De Slitna

De Slitna

She comes back. She can’t open her eyes for the longest time, but she screams, she thrashes, her fury bringing 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 just 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 soldier joined up because no other road opened itself up. He never had the privilege to sit in the officer’s mess and got to go 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 rolled in and the soldiers came 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, pow, a statistic listed under “estimated insurgent casualties” before he even got to shoot a single rocket.

Poverty makes victims closer to home. Too many cities collapse under the weight of urban violence and the poverty that made it. One of the Torn was the target of a drive-by.

Another was collateral damage in a dealer’s shoot-out, or shot in the head before she even knew what was happening by one of her enemies or one of her friends. Or a police officer shot another man on the street before he could even show them he had no gun, and said he was resisting arrest. Another owned a convenience store — some junkie blew her face to pieces because he thought she was going for a shotgun she didn’t even have. A man’s third crime in a hard-line three-strikes state turned out to be 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. The rich have an insulation against violent death, but a rich man might have shot himself when his stocks dissolved. She might have been poisoned, or stabbed, or shot by a jealous spouse or colleague. He might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, robbed on the street and stabbed before he could even protest.

Something else might have done the deed: the guts of one torn 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. An artery emptied of every drop of blood, sucked out by a dead man. A 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, or 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 in this than anyone else. Maybe a Torn always had this capacity 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. It’s academic. 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 comes 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. Everything he does is about the present, the now. He has these powers now. He must raise his fists or turn the other cheek now.

The Torn have the resources — innate, born of the experience of dying, it doesn’t matter — 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 can only respond.

Does the Bleeding One bring forgiveness or destruction? Does she end the cycle gracefully or blast it apart forever? Either way, 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 and bruises in a different way each night, fights the geist that follows her, kills and dies in 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 gone, army caps, battered boots, or torn and patched fatigues stitched together and worn until they fall to pieces for good. She may have died on the streets, and still adopts the style of the street, with all the aggressive glamour of the gang soldiers who drip with gold and guns. 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, a Civil War cavalry saber kept in polished, pristine condition, engraved with the name of a soldier long-dead. It could be something more current: a butterfly knife plated with silver and inlaid with the name of a dear one, 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, weird violent folk-art like 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 conscious or unconscious 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 trenchcoated 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. Look closer, look a second time, and see the symbols of death worked subtly into the print, a woven pattern in a shirt, or on a headscarf, or printed into something abstract on a T-shirt, so that you have to look twice before you see it.

Character Creation

Torn characters often favor Social Attributes as much as Physical Attributes: a high proportion of the Torn are instigators as much as performers. A lot of them do favor Physical Skills. A Sin-Eater who was never really 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. It’s obvious, really — forced into this existence through violence, it’s easy to lash out. It’s easy, with the dreams and the flashbacks, to develop a core of anger. Many of the Torn want to put things right, and 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, 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 man, face hidden under a blood-drenched hooded sweater, bleeding constantly, leaving behind a smell of cordite and poverty. The geist drives the runner to find the man who shot him, but every gang soldier he finds and maims or kills takes him further from his initial goal, even though the boy lays to rest every ghost that these men created in his vengeance.

A prostitute murdered in a backstreet and left to bleed out attracts a skinless woman with knives on her fingers and wire 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 take their revenge and find a kind of completion.

Here’s a merchant banker who shot himself when his stocks dwindled to nothing and his wife found about his
affair: a whispering ghost made of what seems like money and old rope torments him, 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 forcing them to pass on.

A private 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 chilli. Awakening on a hospital gurney covered with his own bloody feces, he vows to reform. But 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. They don’t thank him either.

A quiet man, an 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. It doesn’t matter on whom.


It comes violently: everything looks normal for a moment, and then comes a brief, blinding headache. It passes, leaving behind the thinnest film of blood over the Sin-Eater’s eyes. And now, the dead appear in all their bloody glory. Every contusion, every cut, every bullet hole, it all 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.


Stigmata or Passion


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.

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