The Questioned World

In a world of living spirits, the most you can hope for is to be given a choice.

Decades after the Earth is hit by a supernatural phenomenon that turns most of the population into semi-sentient spirits, the remaining survivors have carved a spot for themselves in the post-Question world. But human nature survives even the hardest of lessons, and, while some seek enlightenment, others have turned to pure violence and intrigue.

What most of them do not realize is, there is now another form of sentience on Earth. And it’s not of the benevolent kind either.

The Shamen

Although the first Question was a stressful event, and the following need to survive in the new, almost deserted world, was paramount, there were people who wondered what had happened to them. The ones inclined to theorize, to dissect their experiences out of pure curiosity or just the need to finish things (something that was generally termed a pathology beyond a certain point) made countless theories about the ‘What’, ‘How’ and ‘Why’. It all ended in the need to experience the same phenomenon again, and the opportunity came every morning, everywhere they went. It wasn’t long until they started answering the Question positively again.

The process bore many names: binding, entering, entombing, possessing, to name a few. The ones who tried it used small items (as they already knew the basics of the process) and most of them asked someone else to guard them and the item while they did it. There was no knowledge of how one exited the object they were bound to at that time, and this led to a lot of these experiments lasting much longer than expected. Some of those first Vessels were lost, while others released their inhabitants at the next random occurrence that resonated with their souls.

The next wave of experiments, although much smaller, was hugely successful. The ones who dared try now had an instinctive understanding of how one ended the bound state. Nearly eighty percent of them returned successfully the next morning, helped by their living assistants.

It was a turning point for the part of humanity who accepted the change not as the end of the world, but as the next step in evolution. They started using regular occurrences and easy to define goals to ensure their spirits’ release. Once it was easy to go in and out of objects, they could start focusing on their experiences and what they could do while bound.

The second breakthrough came from a small number of binding experiments that failed outright. At the beginning people were amazed to find items that they could not enter. The ones who tried were left feeling empty and depressed until the next Question came. It was some time later that they found these items already held a spirit. This sparked even more questions, and it was asserted that no item could hold more than one spirit at a time. The art of Touching developed as the simple act of sensing the spirits when they were not apparent and without doing any harm to the potential Vessels.

Several different paths formed as different people developed different affinities to the spirit world. Some were better at binding to objects, their conscious though sparking even while in this state, and they soon developed skills to manipulate their spirit selves at will. Others excelled at detecting the Bound (the name that they gave to all people in spirit form), and even exchanging thoughts and emotions with them. Whatever their skills were, they embraced the new form of existence as their own.

A school of thought was born with the rise of this group that promoted peaceful coexistence with the new world. They taught their children and newly recovered souls to not fear the spirits, but also not to abuse them. They taught respect for all living things, as for them the Bound were still living too. They taught, and they learned, and they explored.

For them the Question was just another challenge, one that just hadn’t been overcome yet.

Culture of the Survivors

Living through the first Question was a terrifying experience. Most of humanity took it as a random occurrence, a wandering train of thought that was provoked by whatever they were doing at the time. People asked themselves existential questions frequently enough that this one did not raise any suspicion. Accordingly, and in line with the main driver every living thing is used to, and that is, to live on, they answered positively.

Thus 99% of humanity disappeared, turned into bound spirits.

As it turned out, people couldn’t be chained for long, and they started unbinding on their own as soon as a month later. For most it was like waking from a nightmare. They had lived as part of a building, or a plant, or some item, almost losing their human side. They had been confined in a mental prison so harsh, that their inexperienced souls were unable to express themselves in any way. They had gotten free by a stroke of luck when a natural occurrence struck a chord in their dormant thoughts or emotions. They were never going to that nightmare again, and everything connected to it was obviously wrong. The world had turned wrong.

After a number of failed attempts to reclaim the cities most people reverted to the only thing left: survival. They had to restore civilization from scratch, using nothing but what they could salvage and learn themselves. High technology was prized above everything else, as were actual knowledge and skill that could make life good again. Humanity started climbing the technological ladder again, in villages and farms built away from former centers of human activity, but close enough to them that technology could be retrieved. A discipline of denial was instated, and instilled in young children that could grasp the meaning of the Question and its dangers. Amazingly most Survivor societies around the Earth discovered that the youngest children never got bound by accident. They felt the Question, even though they couldn’t explain what it was exactly, but they seemed to never be affected by it. Not until it was explained to them that this was the greatest threat to people in the world did they start answering the call every time. At that time accidents were suddenly possible and they happened, so children were drilled to cry out ‘no’ or ‘not’ when the sun came up above the horizon.

People kept coming out of their spiritual prisons through the years, but the already established communities were reluctant to let them integrate ‘back into society’. They had spent too much time out of their human shapes and this provoked the suspicions of people beyond what had once been reasonable. The places and items that held humanity’s spirits were termed ‘tainted’, ‘polluted’, ‘nuked’, or ‘damned’. The terms and connotations varied, but the effect in the behavior of the living was the same: denial, fear, evasion, aggression. All these were aimed at the newly freed people, creating tension, and splitting communities further.

The lack of mutual understanding prevented the Survivor villages to help each other effectively in what was their shared goal: the recreation of the former glory of human civilization. They were left alone, to scavenge the cities under danger of Taint and ghosts, going slowly mad while fighting the hostile environment and the groups of raiders that had fed upon the fall of society. Their first goal remained their main goal.


The Unchainable

The tiny part of humanity that was so deep in depression and suffering that did not for a moment think about continuing their existence became the sole owners of the world once the Question hit. People with mental problems who were already considering ending their lives, those that lived in utter poverty, who had lost their loved ones or felt totally alone and unloved, suddenly became the only people still breathing and thinking. They stepped out into a world of ghostly moving items, haunted vehicles and unbreakable doors. Some were driven mad by this abrupt end of the world they knew, which had still given them some kind of psychological anchor. They preferred ending their lives than adjusting.

Others were happy. For the first time their oppressors were gone, and there was no one to tell them what they could or couldn’t do, where they couldn’t go, what they couldn’t be. The poor and hungry could own the stores brimming with food. The pathologically criminal could go and break into any bank they liked, just like in the movies. There were no laws, no barriers, no rules. Complete anarchy consumed the world in the wake of the Question. Those first rulers of the new Earth understood at a primal level that their denial had given them the reigns, and almost none were tempted to answer “Yes” on the next day. They had left humanity behind and had become something more, something grander and more important.

Fantasies ran wild in the world without rules, and a number of new states appeared, then fell apart, went to war over simple supplies of food or stashes of weapons, destroyed each other and merged. About half of those who stayed human were dead in a year, a natural selection that left only the most cunning, brutal, or sneaky individuals. By then the first recovering souls were growing in numbers and a competition grew for resources and living space that was close enough to the cities, and yet out of reach of the swarms of Bound spirits that made life difficult.

Those never Bound quickly formed their opinions of the recovering souls. It was obvious that people who spent their time as inanimate objects were inferior, potentially only worthy to be used as slaves or as a source of wealth or power. Settlements that tried gathering or restoring technology were raided and plundered, while the small groups of people who tried living closer to the spirits were exploited for their knowledge and lack of fear of the new world. In most places both of those groups were too disorganized to mount a proper defense, and were driven into deeper hiding in order to survive. The human population dwindled, as the inflow of recovering souls was not enough to replenish the losses of mindless battles and plunderings.

Several more years had to pass before an unsteady equilibrium had been established, and the unbound rulers of the world realized that their kingdom would not last if they kept up their archaic attitudes. They reorganized in feudal groups headed by the most experienced fighters. By then most easily accessible firearms had been recovered and ammunitions had been used up or destroyed during the anarchy years. People who owned a melee weapon with a Bound spirit and were skilled enough to use it floated to the top of the food chain. A trade in supplies and Bound items formed, and rudimentary farming was developed, fueled by the shaman and survivor slaves. Still, the main defining characteristic of the unbound rulers of the world was denial.

They denied anyones’ superiority.

They denied order, other than their own.

They denied the lure of the Question.

They were unchainable.

The Slang

Test, the – to check if an item contains a spirit by trying to break it.
Question, the – the daily occurrence of a mental challenge that happens to every human being on Earth.

Unchainable slang
Artifact – an item with a spirit residing in it. Equal to the shaman Vessel.
Betrayal – the act of an Unchainable willingly binding to an item (answering the Question positively).
Charter – a group of Nobles whose dominions are close to each other, and who try to have (more or less) peaceful relations. A charter is usually led by one of the Nobles that have amassed the largest amount of artifacts, servants and retainers.
Unworthy – Survivors. Based on the Survivors’ unwillingness to search for and use artifacts.
Noble – a person in possession of an artifact ‘weapon’. This also covers all non-military objects that can nevertheless be used offensively. The rank of Noble allows one to own land (basically, to defend an area against the intrusion of any other Unchainable).
Retainer – an Unchainable in the service of a Noble, who has been given an artifact weapon to use by his superiors. Retainers have the chance to receive a weapon of their own through outstanding service or luck. Sometimes called ‘knights’.
Servants – Shamen.

Shaman slang
Bound – human spirits residing in any object, living or inanimate (the Vessel). Also sometimes used as an adjective for the object itself.
Chained – Unchainable. ‘Unchainable’ actually comes as a denouncement of the shaman word.
Freemaker – a Shaman that focuses on freeing the Bound and returning them to human form. The ways this is done range from finding an object that the person desired before being Bound, to wrenching the spirit out of the Vessel through pure force of will at the time of the Question.
Garden – a place with a lot of Bound, mostly equal to a survivors’ Graveyard. However, Gardens are also defined by the purpose of the spirits based on their human desires right before the Question that bound them, so a single Graveyard may be segmented into multiple Gardens.
Gardener – a Shaman that has formed a spiritual bond with the Bound in a Garden and cares for their well-being, as well as the well-being of any living things that enters the Garden (the latter varies from Gardener to Gardener). With time Gardeners start to exert some influence over the actions of the Bound under their care.
Gathering – a location where shamen have created a living space that does not affect the surrounding Bound, and sometimes incorporates them.
Outside – everything beyond a Gathering’s borders.
Poor – short for ‘poor souls’, Survivors.
Revenant – a person possessed by an aggressive spirit.
Source, the – the (yet unknown) cause of the Question.
Speaker – a Shaman that focuses on communicating with the Bound. Higher forms of the Speaker art include ‘listening’ to the Bound without Touching the Vessels, as well as being able to sense the major thoughts and desires of living people as echoes of their own spirits.
Touch – contact made willingly between a person and the spirit in a Vessel. Requires minimal training to perform. People that carry and touch the same Vessel for a long time naturally develop some form of unconscious Touch.
Touched – any living thing that harbors a Bound in its/their body.
Vessel – any object, living or inanimate, that carries a Bound spirit.

Survivor slang
Graveyard – a place with a high concentration of Taint. City centers and heavily populated areas are usually giant Graveyards.
Haven – a village, usually heavily fortified and guarded, that has been cleared of any Tainted items. Havens are more common in the wilderness or suburban areas where there is less general Taint. Also provides protection from wild animals and human attackers (usually vandals).
Crazies – Shamen.
Taint – any item that carries a human spirit; the spirit itself; any unnatural effect caused by the Taint in an item.
Taintland – everything beyond the borders of a Haven.
Vandals – Unchainable.



The end of civilization is just a new beginning!

Young Jack grew up fearing the taint-infested world that Earth had turned into. The rules were clear: work hard, stay in the haven, and run away from taint. He broke those rules, and people died. Now, as the newest member of the haven guard squad, he has to go back out into Taint-land, preserve ammunition, and find a purpose to live for. Instead, he finds a war.

How hard could survival be?

Soon on!