No account of the Words closely associated with China would be complete without an accounting of the struggles between both Sides (and, indeed, on occasion within them) regarding the wonder of silk. A surprising population of celestials have been involved with this trade.
Bxbmbx was the first to understand the potential of silkworms and spider silk, well before humans discovered them. It was Word-bound before the Fall and was (and is still) considered one of Heaven’s noteworthy artists in physical media. It oversees all manner of cocooning and webspinning insects, including silkworms and the spinning species of spiders. Its area of authority overlaps with some other angels, but its focus is typically on the protection of the environmental conditions necessary for cocoons and webs, as well as the appreciation of their innate beauty and utility in the wild. It is less interested in technological applications of silk, leaving that to Shao, Angel of Sericulture. It is a Distincted angel of Animals and has several rites and Attunements that it can offer to subordinates or particularly meritorious allies:
Cocoon: With the expenditure of an Essence, the angel’s Vessel can sweat a clear goo which dries into strands after a few minutes in air. Within a number of minutes equal to the angel’s Vessel level, the angel is encased in a thin cocoon and goes to dormant (its mind does not enter the Marches, and the angel is awakened by a rough jolt or any damage). The angel’s Vessel heals one Body Hit for every hour spent thus hibernating. During this time the angel’s oxygen needs are next to nil, so it makes for a way to survive low-oxygen conditions, as well.
Metamorphosis: Requiring the Cocoon attunement and serving as an upgrade, this Attunement allows an angel to permanently modify his Vessel with Songs that produce a physical effect such as Form or Numinous Corpus. The Song is activated and the angel enters a cocoon while still under its influence; spending a number of days in hibernation equal to the angel’s Corporeal Forces causes the angel to emerge with the Song permanently active upon his current Vessel. (Those with a finite number of uses, like Acid or Barbs, remain so, regardless.) The process may be reversed to rid the angel of the feature. The effects are restricted to physical manifestations: for example, Wings only permit flight if the angel’s Vessel is light enough and the angel strong enough to fly normally.
Spun Steel: The angel produces a stickier, stronger silk from his fingertips (though suitable insect or swarm hosts will grow convenient spinnerets, and produce double the quantity) that can be stuck to an object at one end or both ends, and drawn out as a cable or rope. The strand is capable of holding weight or resisting force up to a level equal to the angel’s Strength, and can take (angel’s Strength × Corporeal Forces) in damage before sundering. For every Essence, around 10 feet can be produced, and multiple threads can be strung linearly or wound together.
As intimated, Bxbmbx is not the only angel closely involved with silk. Shao, Angel of Sericulture, Seraph of Lightning, has been racing humans to develop the production and harvesting techniques necessary to take advantage of silk since shortly after humans were found to have developed the art. Shao was closely involved with both the agricultural and the textile side of production, and these days is displaying considerable interest in the use of both natural silks and artificial substitutes, which he is attempting with some success to encompass within his Word.
Shao was not really a fan of the Chinese monopoly on silk, but instead of ham-fistedly passing around silkworms to foreigners he tried to convince the Chinese authorities to teach their allies the secrets. These efforts amounted to little until the theft of eggs and kidnapping of some silkworm farmer girls by the Japanese around the year 300 CE, which a demon of Genubath claimed credit for inspiring. As unpleasant as the means were, the spread of the art was seen to bring Shao some considerable relief – silk technology remains one of the few technological applications that was delayed compared to its expected dissemination schedule in Lightning’s plans.
Jordi does not get along at all well with Jean, and Bxbmbx has no particular use for Shao’s chemical preparations and talk of modifying organisms. If it prompts humans to appreciate silkworms and spiders, wonderful. If it prompts humans to leave them alone, fine. His own Word is fully capable of supporting itself as long as the ecological niches for spinners continue to be viable. The Word of Sericulture was contested by a Novaline and a Creationer, the latter of whom Bxbmbx supported, feeling that that angel had a much better appreciation of the subtleties and value of a fine web, independently of any use it had to humans.
Bxbmbx’ opinion of Shao, however, is a mild peeve compared to their mutual distaste for Soggaster, Balseraph of Greed, Demon of Silk. This entity was at once responsible for strongly encouraging the Chinese government in its monopoly practices while spreading the desire for the rare stuff, all the while collecting excellent pieces for herself and profiting handsomely both in resale and in a growing collection of fine goods. Given that Soggaster was also known to feed information about silk caravans to demons of Rapine when the caravans were impudent about providing the right bribes, it is also entirely possible that she was in a position to let the Japanese in on the monopoly (for a king’s ransom) if it seemed like Shao’s persuasions were about to have an effect. Though Greed has been diminished, the Demon of Silk remains a force to be reckoned with in China, both financially and in art circles. She is a cultured, wealthy demon who always has a strong Role and will not be seen in anything short of the finest clothing – several pieces of which are subtle relics.
Soggaster’s primary opponent among Trade was Hsien, Ofanite Angel of the Silk Roads, and an angel in a very tough position. To be sure, the Silk Roads were a powerful Earthly manifestation of Trade, and several points along them produced Tethers that served Heaven well, but Greed did fairly well off of the industry too. (As did several bands of raiders, working first for Genubath and later for Valefor; in modern times, some of those raiding groups wear power ties.) Whether the cross-cultural flow of religion served monotheism or the pagan gods better is debated, as is whether Hsien really had any control over the rapid technology and knowledge transfer that ran up and down the trade routes he oversaw. These days Hsien is not so powerful as he once was, but the concept of the Silk Roads remains viable as metaphor and the physical roads themselves are in some cases still in use. Hsien is safe enough at the moment, and is trying to work out how to expand his Word metaphorically to Occident-Orient exchanges of culture in general.
Modern China has an incredibly ambivalent relationship with media and the Internet. On the one hand, any nation with pretensions to being a world power has to be connected. On the other hand, truth can be horridly inconvenient for an entrenched oligarchy. The tensions between these two priorities lead to a magnificently taut web of alliances and rivalries among demons and Infernal Words that, in large part, define the major Infernal players with their fingers on modern China.
Often put at the top of the rank ladder in this social subset of demons is known to the outside only as Wing. His titles are known: he is a Balseraph Baron of the Fourth Estate and Demon of State-Owned Media. Wing finds China’s enormous audience and tight controls the best home for him in the world, and so he spends most of his time here. He commands a number of demons, as well as being in a position of power in China’s Ministry of Industry and Information. However, no one beyond his immediate circle quite knows which official he is, or whether he pulls strings from behind the scenes or is a frontline broadcaster. Whether through his demonic subordinates or by commanding humans through his Role, however, he is known to influence China’s media storyline significantly. He sees to it that the stories that get published reflect as well as possible on the humans and demons he favors, and disrupt the activities of Heaven in China or upend the plots of his enemies. His Role needs to be extremely secure – given the pace of the news cycle these days, putting Wing into Trauma for just a short while could be all the window of opportunity an opponent needs.
One thing Wing finds it nearly Dissonant to do, however, and which is crucial to his Word, is censorship. In addition to putting out stories that serve his ends, Wing’s job should really include stamping out stories that China’s government doesn’t want to see published. Being a demon of the Media, though, he is frankly somewhat half-hearted about this aspect of his duties. His Word is State-Owned Media, after all, not State-Controlled Media. You can’t control the Media – it’s bigger than you. The best you can do is shape it. So this part of the job falls to Das’s-t-k!k! , Shedite of Secrets and Demon of Censorship.
Das was originally with Gebbeleth, and has held his Word longer than Alaemon has held his, making ties over the centuries with Asmodeans who find his Word and its attendant Attunements... handy. Being a Shedite, he doesn’t have a Role or an identity per se, though in the Internet Age Shedim have started to explore this possibility more. Das moves around as much as one would expect a body-hopper to, but does spend the plurality of his time in China – more stories, and more desire for control. In fact, despite the rivalry one would think would usually exist between the Media and Secrets, it’s persistently rumored that Das serves as a lieutenant of Wing, complementing his activities on the strategic level. He may be intimately involved with the “Golden Shield Project,” a.k.a. the Great Firewall of China. On the other hand, it’s also suggested that Das is a commanding officer of the Revolution, one of Alaemon’s secret societies, having been granted the right to organize this many Alaemish as payment for fully leaving Gebbeleth’s service (conveniently just in time to have been stripped of his Rites before they stopped working). The Revolution particularly targets the Media among other Words, so Das may indeed be one of Wing’s trusted lieutenants... without Wing knowing.
Of course, even put together these two don’t control all aspects of information flow in China. There are still those who want to get out the stories Wing doesn’t want to see and Das wants to suppress. This is a matter for the Chthonic Information Network, CIN – a loose coalition of direct agents of Freedom, Technology, Theft, and the Media that take stories of this cause or that and use means from samizdat to YouTube to publish them widely inside and outside of China. On Freedom’s side, the agents can be anything from Free Lilim to temps under hire, to Soldiers who want their pet cause getting airtime. On the Media’s side, Nybbas is happy to see people depending on the Media for the survival of their cause, and the Media agents can help smooth things over with Wing when feathers get ruffled. The two groups may be at loggerheads regarding China’s interests, but both groups serve the Media splendidly. Rather, it is Das who regards them with the most hostility, and seeks to crush the network mercilessly. In this ongoing effort he has the enthusiastic backing of his Asmodean allies, who regard CIN as far too often giving aid to Heavenly projects like human rights crusades, or its protected figures like the Dalai Lama. However, CIN’s agents are all of compatible Words with friendly Superiors, so the network is extremely resilient.
Not all speech in China is political, of course, and here Theft has one of its more lucrative and modern operations, being deeply involved with intellectual copyright piracy. The Demon of Piracy (hat tip to Methariel for the suggestion) was originally a Servitor of Vephar, having obtained his Word in competition with Servitors of Rapine, but when Vephar was killed that entity was unable to soothe the ill-feelings with Genubath, who offed him and had the Word handed to one of his own. The new Demon of Piracy has been around since this time (ca 1700 BCE), and the Djinn has actually been amused to find his Word expanding to include intellectual copyright infringement. China isn’t a peak area of his concern – he still tends to fixate on the high seas – but he can certainly be found there, encouraging the metaphor and helping keep the mill of copied recordings flowing out the door. Since Valeforians have to stay on the move, a fair amount of the grunt work is done by low-ranking demons of the Media, which is to say that completely humans do most of the actual work and demons of the Media shift the goods and skim the profits so that the Demon of Piracy can collect his cut.
The goals of this collection of Magpies are much simpler than CIN’s – profit and, well, profit – but its methods are much the same. Faster, higher-quality copies, wider distribution, and more anonymity for points of origin are all of concern to both groups, whereas cracking that anonymity, disabling copies, and blacking out distribution channels are all of concern to Das and Wing. Technology is happy to serve all customers, dishing up shinier publishing software, more powerful hardware, better encryption schemes, better code-breakers, and sneakier tracking methods to the highest bidder. If the PCs want to get in touch with one or more of the groups listed in this description, the Technologists who sell to them might be the most convenient contact point to start with: on businesslike speaking terms with all sides, they offer an entree to any of the desired circles.
Ha. You know what you thought of.
And that’s cool. The Demon of Chinese Food thanks you for the Essence. It’s spicy.
In fact, there really was a General Tso. Hsiang has even met the guy: he’s earned command of a squad in Gehenna. Vicious bastard, put down more than a few Chinese rebellions, killed enemy leaders with the “death of a thousand cuts” and everything. There’d probably be a couple more Muslim nations in the world if it weren’t for him. What he wasn’t was a bleeding chef, and he never tasted anything called General Tso’s chicken in his life.
Hsiang brought him some, just to see his reaction. He said it was okay, but nothing fancy.
And that’s the point, really: General Tso’s chicken is an adaptation of a poor man’s dish eaten by the Chinese that came to America, which is to say, guys who needed jobs, bad. What Americans call “Chinese food” is about as Chinese as French fries are French. That’s one reason why the Balseraph loves it so much – it’s Chinese because it’s what Americans want Chinese food to be. That’s his Word, as a matter of fact, in literal translation: not “food eaten by Chinese people,” but “Chinesefood,” the ubiquitous menu of Chinese restaurants across the United States and the Western Hemisphere. Actual Chinese food is, he is sorry to say, hideous – fried grasshoppers, bird’s nest soup? You know it’s gross. I hear they eat dog, too. Or maybe that’s Koreans. Or is it whale meat? I don’t know. Here, have some crispy beef. Now that’s good stuff, isn’t it? You can have some more later.
And you can, too. That’s the second reason Hsiang loves Chinese food. Because you can eat it... and still be hungry! Isn’t it great? It’s the perfect cuisine: eat all you want, there’ll be room for more! How can you not love this stuff? It’s the tabula rasa of food – what you want it to be, empty of essence until filled with your desires, giving everybody a little taste of what it’s like to be a Balseraph all the time. What it’s like to be Hsiang.
Now, admittedly there are some sourpusses down on Chinese food for this or that reason. Sodium, calories, blah blah bah. MSG? Please, Hsiang started that, or at least he’ll tell you he will. Gotta keep people on their toes a little, that’s all. But MSG’s everywhere anyway. How do you think Chinese food stays so cheap? It should be cheap, too – it’s for everybody. Hsiang wants it to be for everybody, all the time. Of course you can live on it – Chinese people do, don’t they? Breakfast, lunch and dinner, appetizer to dessert. Here, have a fortune cookie.
Fortune cookie. Oh God. Oh god oh god oh god. Hsiang still loves fortune cookies. Just the whole concept. Genius. Who cares if they were Japanese to start with. They’re Chinese food now, buddy. Hsiang’s a forward-looking sort of demon, with an expansionist approach to the Word. He hasn’t quite figured out where to go with the Word of “Commercialized Cuisine of the American Chinese Diaspora,” but that’s okay. There’s always potential. Blank page to be written on, and all that. Yeah.
Say, you hungry? How about we do Chinese?
|Corporeal Forces - 5||Strength 12||Agility 8|
|Ethereal Forces - 3||Intelligence 4||Precision 8|
|Celestial Forces - 4||Will 11||Perception 5|
Word Forces: 6
Vessel: Short, rotund Chinese male/4
Role: Role/4, Status +2 – Tsang Li, wealthy wholesale distributor to Chinese restaurants
Skills: Artistry (Cooking)/5, Computer Operation/1, Emote/4, Knowledge(Restaurant business)/6, Dodge/2, Fighting/3, Languages (English/3, Chinese(Cantonese)/1), Ranged Weapon (throwing knives)/2, Small Weapon (meat cleaver)/4
Songs: Fangs/3, Blood(Corporeal)/3
Artifacts: Meat cleaver, Corporeal artifact/6, Summonable. If Hsiang needs to get rid of a human body, he does have a lot of orders to fill.
Discord: couple of Geas/2 to random Lilim for sundry favors; use as desired
Attunements: Haagenti’s Consume and Insatiable Attunements, Fortune Cookie
(Fortune Cookie: Although rather low on Word-Forces for a Word-bound to have an Attunement, Hsiang has managed to research this aspect of his Word. If facing a decision, he, or a being to whom he grants this Attunement, may spend 1 Essence, make a Perception roll, and sample a single fortune cookie from a large group (which must contain at least as many fortune options as there are choices to be considered); the chosen fortune cookie must be eaten and the scroll unrolled from the mouth. If still legible (and the original Perception roll was passed), the fortune revealed will be that one among the available options most relevant to the problem at hand. This is not necessarily all that relevant, given fortune cookies’ usual content, but it’s as accurate as a Song of Symphony for the current plane, and better than nothing.)
Rites: Haagenti’s basic Rites, Haagenti’s expanded Rite “cause a human to expend all his resources on food”. Hsiang has not discovered his Word-Rite(s) yet. (He spent the time researching his attunement.)
Hsiang is a low-ranking Word-Bound of recent vintage (the 1970s), still proving his worth. Like many of Gluttony’s specialized Word-bound, he was in the right place at the right time to introduce Haagenti to a new style of dish, and was promoted for his luck. He has no particular vendetta against any given angel, and his only notable rivalries with any demons are with the demons of the “real” Chinese cooking traditions. They regard him asa pretender, and he regards them as as effete poseurs trying futilely to preserve a static art, when adaptability is vital. He is usually more concerned with getting people to eat more Chinese food than any particular Fates, so he can make a good, low-contrast supervisor for demons of Gluttony. He can command the services of unranked demons of Gluttony that aren’t doing anything else in particular at the moment, or may be hatching a plan to boost the Word and his stature – while he greatly enjoys his Word, he nevertheless sees it as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things.
Hsiang has a few connections in China for “authentic” ingredients, insofar as customers ever demand them, but most of his suppliers and work is done in the U.S. He can be found in any U.S. town or city, and occasionally other towns in the Western world, whether supplying the Chinese restaurant down the street, peddling his wares to shops intended for the tourist trade in Chinatown, or making a deal for farm produce. He claims credit for the “Jews order Chinese food on Christmas” meme, though who can say? The advent of the Olympics in 2008 is giving him some excellent marketing opportunities, that is for certain.
The material presented here is the creation of William Keith, and is intended for use with the In Nomine system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.
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