Ice rattled, bounced into the frosted tumbler. A pour of clear liqueur followed, thick and sugary. It rolled, diverted like a waterfall's spill over riverstones, became milky clear where it touched weeping water.
A thumb and middle finger, all what remained of the drinker's digits, wrapped round the condensing glass, upended it through whiskery lips.
"Another, per favore," he said, voice gummy, squinting to the barmouse.
The furry barman nodded, tipped the bottle's end to pour again.
A shadow crossed the gleaming bartop, covered the glass. "And this one is on us," said a voice beside. Young, accented like a Southern grandee.
The drinker crinkled his eyebrows, turned his greying head. Beside stood a pair in junior Navy uniforms. A young man and woman, both with the ear-length curtains of black hair so popular amongst cadets. They grinned awkwardly, yet eagerly, leaned against the otherwise empty bar.
"Elias, you brought a friend," nodded the barmouse. He poured again, caught a drip off the bottle with a serviette.
"Gottmus, Giorgio, hola." said Elias, bobbed his head in turn to the mouse, the greying man.
"You again," grumbled Giorgio. He squeezed his glass, hunched.
"This is my friend, Peral," said Elias. Peral waved, grinning widely.
"Bah." He did not look at her.
"You are hard to find, friend. What are you having?" said Elias, moving to occupy the stool beside him.
"Anisette," grumbled Giorgio.
"Again? I will have one, too." Elias raised a finger to Gottmus.
"You will not like it."
"He likely won't," seconded the barmouse. "Only Giorgio likes it this way."
"Sure he will. He likes drinks that hurt," giggled Peral.
Gottmus retrieved another glass, some ice, poured. "Salud," said Elias. He knocked it back, considered it, frowned, stuck out his tongue, sticky. "My Lord."
Peral covered her mouth, chuckled. Gottmus squinted, twitched his nose. "I warned you. Not meant to be had on ice."
Peral sat as well, turned to survey the man across from Elias. "How did you acquire such a taste, eh?"
"Off. Do not bother me," insisted Giorgio. "Gottmus," he snapped a finger. "Do not let these two buy my drinks, understand?" The mouse shrugged.
"But Giorgio," said Elias, raising his eyebrows. "This place is practically empty." He waved a hand about the bar, empty save for some quiet sorts in booths of dark wood and colored glass. "Let us give you some company."
"It is empty because it is late," snapped Giorgio. "Go. It is past your bedtime."
"Why do you want to buy me drinks, eh?" snapped the aging man. He half rose, taller than his hunch suggested. He snapped his cold eyes to each. Peral shrunk a little. Elias went agape.
"Because, well," started Elias. "Eh…"
"Elias says you told him the most exciting stories, last time," said Peral, quiet.
Giorgio frowned. "Oh." He seemed to shrink a mite. He grumbled, frowned more. "Why do you want to hear old cutter nonsense? Eh? No happy stories."
"We don't want happy stories," said Peral, quick. She shifted forward. "Happy ones are boring."
Giorgio's brows met, bushy. "You like the scary ones, then?"
The cadets bobbed their heads, eager. Giorgio sighed. He plucked up the mouse's next pour, tossed it down. "Fine," he grumbled, voice sticky. "You pups cannot account me for your bad dreams, though."
"What did I tell you, last?"
Elias perked up. "You told me about how you lost your fingers."
"Ai, that was nothing."
"Cannibal ragmen biting off your fingers is nothing?" said Elias. Peral's eyes widened.
Giorgio shook his head, slow, lip downturned. "Not compared to the worst."
"Lord. What is worst, then?"
"Hm," hummed Giorgio.
"Banshees?" suggested Elias.
"Never fought a banshee." Giorgio shook his head.
"Wolf spiders?" said Peral.
"No. They just keep you up at night."
"No. Hate sailing, anyway."
"What is it?" said Peral, anxious.
Giorgio looked blank. He gestured for another pour. Slow, he put it down in three sips, breathed the licorice fumes with relish. Then, he huffed, nodded. "I recall."
Both cadets leaned close, eyes wide. Across the bar, even Gottmus, occupied decanting a dusty bottle through a straining cloth, perked his ears.
"It was an expedition on Illa Corvoy, south of the Peninsula," said Giorgio, slow, as if remembering. "I was young as you both, and I had signed on with a green bunch of poor bastardos to delve a cave in the deep jungle slopes." He nodded. "We were in good spirits when we set out, for the bank assured us it was an easy venture. Just a scrape of some old buried gold. Work for the back, not the sword arm."
Giorgio shook his head. "But it was not that way."
"What went wrong?" said Peral.
Ice clinked as the old cutter swirled it round his glass. "Have you heard of the Asp of Sorento?" Elias and Peral nodded, quick. "No one's ever fought it and lived," muttered the latter. Across the bar, Gottmus shivered.
"Ai, well," said the old cutter. "Before he was the Asp of Sorento, he was the Serpent of Corvoy, though none knew him by that name, at the time, and he lived in a cave all covered over with ivy."
Giorgio paused, swallowed. The others kept quiet. "We walked into the island interior for a day, until we could see the place we were meant to scrape. Set a camp, there, and designed to work come the morning. Kept an eye on that cave, all the while, though, for we saw a light inside, in the dark. We were curious, wondering what glittered in there," he paused. "In the dark past the ivy."
"We were impatient," he said. "Kept guessing about what measure of gold could be so large to glimmer after sunset. So we went down after supper to see." Giorgio blinked, slow. "When we got to the cave, and they started crawling inside, I lagged back, for I wanted sleep. Glad I did."
"Why?" said Peral, soft.
"Because it wasn't much time before they started screaming."
Across the bar, Gottmus jumped. Something clattered to the bartop. "Sorry," he said, picked up a spoon.
"Go on," urged Elias.
"They were quiet, soon enough. Likely a blessing, for by the sound of how they suffered, I would not wish it upon any man," said Giorgio. "And from what I saw."
"You saw the Asp?" said Elias, sharply, breathless.
"What was it like?"
Giorgio squinted at the cadets. "You know how the heart panics when you see a little serpent in the grass?" They nodded.
"It was much the same way, the beast which came through the ivy." He nodded. "But coiling, and huge, and black as jet, with reaching arms, and fires in its eyes." He shut his eyes. "And the bodies of three young fools melting in its jaws."
At this, the cadets breathed shallow. Giorgio squinted, furrowed, eyes near obscured. "I will not forget the way a serpent makes a man comes apart; burning, dripping. Nor the way his flesh smells." He winced. "Nor how long you can see the life in his eyes, even after he stops his screaming."
He swallowed twice, dryly, hastily swallowed the watery licorice dregs. "That is the worst I recall," nodding.
Covertly, Elias looked Peral in the eye. She met his look, mouth drawn down, unnerved. Giorgio looked at them both, sneered. "Is this the kind of story you like?" Tentative, both still nodded.
Under the bar, Bottmus squeaked. "Certainly not the sort of story for me."
Giorgio chuckled, wetly. "My good baristo, I will refrain, in the future, for your soft ears' sake. Now, pour me another, per favore." Awkwardly, Elias giggled, too. Peral stayed silent.
"But Giorgio," she said. "How can it be true? No one has ever fought the Asp of Sorento and lived."'
At this, the old cutter laughed again. Long, harsh. He quit. "Ai, I didn't fight the serpent," said he. "A certain fear is a cutter's friend. How else do you get to grow fat and grey and tell silly children their bedtime stories, eh?"
He grinned at the cadets. They shirked at that expression, at the cutter's cold eyes. "No, I did not fight it," he said, after a moment. He swallowed his drink.
"I ran the hell away."
Be it gradual or sudden, peace of mind is easily tempted away.
The following is a mechanism from the Incunabuli Playtest:
Awful, graphic things may cause a character Distress.
When a character senses something graphic, upsetting, or hopeless, they may opt to gain 1 Distress.
The GM may offer a chance to opt into distress, or players may volunteer, if a situation is applicable.
Opting into Distress provides 5XP immediately. A character may gain up to 15 XP this way per session.
Possessing any level of distress causes a character to roll for Nightmares when next they sleep.
Horrible monsters may cause a character Terror, prompting them to freeze, fight, or flee.
When a character encounters a monster, they may opt to give into Terror.
If they do, they gain 1 Distress and must roll on the table below:
As with Distress, chances to opt into Terror may be offered or volunteered for.
A Terrified character gains 10 XP immediately. They may gain up to 20XP this way per session. Certain monsters may give more XP when used as a horror trigger.
Terror may be remembered in Nightmares.
Whenever a character takes a Night’s Rest, they must roll for Nightmares using a d12 on the table below.
For every 5XP a character gained via Horror in the time before they went to sleep, add +1 to their Nightmare roll.
Circumstances other than Horror may influence the bonus applied to a Nightmare roll. Sleeping in especially unnerving areas may add up to +4. Consuming certain foods, drinks, or drugs may apply up to -3.