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 Silent (Death by Deprivation)
Quote: “No thanks. I’m good.”
The Starved Ones, Victims of Neglect, Marked by Starvation and Need, Chosen of the Black Horseman.
Keys: Stillness or Cold Wind
He comes back. His mouth wide open, he takes a deep, juddering breath, and lets out a cry somewhere between horror, relief, and triumph. He begins to hyperventilate. His stomach cramps up and he curls up. It takes a long time for him to come to himself, and it is only when he does that he realizes just how hungry he is, just how thirsty. The creature curled up inside that empty stomach cries out from inside, demanding to be fed.
He is one of the Silent, the Starving Ones, and he died from deprivation and came back in need. Silent because he joined the multitude of the starved, who die in their thousands every second of every day.
A Silent Sin-Eater died in desperate poverty, one of a million victims of a famine that could have been avoided if only the rich had the concern to do something and the courage to antagonize the government where she lived. Another slept rough on the streets of a big city, but kept her dignity. She starved on a restaurant doorstep and came back to life in the dumpster — the staff left her there rather than call the cops and have the place shut down. The cops throw a man into a prison cell in some town in the southwest for a burglary he didn’t commit, and think they’ll teach him a lesson for protesting so loudly. They leave him there for three days, and in that time he dies of thirst and comes right back again, ready to take whatever they’ve got to throw at him. An old man suffocates thanks to the carbon monoxide leaking from a gas pipe in his son’s house. A man suffering from a terrible cold gets tied up and gagged with a sock by a burglar. As he suffocates because his nose is so badly blocked, he thinks: what a stupid way to go. Something hears him, makes him awaken among the splintered remains of a chair and pieces of torn rope, breathing more freely than he has for years.
Another Starving One was killed by another sort of hunger: The bottle took him right from the day he decided that he couldn’t cope with college anymore, and killed him before he was even thirty. The teenage daughter of a good suburban family ended up sleeping in a squat. She shot up with badly-cut heroin one time too many and still feels the agony running through her veins every hour of every day.
Why a hungry geist picks a dying man or woman is hard to say. In the end, these creatures have inexplicable, consuming appetites and it seems that something about the person and the way he or she dies draws the geist, and nourishes it in some way. Maybe the final release of life-energy at the climax of a slow, drawn-out death is exquisitely tasty. Maybe the creature is drawn unwillingly by urges it cannot understand to a hungry soul with which it must join.
Whatever the geist’s reasons, coming back from this sort of death alters the Silent One in one important way: he is now able to endure things he could never have dealt with before.
The starving so often go quietly, robbed of the means of living, robbed of the energy to protest, robbed of a voice. They say the suffocated man or the starving man experiences a weird kind of peace in the moment before he dies. The Sin-Eater retains that peace and brings it back from the Underworld with him. He has died, and he has come back. He’s still here. He can take anything.
How that manifests itself in behavior depends upon the Sin-Eater. One of the Silent develops a level, zen-like calm, even while his friends are running and screaming around him. Another becomes cocksure and blasÃ© about the dangers she faces: Bring it on, she says to the world. Another becomes an enigma, reacting to the horrors, sufferings, and dangers he faces in a bizarre, withdrawn manner. He doesn’t talk much, even for one of the Silent — and every one of these Sin-Eaters justifies the name “Silent,” not only with the metaphorical voicelessness that comes from true poverty and degradation, but with their taciturn natures . A Silent Sin-Eater’s demeanor might be sullen, or enigmatic, or saintly, or haughty. He might bark the few things he has to say or whisper them. But he speaks only when he has something to say, which is far less than most people think.
Even though a Starving One cannot express it in words, the geist that joined with her at the final extremity of deprivation makes the Starving One need, more keenly than she ever has before. It’s like this: the Sin-Eater needs to find, to see, and to experience the restless dead. She needs to see the underworld. Death has become an addiction for her.
In her dreams, the Silent Sin-Eater finds herself returning each night to a vast, empty edifice that is within her, as if her body is a labyrinthine, decrepit building that she explores a room or corridor at a time, each housing a lost friend, or a dead enemy. Maybe this is what the Underworld looks like.
Marks And Signs
A Silent Sin-Eater doesn’t usually fuss too much about what he wears. His clothes are hard-wearing, and often cheap and simple. The Silent Sin-Eater keeps hair short and austere, and has no time for grooming products or make-up. The tokens that reveal a Bound’s true nature are subtle: in the West, scales, weights, and measures are common motifs. (The scales are the symbol of the Black Horseman in the Book of Revelation). An American Starving One has a tattoo on the nape of her neck, easily visible beneath the line of her brutally short hair, showing a simple, stylized pair of scales. Another Sin-Eater wears a conservative off-the-rack suit and has the sign of the scales on his tie pin. Hardly anyone asks him about it. Most people think it’s the sign of some sort of fraternal lodge. A Silent One working on a building site wears it on a custom-made T-shirt he designed and had printed at the store down the street. A social worker whose work takes her to the most deprived places imaginable wears it on a pendant.
A big bruiser of a man, a former boxer who killed himself with alcohol, carries as his weapon of choice two one-kilogram measuring weights linked together on a chain. A reformed addict who works in a half-way house has the symbol carved into his arm. A young woman who withered away from heartbreak now wears the glyph in her locket to fill the void that silenced her.
Unsurprisingly, Silent characters often come from deprived backgrounds where hunger and addiction are the norm. A Silent Sin-Eater may not have had much of an opportunity to receive a full education; although exceptions exist, Mental Skills are very rarely primary. Silent characters endure a lot of things, and have the capacity to withstand more. They favor Resistance Attributes above others: Composure, Resolve, and Stamina. Physical traits get more attention than Mental Attributes (a likely lack of education doesn’t preclude being smart).
The most common Virtues among the Silent are Fortitude and Temperance, while the most common Vices are Envy and Lust.
A Silent Sin-Eater endures his geist for the longest time before coming to terms with it. He and the creature communicate grudgingly, their mutual resentment and dependence never really developing into real anger.
A young woman, barely out of her teens, dies of hunger on the streets of the big city where she thought she’d find a new start. Her geist, when it appears, seems to be the creeping edge of some decrepit building made of concrete and broken glass: turn a corner within it and be lost forever. It speaks to her through whispers that seem to come from empty corridors, or behind cracked windows. She finds herself in places where the building seems to fit, and finds ghosts for the geist to eat.
A middle-aged man who died after overdosing on the painkillers he was addicted to finds himself accompanied by a geist who looks a little like him, only older, with blank alabaster orbs for eyes, and a hundred rusty needles in place of teeth. He’s always hungry.
A young man with a shamanic calling went on a vision quest in the middle of a desert somewhere, and died of thirst. He came back out of the desert with a geist that resembles nothing more than a sphere of howling nothingness, a creature that sucks in light and hope in equal measure, but has as yet failed to consume his hope. Resolutely cheerful, he taps the creature’s powers over and over again.
A junkie who died and returned to life after shooting up in the back seat of a stolen car on the side of the highway has to live alongside a six-armed trash goddess, a heroin chick named Kali, with sunken cheeks, scabs on her lips, and filthy jeans. The junkie leads a recovery group that has almost become a cult of personality: she manipulates her followers with promises of methadone and more exotic substances, and threats of terrible fates if they leave or tell. No one seems to get to the end of the program, but none of the addicts who come to her is haunted anymore, so none of them leave the group willingly.
A region in the developing world is ravaged with civil war. Amidst the war and its attendant famine, no one notices a young woman passing from refugee camp to refugee camp, until finally she winds up crossing the ocean and seeking asylum in the West. No one noticed when she died, and no one notices her now. She’s just another migrant. The geist that brought her back from dying of hunger in the old country is something primal — something old and empty. It appears as a hollow woman’s skin flayed, tanned, and removed in one continuous, winding strip. When she uses its powers, it winds around her, and covers her, and she speaks with a different voice.
A lonely, unemployed man who died alone in his apartment , starved of hope and human companionship as much as food, experiences a second lease on life in some respects, finding companions and seeking out the loneliest and most tragic of the dead. He gives them some sort of resolution. He’s still forgettable, and people still don’t really see him. His geist is a kind of absence, a nothing that surrounds him in a psychic vacuum, and which communicates only in terms of the things you didn’t hear, and of the things you didn’t see.
A Sin-Eater who died of anorexia cannot bear to look at the geist that follows her, which looks like nothing more than an upright pig: Grossly fat, covered with blood and bits of half-eaten food, with eyes like endless pinholes.
The sight comes slowly, like the dawning of hunger, and brings with it a gradual appearance of decay and deprivation. A Sin-Eater looks impossibly thin, with skin that’s dry and cracked. A fly lands without being brushed off, or hungry shadows circle in the air far above, their cries impossible to avoid for the one who can see. Ghosts look threadbare, empty, distant. The sight of a ghost might make a Silent One feel hungry, thirsty, or short of breath.
Recovering alcoholic with a coffee obsession, forgotten elderly loner, once-imprisoned survivor of familial abuse, survivors’ group enabler, social worker, binge drinker who never seems to get drunk anymore, the lonely guy no one ever talks to, heroin-chic fashion model, refugee, homeless wino who talks to more than himself.
The Forgotten: But then again, maybe there is a point. Why default to despair?
The Prey: Some things you just have to leave. Maybe there is no point. Have you ever thought of that?
The Stricken: You’ve got an idea about what waste means, I think.
The Torn: You can fight it and fight it, but it won’t change a damn thing.
Vampires: Christ. There but for the grace…
Werewolves: You’re so hungry, and you’ve no way to help that. What the hell can you do?
Mages: Some things can’t be beaten. Even with magic.
Mortals: You have so much. Why are you taking it for granted?