more dangerous still. Avalanches and mudslides can swallow a man before he even knows what hit him. An active volcano lets out a single blast of superheated air at the wrong moment, and a woman’s lungs are charred instantly from the inside, a black coat covering cooked meat. Even animals that don’t eat meat can be fatal: A bull gores a wannabe rodeo rider in the stomach; a hippopotamus pursues, crushes, and chews an unwise zoo visitor who thinks he’ll get a better picture if he climbs into the enclosure; a moose batters into tender steaks a woman who tries to get it to move off the road.
Maybe it’s because these deaths seem so random and sudden that a Prey makes such an effort to find a pattern. Perhaps he finds some sort of evolutionary principle at work. Perhaps instead it’s a question of something more numinous, more like a divine system at work. It doesn’t matter if these things don’t make any real sense. It doesn’t matter if observation doesn’t bear these things out. What matters to the Sin-Eater is the appearance of a pattern. He sees a cycle not only of life, but of death. The ghosts are a sign that the cycle continues in some way beyond death, and the Underworld is part of the world.
In his dreams, the Sin-Eater runs, constantly, outrunning falling stones and rushing waters, eluding beasts and swarms. Where is he going? He’ll know when he gets there.
Marks And Signs
In the Western occult tradition, the Pale Horseman is Death himself, bearer of the scythe, empowered to clear one-fourth of the Earth of life. The Grim Reaper is a common element in dress and paraphernalia — painted on the back of a leather jacket or on a motorcycle, or on the hood of a car, all flames and laughing skull and shining scythe. More obliquely, the number four gets some use, tattooed on the nape of a young woman’s neck, or represented by four marks on the knuckles of a man’s left hand, or blazoned on the front or every one of the dozen sweat shirts, football shirts and T-shirts the Sin-Eater wears, or carved into his calf with razors to leave a vivid scar.
One of the Prey might find some perverse comfort in carrying around some part of an animal — a lucky rabbit foot, or a fly in amber on a chain, or a shark tooth, or an unbroken wishbone in a box. Another might carry around a handful of polished stones in his pocket, which he rattles together when he is deep in thought. Animal skulls are common heraldry here, or emblems of poisonous nature such as spider webs and black widow hourglasses.
Another Sin-Eater, who has something of a fetish for empirical observation, always carries around an antique pair of binoculars. A krewe composed wholly of Prey all carry notebooks and pencils, and fill them with observations that make no sense to anyone but themselves.
Drowned Ones and Eaten Ones who go armed tend to prefer to carry around hand-crafted weapons and tools, of every kind and quality, from a cudgel roughly carved from a torn-off tree branch right through to a lovingly-made machete with an intricate bone handle.
The Prey really can be anyone, from any background at all. Mother Nature is not fussy about whom she kills. After his resurrection, an Eaten One likely develops his Physical Attributes, reflecting the raw strength of an avalanche or the speed of a predator, although Composure and Wits are often high. The Prey don’t really have any preference for a category of Skills. Any Skill might have use — Science is just as likely as Athletics, and Empathy might be developed just as much as Brawl.
The most common Virtues among the Prey are Fortitude and Justice, both Virtues common in those who see patterns in the world. The most common Vices are Sloth and Lust.
The geist belonging to an Eaten One seems somehow more elemental than other geists. A lot of geists left behind their human appearance long ago, but these creatures don’t appear ever to have been human at all. The Prey react to the geists that inhabit them like dangerous creatures that they must elude and outwit, as a smart outdoorsman outwits the pack of wild dogs on his tail.
The man who lost his family in the tsunami returns with an invisible monkey on his shoulder, which leaps and bites and foams and screeches and sometimes talks to him in a high-pitched sing-song voice.
The mountaineer now seems to have a small storm cloud gathering around her and beside her: a black lightning cloud with black empty eyes and mouth, and huge fists on the end of dark, brooding appendages.
A predatory biped with a snarling maw and soulless eyes and a still-bleeding leather jacket sewn straight onto its chest accompanies the eaten man on his way home from the bar. It intimidates him into seeking out the meanings in the world around him and the ghosts that validate those meanings.
A huge, clicking thing that looks almost entirely unlike a giant wasp or bee — and somehow almost as much unlike a woman — licks at the girl who it accompanies with a long honey-sweet proboscis. And every time, it makes her shudder, but she knows that the geist’s sting is at her disposal, if only she will allow it to kiss her.
A demonic bipedal pig thing never talks to the lonely, quiet man it haunts. He battles it as much as he draws from its filthy, vile power. Even when he cannot see the thing, he can hear it trotting along on the border of his consciousness.
Another geist appears as a never-ending hail of stones. It grasps with arms made of shale, and speaks through the clatter of falling gravel.
A torn-up, half-eaten man, something not unlike the death of the once-homeless man it brought back, seems to revel in seeing the ghosts of people who died just like its Sin-Eater did.
A tall, sinuous thing like a screaming flesh-tree wraps its bleeding branches around the limbs of the woman who died of exposure. Its roots reach into her stomach, curl around her neck, and dig into her brain. It’s always there. She can’t bear to be touched by anyone else anymore.
A woman once crushed under a rockslide finds herself followed by a geist resembling a person so ruined as to be of indeterminate in gender, a bag of raw meat and broken bones, razor-sharp shards of bone protruding from the flesh at desperately painful angles. Its every movement produces sounds of crunching and grating shards of bone, tearing flesh, and gurgling blood. Its voice is wet and garbled, difficult to understand under a shredded tongue. It speaks, and it’s almost too terrible to hear.
A man reduced to a weird bestial form — his fingernails like bird claws, his hair matted like feathers, his skin blackened and tough — crawls grotesquely on hands and calloused knees behind a lonely man like some unwanted, abused hound. He — it — can only make the sounds of a beast.
The visions that beset the Prey never go away, and the scars, crushed limbs, ends of broken bones and punished meat that they reveal appear more solid and full than the true sights they cover.
Animal rights protester gored by ungrateful zoo animal, unsuccessful big game hunter, cross-country skier with poor sense of direction, deep sea diver, extreme naturalist, crazy cat lady, amateur geologist, disaster tourist, cryptozoologist.
The Forgotten: It’s sudden, yes. But there is a point. There has to be.
The Silent: You have the right attitude, I guess. But aren’t you curious?
The Stricken: No! You have to respect it. It’s not something you control. You can’t.
The Torn: You have to understand that violence is part of the Plan. Trying to do something about it is completely missing the point.
Vampires: You’re not half as unnatural as you seem to think you are, friend.
Werewolves: What are you going to do? Eat me again?
Mages: That’s cheating.
Mortals: There is meaning; but not like that. You have to be there, and I wouldn’t wish that on you.