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 Torn (Death by Violence)
Quote: “‘Deserve’ doesn’t have anything to do with it. That’s how it is. Just not how it has to be.”
The Bleeding Ones, Victims of Malice, Marked by Murder and Conflict, Chosen of the Red Horseman.
Keys: Stigmata or Passion
She comes back. She can’t open her eyes for the longest time, but she screams and thrashes. Her fury brings a rain of blows on the people and objects around her — the nurses in the ER, the homeless man who found her in the alley, the corpses of her fellow passengers who were on the bus with her when the blast went off, the partner who cut her down and tried to revive her. And the creature that came back with her laughs and laughs, and sinks its fingers deep in her soul, and holds on tight until she has to stop, open her eyes, and come to terms with the fact that she can’t drive the monster away. She’s one of the Torn, the Bleeding Ones.
One of the Torn might have known she was going to die, or she might have had no idea. It might have been a bullet, a knife, a gas chamber, a noose, a landmine, a rain of boots to the gut. She might have ended it all. He may have walked into the wrong neighborhood. She might have grown up poor — and that’s more likely than the alternative, because most people who die of violence, no matter where in the world they are, no matter how they died, lived in poverty, and the same is true for the Torn.
A private joined up because no other road opened itself up. He never had the privilege to sit in the officer’s mess — he went straight to the front, straight into the meat grinder. A civilian victim of the same conflict was never going to be able to leave the war zone that ate her home. She might have been one of those countless women who suffer the most when the victorious armies roll in and looking for payback and their own kind of fun. A teenage boy got a rocket launcher he barely knew how to use thrust into his hands, and was shot dead — a statistic listed under “estimated insurgent casualties” before he shot a single rocket.
Poverty makes victims closer to home. Too many cities collapse under the weight of urban violence and the poverty that makes it. One of the Torn was the target of a drive-by. Another was collateral damage in a dealer’s shoot-out; another was shot in the head before by one of her enemies or one of her friends. The cops shot another man on the street before he could even show them he had no gun — then said he was resisting arrest. A convenience store owner had her face blown to pieces by some junkie who thought she was going for a shotgun she didn’t even have. A man’s third crime in a hard-line three-strikes state was the impassioned stabbing of the man he was trying to rob on the street. He went to the chair, and when the geist found him, he crawled out of the morgue.
The very rarest of Torn were affluent (and may still be). The rich have some insulation against violent death, but they’re by no means immune to it. A rich man shot himself when his stocks crashed. A society matron was poisoned by a jealous spouse. An up-and-coming junior senator was in the wrong place at the wrong time — robbed on the street and stabbed before he could even protest.
Something else might have even done the deed: One Torn has his guts ripped out by a ravening beast that looked for all the world like a wolf — but the last wolf here died out a hundred years ago. Another has her arteries emptied of every drop of blood — sucked out by a dead man. One even has his neck snapped by a single blow from the fist of a patchwork monster.
So many deaths: Commonplace, tawdry, planned, sudden. And from each the Torn come back with the capacity to face the violence that soaks the world and change it.
A Bleeding One might have an astounding capacity for vengeance, and an even more uncanny ability to inspire others to join him in that vengeance. Another engages in a relentless pursuit of cold eye-for-an-eye justice. An old, cold-eyed man has a penchant for the kind of bloody escalation that causes people to forget completely who started things off in the first place.
Just as many face that violence in a very different way. A Torn who bears marks very like the stigmata shows a talent for bringing an end to violence. She brings about reconciliation through example, sacrifice, or force of personality. She might be so pure in her rejection of violence, even while the creature that sits on her shoulder howls for satisfaction, that the only sensible word for her is “saint.”
Is this the thing that caused the geist of a Bleeding One to choose him over anyone else? It’s impossible to say. She might have been a vicious killer or a tireless peace worker before she died. Or she might have been no more remarkable than anyone else. Maybe a Torn always had a raw capacity for violence and didn’t know it. Maybe the experience of rebirth changed the Sin-Eater and made him capable of more than he ever was before his rebirth. In being or becoming a person who meets violence head-on and changes it, a Torn attracted and fused with a geist shaped by murder and conflict and came back with a direction — a path that must be followed now. It almost doesn’t matter at all what the Torn did before he died. He has these powers now. He must raise his fists or turn the other cheek now.
The Torn have the resources to choose violence or the transcendence of violence, capitulation to the endless cycle of killing and pain, or the fight for a better way. The ghosts of the murdered call to the Torn and torment their geists. Each must respond.
Does the Bleeding One bring forgiveness or destruction? Does she end the cycle gracefully or blast it apart forever? It’s a free choice, but the violence must be addressed. It demands a response, and the ghosts born of it must be dealt with one way or the other.
In dreams, every one of the Torn bleeds in a different way each night, fights the geist that follows her, kills and dies in her sleep a dozen times an hour. Come the day, the Bleeding One stands for a principle. She faces the violence in the world head-on.
Marks And Signs
A Torn often feels drawn to mark who he was with the paraphernalia of a violent world, colored perhaps by the way he died.
He might have a penchant for militaria: Old army badges worn in unconventional places, bits of old-fashioned dress uniforms from wars long past, army caps, battered boots, or patched fatigues stitched together and worn until they fall to pieces for good. She still adopts the style of the street, with all the aggressive glamour of the gang soldiers. Maybe she wears the colors of a gang that hasn’t existed for years, almost as a means of tempting fate: The bandana says come and get me. It says I have survived.
An icy-cold Torn who fully embraces violence as a means to his end might take great care in choosing arms: an antique Webley with a handle of inlaid ivory, or a Civil War cavalry saber kept in pristine condition and engraved with the name of a long-dead soldier. It could be something more current: A butterfly knife plated with silver, a Ruger semi-automatic with a mother-of-pearl handle, or a set of brass knuckles engraved with intricate patterns and kept polished to a bright shine. It could be something rougher that still bears a personal touch, ike a chair leg hand-carved with verses and images from Scripture.
Blades and bullets feature quite heavily in the imagery that the Torn share. They appear on T-shirts, business cards, and jewelry. The Torn sometimes appropriate other violent stereotypes of media and folk legend, but the image never seems to come out quite right, either through some irony or a lack of conviction in the stereotype. A tobacco-stained faux-Mafioso’s suit seems almost too shabby to hang on his shoulders. A trench-coated cowboy seems too heavily covered with dust, even in the middle of the city. An ersatz martial arts hero with chiseled, defined muscles sports always-fresh cuts and deep, deep scars across his wrists and chest.
In other parts of the world, some of the stereotypes hold; others don’t. One Japanese Torn wears a brightly patterned shirt. If you look closer, you see the symbols of death worked subtly into the print. Other Torn may hide death’s mark in a woven pattern in a shirt, or on a headscarf, or printed into something abstract on a T-shirt.
Torn characters often favor Social Attributes as much as Physical Attributes: A high proportion of the Torn are instigators and performers. Many also favor Physical Skills. A Sin-Eater who was never physically oriented in life may feel led to learn how to defend herself, or just get better at running away.
Wrath is a common Vice among the Torn. Forced into this existence through violence, it’s instinctual for them to lash out. With the dreams and the flashbacks, it’s easy to develop a core of anger. Many of the Torn want to put things right, so Justice is a common Virtue… but so is Charity. It makes sense for some of the Torn to have Fighting Style Merits, but the Inspiring Merit is disproportionately common.
The Torn often attract vengeful geists, bloodied geists, and vicious geists. Their geists often have something of the victim about them. Of all the Sin-Eaters, a Torn finds it hardest to come to terms with the creature that almost possesses him.
A drug dealer’s teenage runner, killed in a drive-by shooting, joins with the specter of a thin, bleeding man, face hidden under a blood-drenched hooded sweater, who leaves behind a smell of smoke and rot. The geist drives the runner to find the man who shot him, but every gang soldier he finds takes him further from his initial goal, even though the boy lays to rest every ghost that these men created.
A prostitute murdered in a back street and left to bleed out attracts a skinless woman with knives on her fingers and wires for hair. The geist cries out for revenge against innocent and guilty alike. She inspires the vengeful spectral legions of murdered and abused women to find completion in their revenge.
A merchant banker who shot himself when his stocks dwindled to nothing and his wife found about his affair is tormented by a whispering ghost made of what seems like money and old rope. The geist drives him to find other potential suicides — the ones whom he thinks, like him, don’t deserve to live — and urge them on, creating new ghosts and then forcing them to pass on.
A soldier who stood next to an exploding bus in Basra carries with him a weird, composite thing made of a hundred innocent voices. They constantly scream and weep in English and Hebrew and Arabic. Perhaps it was this geist who compelled the soldier to lay down his gun forever and seek a better way. He defeats the ghosts of war now, and keeps them from feeding from further conflict.
A man’s terrorized wife puts rat poison in his chili. Awakening on a hospital gurney, covered with his own bloody feces, he vows to reform. Reformation doesn’t come easy. The specter of a bruised woman with shards of glass embedded in her bloodied face whispers that he’ll never be forgiven. His wife and kids aren’t going to forgive him, anyway. She got acquitted, and he’s under a restraining order keeping him a mile away from his family. The whispering woman’s getting to him. He takes out his frustration on the ghosts of abusers and bullies. He does everything he can for the ghosts of victims, but it’s thankless. She doesn’t thank him either.
A quiet office worker is one of thirty people on the train when the terrorists blow it up, but he’s the only one who walks away. He’s different now, cold-eyed and vicious, and the shredded boy who walks alongside him approves. The only thing that matters is vengeance, and it doesn’t matter who pays.
It comes violently: Everything looks normal for a moment, and then there’s a brief, blinding headache. It passes, leaving behind the thinnest film of blood over the Sin-Eater’s eyes. Now, the dead appear in all their bloody glory. Every contusion, every cut, every bullet hole, appears clearer than the day, in impossible Technicolor detail. Wounds still ooze. Bruises appear in a rainbow of sickening colors. The telltale froth of poisoning coats lips and spatters spectral clothing. The same goes for the marks the Torn themselves bear: bright, gory evidence of exactly what kind of murders took them.
Murdered housewife turned martyr, pacifist deserter from the military, executed felon striving for reformation, postal worker with an arsenal, Gandhian ex-gangster, crossfire-caught peace campaigner turned avenger, formerly corrupt police officer, crusading attorney.
The Forgotten: For the last time. We are going this way. I do not care what your intuition tells you. I have a job to do.
The Prey: *I get it. Although I don’t see how it’s any better when they don’t mean it.
*The Silent: So what, you want more stuff? You came back from the dead, and all you want is stuff?
The Stricken: Nah, it’s okay. After the things I saw, there isn’t anything can sicken me.
Vampires: You’re all violence. It defines you. I face it. And that means I’m going to have to take you. Bring it.
Werewolves: I hope I give you indigestion.
Mages: If I had pulled the trigger just then, there wouldn’t be a single magic spell that could have saved you. Think about that.
Mortals: Just stay behind me. Stay behind me, and don’t look too hard. And please, shut the fuck up.