Blinkstrikers: In Broad Daylight

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If asked to describe an assassin, most of us would imagine someone who skulks in shadows and creeps about at night in desolate places. It’s not just to dodge being caught plying their deadly trade; no one paying for assassinations wants trails leading to the buyer! Assassins slip in when you’re alone and do the deed quietly.  No witnesses.

Blinkstrikers are a breed of assassins in the Salt Mystic universe who, you might say, thumb their nose at this idea of skulking at night. You earn that distinctive black hood only one way: a very public, broad daylight execution of an extremely powerful person with at least a thousand witnesses.

Imagine a summer day, crossing a crowded street in a swarming mass of people. Everyone’s laughing or rushing, munching a sandwich. All around you are people and businesses and street cameras. You blink your eyes. That’s where the name comes from. It isn’t the shadows or the night where the Blinkstrikers work. It’s that moment when you simply blink your eyes.

Someone walking beside you falls dead to the ground.

You can stop everyone in that panicked crowd and lock down the city if you like. Everyone will have a story. Everyone heard something. Everyone saw something. None of it will lead anywhere. In fact, it’s like someone almost set things up so the eyewitness information makes things even more confused.

With procedurally generated morphium face masks and clothing, they never look the same twice. Many of the people in the crowd that day were observed and manipulated for days before that moment. Ideas were hypnotically or neurolinguistically implanted to shape what they would say and experience at that moment. It could be that even the target for the hit was manipulated into turning left or pausing at a particular moment by some random and forgotten experience days ago.

Someone in the crowd did it. And you’ll never catch them. Never.

The hardest thing to face about such a person is you have to stop your life and hide away in the shadows to shield yourself against them.

And that’s where the other assassins are!


Ascensia: “Half a million people watched my guy fall when I earned this hood. And I’m still here!”

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Nampo: “I sleep fine. These people are animals.”

(c) Brian Bennudriti

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe. Read more here.

When You’ve Heard Every Story, It Changes You


Recently, we introduced a new class of beings in the Salt Mystic universe called ‘The Questforged’. Not sure yet just where these guys will lead us, or in what other formats they’ll make their deepest mark. But one thing that strikes me as particularly useful and meta about the concept is that they’re based in a very real way on high impact storytelling, just like the world of the Salt Mystic. That’s what the enigmatic figure of the Salt Mystic herself was doing way back when she stumbled out of the flats mumbling about her vision of history…

telling stories.

In her case, she had a vision of the forces of human history and saw what malicious things would arise from our coming together in a world-spanning civilization, the terrible shattering wars that would arise. So she buried powerful stories into the myths and folklore people passed down, ones capable of virtually possessing very unique people. And those people, as arisen guardians, would go on to inspire change on a global scale.

I see the Questforged as almost the opposite of all that, or more properly a balance to it. In their case, the stories they’re fed are what drives them, much like a guardian. But these poor, sad souls don’t seek out this inspiration. They’re enslaved by it. They don’t find beauty and majesty in unpacked jewels made of myths. They find an opiate.

Here, read a little flash fiction to get to know them better.

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They called them ‘The Questforged’ because you steered the beast-men by piping alternate realities into their feedstream. If revenge was your guy’s thing, you gave it to him in a genocidal-apocalyptic sort of way. If it was rescuing baby lordlings, then you gave him that in a future messiah storyline. But for every one of them, there was a tailored fiction that could drive them to frenzying heights of annihilation.

Hey, whatever it took to keep them going away from you and not towards you, right?

But there was a balancing act to this storytelling. If your plot was thin or contradictory or marred with a hole in its logic, if your setting failed to mirror a reality of the land which your beast-man knew, or if your characters spoke unnaturally in the manner of someone forcing advances in the narrative, then there was always the terrifying chance to see them turn on the storyteller.

Some part of these hybrid abominations, fused with their lightning weapons and wall-climbing vortex crawlers, wanted to be fooled. Something about slipping into dreamtimes where things were very black and very white in full contrast maybe smothered their own nightmares. That’s just why the whole system ever worked at all. It’s just that after some time, you’ve heard every story. And when you’ve heard every story, it changes you.

It’s a sad and funny thing to know then, that the most revered and honored Questforgers in those days were runted little kids…often the ugliest and most cast out of them. Those were the ones who dreamed the hardest. In even the fiercest of night raids or tower assaults, it was a common yet curious sight to see a tiny ragged child perched inside a nook of the beast-man’s machinery.

They told the stories they needed to, just to belong somewhere. Like all of us do.


(c) Brian Bennudriti

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe.


The Stories Make A Riddle

puzzle box-teal

Anybody that’s managed the exhaustive and maddening feat of completing a novel can relate to the weirdness that sets in as things wrap up. A core part of who you are, paper people you lovingly crafted and hid little bits of yourself into are being tortured and dropping like flies. Loose ends you thought were pretty awesome back in the day two years ago jump up out of their hidey holes during your re-read and mock you for forgetting they existed. Cool, shiny objects you’ve been chasing the last couple of months turn out to completely contradict the thing you were planning on having happen.

And so on…

Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you’re the reader that catches those sorts of things when they’re not completely patched up and you savor your find. That’s cool too, you’ll still relate I bet. You’ve wrapped things up and felt a little whisper suggesting you stretch things out a bit, like kids in a pool begging their mom standing there waving her car keys:

“Just a little while longer. Pleeeeease?”

Anyway, this thing has taken longer than I’d anticipated. Like they always do. For almost three years, I’ve been at this collection of short stories, bundled with chapter endings that collectively unroll clues behind a connecting riddle. Sure, I’ve been working on other stuff, wasting too much time goofing off with fascinating time sinks like Warmachine, One Deck Dungeon, and Grimslingers. If you’re not clear on what these are, it’s probably best if you just leave it lying there. Or risk your soul (at least your free time!).

So I’m at 58,000 words roughly. All the stories are locked in place.  Fourteen chapters total. I’ve got four more chapter endings to write, each of which are maybe around 1,200 words apiece. It’s easier now that everything connects; and I know how the larger story ends. I know what happens to everyone. It’s no longer tempting to shove explanations into people’s dialogue, which is a soul-deadening outcome if I’ve not managed to mercilessly extinguish all the times I wound up doing exactly that.

I’ve been incredibly careful to ensure the riddle at the heart of this set of tales has enough clues for someone who’s paying attention to actually solve, but not have it be obvious. I also have in mind the notion that anyone choosing to read through a second time once they know the riddle’s solution would be rewarded in a meaningful way. And I want that solution to be important. I’m intrigued by tapping into the power of how fiction works in our minds to take a targeted shot at making an impact on the reader’s life.

No pressure, right?

So the idea, much like you do with your life, is to turn and shake the daily grind till the time to finish this project falls out of its pockets. Time…a quirky and unpredictable beast, that one.

Wish me luck. See you on the other side.





Introducing: The Tomb Trappers

Trap on door

If you’ve ever been entertained by tales of a daring adventurer dodging terrible traps and solving rune-based puzzles to avoid being impaled by spring-loaded spears, then you’ve probably wondered at some point…

Just who designed and installed all these traps, anyway?!

In the Salt Mystic worlds, there is an entire class of devious engineer called the Tomb Trapper. You can always recognize them by the worn leather trapmaster bag they carry.

Tomb Trapper Laughing

You don’t buy a trapmaster bag; and anyone caught having stolen one is quickly found in glowing ash piles once word gets out. Inside that bag are wonders, no doubt: computronium sensors and morphium canisters that spring to programmable shapes, intelligent stonewisps downloadable into the very masonry of an ancient wall capable of generating riddles…

But the true genius of a Tomb Trapper lies in what they learned deep in the labyrinth city below the Yagrada River. That’s where the Tomb Trapper guild once kept a gloriously malicious school of trapmasters, and its deadly proving ground.


Anyone carrying that bag studied under the most twisted minds who’ve ever built explosive-dusted halls or wound rune-covered clocks or poured oil into flaming statues. They were a wicked, but torturous geniuses, those shadow-haunting monks of the labyrinth city. Anyone carrying that bag not only studied under such people, but also won the labyrinth they built.

To be clear, one didn’t win the labyrinth by escaping or just by sealing away all of your opponents also seeking to graduate. Yes, you had to do those things. It just wasn’t enough. You had to trap one of the guild monks as well.

In fact, that’s the irony of the dead labyrinth city now that it’s abandoned and full of cobwebs and echoes.

They had some excellent students.

Tomb Trapper Cypress

(c) Brian Bennudriti

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe

Learn more about Salt Mystic here.

The Questforged

Questforged with blue background

Here at Grailrunner, we aim in our worldbuilding for the SALT MYSTIC universe to frame a place where almost any type of story can be told. In fact, the notion led us to the concept of the oriel as an artificial pocket space manufactured for explorers to populate or for shelving away mighty battles, where even ancient civilizations could be flourishing because their oriel’s time moves differently to ours.

When you’ve got that kind of span, any sort of monster might arise. Right?

One thing that always struck me as genius about King Kong or Frankenstein was how sad you felt for them. The big ape splattered there on the New York street hadn’t asked to be hauled off on a boat; and he had the heart of a hero. But splat. The reassembled corpse was just trying to make his way and be cool with everyone. But torches.

That line of thought took us recently to a new entry in the Salt Mystic rogue’s gallery: the Questforged.

Here’s a quick piece of flash fiction introducing these poor guys. Let us know what you think.

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Of course we did.

You don’t devise rifles that launch ball lightning and arm-mounted electrostatic chainsaws and fail to have the vision to surgically attach them to vat-grown mutants. Most of the Questforged elect to be sawed in half and hardwired directly into ramships or vortex wall climbers. Honestly, they’re a terror to see. And crazy.

That’s actually not what’s interesting about them, though.

The neurology is based on mass shooters and serial killers, especially wartime basket cases. Technically, they’re just mad all the time and looking for dopamine in the worst way. There’s a terrible truth with these fellows, though, relating to how we manage them.

Sana is a hallucinogenic algae wine grown in magnificent terrace gardens in the mountain cities. It’s pumped directly into their bloodstream, along with liquid computer bots that create manufactured realities for them.

And that’s the heartbreaking story of the Questforged. The people who control these terrible beast-men do so with fairy tales and fantasies about false terrors. They have no cause anchored to the real world, but instead chase stories fed to them by their generals. They are killing imaginary beasts and paper villains.

Not that you’d know the difference.

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(c) Grailrunner Publishing