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Earth X-9

"The world is broken, and we are but shards." -- The Shadow, at the end of his last adventure

Please note that this is the beta test; while it's been through one edit pass, details may still change.

Sources:

Main sources: Bleach & SNT Gatchaman.

Secondary sources: Buckaroo Banzai, Devil May Cry, Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, Ninja Gaiden, Oh My Goddess!, The Phantom, Resident Evil, The Shadow, "Shards," Street Fighter, Tekkaman, Tenchi, Uncharted.

The Spirit World:

Heaven is something of a bureaucracy, albeit one of divine nobility and efficiency. Divided into three branches -- Soul Society, Relief Agency, and Combat Division -- it is Heaven's role to maintain the balance between immortal spirits, mortal lives and demonic interference. Soul Society (or more accurately, the Soul Societies) manage the cycle of life, death and rebirth for humanity. Because human souls can sometimes get "stuck" in the memories of their lives, Soul Reapers (considered gods or angels depending on locality) are trained to grant peace to such beings. Usually, this involves a simple ritual, but when the emptiness of ghostly life becomes too great, a ghost can become a "Hollow," a menace to the living, the spirits of the world, and especially their fellow dead. In addition, while few demons are willing to face the wrath of the Seraphim or Shinigami, a rare handful hunt ghosts to feed their monstrous appetites. Even fewer last long as such stalkers; because of the dangers of their duties, all Soul Reapers are very stringently trained in supernatural combat. One reaper is usually worth several normal Hollows, and the average Hollow can throw around cars and fire blasts of spirit energy.

The Relief Agency is the largest branch in Heaven. They manage the balance of mortal life, coordinating the myriad spirits with the flow of Fate itself in an attempt to maximize the harmony of the human world. There are two competing Relief Agencies, the Goddess Technical Help Line and the Earth Assistance Center, but for the great majority of gods and spirits the competition is friendly. As the names imply, the Help Line is normally reserved for spirits and Shards aware of Heaven's existence, while the Earth Assistance Center masquerades as "mundane" help lines to guide humans in need. Sometimes, though, spirits (particularly nature and elemental spirits) will call the Earth Assistance Center, and when Fate takes a hand, a particularly lucky human might reach the Goddess Help Line.

Prosaically-named Combat Division is exactly what it sounds like: heaven's army. The Cherubim, Valkyries and War God battalions are ready and able to deal with any spiritual invasion of Earth, though nearly all of their preparations are designed to deal with Hild's demonic forces. They have fought alien gods once, during Mongo's aborted invasion of Earth, but only their incarnate emperor proved any threat to their world. For the most part, they train to keep their devilish counterparts "below" from trying any military threats. Thus far, they have succeeded, and most of Hell's forces content themselves with countering the Relief Agency.

At the moment, though, Heaven is in something of an uproar. All three goddesses of Time, the keepers of Yggdrasil and the Goddess Help Line, are on Earth. Belldandy has finally fallen in love...with a mortal. Her sisters have followed her to Earth. A vast array of divine and devilish forces (Urd and Skuld being not the least of them) have taken the opportunity to cause mischief, harrying Bell through her mortal beloved, by accident or design. Far worse is the betrayal rocking the Pacific Rim Soul Society, with three squad captains having betrayed Heaven to overthrow the Almighty One Himself. Two were thought above suspicion. All Heaven still reels from this shocking treachery. There is even some fear that the two incidents are somehow related. The goddesses of Time have quietly gained a large bodyguard, invisibly watching over them.

All loyal spirits not residing in Heaven live invisibly on Earth, maintaining the fabric of the universe. Two other spirit realms, however, exist nonetheless.

Hueco Mundo came into being through the existence and evolution of sentient Hollows, entities that simply should not exist. They are terrifying creatures, as powerful as Soul Reapers in their own ways, but fortunately they are quite rare. With the arrival of the traitor Shinigami, however, led by the brilliant Captain Aizen, their numbers and power have increased. A new breed of intelligent Hollow, the arrancar, have proven to wield power not just comparable to Soul Reapers, but with similar capabilities as well. Arrancar manifest zanpakuto-like weapons that even the playing field against their arch-nemeses. Heaven fears more than escalation -- a war may be coming between the celestial realm and the world of the dead.

Even with the rising threat of Hueco Mundo, the most terrible force arrayed Heaven and Earth is Hell -- the terrible prison-realm of those traitor gods and spirits who tried to overthrow Heaven aeons ago. It doesn't have branches so much as factions, and its King and Queen are not spouses but rivals and bitter enemies. Queen Hild believes that humanity must be won over through corruption and intrigue, and that conquest is not only unlikely and foolish but will prove nothing. In contrast, King Mundus gathers armies and sends forces through any gap in the "firewall" that keeps his forces imprisoned, espousing a philosophy of raw power and dominance and mocking Hild's strategy as cowardly. As can be expected, they loathe one another, Mundus thinking Hild "doth protest too much" about her relationship with the Almighty and Hild coolly dissecting Mundus' mad jealousy of Heaven's majesty. Neither is yet powerful enough to crush the other, so they tolerate each others' existence for the time being. Both are mighty in the extreme, with powers equal to those of all but the greatest of divinities.

The Known Universe:

Earth may be very important to a number of powers, but it's still one speck in a vast universe -- or at least galaxy. While most humans know that there are some amazingly talented individuals among them, very few know about alien life, let alone the existence of a galaxy-wide society.

Galactic civilization is vast and diverse, with a large number of human-offshoot species (and a few very non-human ones) mostly connected by the Galactic Union, but the known galaxy is dominated, in one way or another, by three powers: Jurai, Mongo and Radam.

Though not officially in control of the Galactic Union, Jurai's status as the Union's superpower is unquestioned. Its Oukenoki (sentient trees that form the hearts of their starships) are only rivaled in speed or power by the living Mass ships created by Washu Hibiki, the most brilliant sentient alive. While individual masters might prove superior to the average Juraian Adept, the psycho-magical art of Juraido is unmatched throughout the galaxy for its power, speed and versatility. Politically, economically and militarily, Jurai reigns supreme. Fortunately, Jurai's leaders are generally benevolent and supportive of their neighbors in the Union. Aside from a strong overprotective streak when it comes to his daughters, the King of Jurai is renowned for his wisdom and generosity. Jurai agents are responsible for some of the wonders of the Science Ninja Squadron.

In stark contrast to Jurai is the roving world-star known only as Mongo. Ruled for centuries by the infamous Ming the Merciless, Mongo was liberated by the legendary hero Flash Gorgon several decades past. Though the Gordons have developed highly extended lifespans thanks to Mongo's magitech, defeating Ming permanently has proven impossible despite a lifetime of battle, even after some of their children and grandchildren joined the fight. The Mongo alliance still holds, barely, but the cunning emperor has once again turned kingdom against kingdom and moon against moon. He sponsors half of the pirate clans that harry the Union, secretly controls the moon-star that gives light and life to Mongo, and plans to retake his throne...soon.

Radam's "plans" for galactic domination differ from their rivals on Jurai and Mongo. A hive mind, the Radam have a very simple solution: overwhelming force and numbers. Not given to either subtlety or negotiation, the Radam simply generate massive numbers of shock troops and absurdly powerful Shard elites known as Tekkamen, then overwhelm the worlds they invade. Their strategy has two flaws at the moment: one, their mass-production biotech is simply no match for Jurai's Oukenoki or Juraidoka, and two, they assimilate their victims...but sufficiently strong-willed victims can regain control of themselves after Tekkaman transformation, thus creating their own greatest enemies. Even so, the Radam have conquered a dozen worlds and completely transformed dozens more that would have evolved more varied life without Radam assimilation.

Open Sources

It surprises many who consider government to be the problem rather than the solution that most of the organizations best-equipped to deal with Shards/Inspired are public rather than private. Best-known among these agencies is the legendary International Science Organization, which functions both as a centralized clearinghouse of the fantastic and as a coordinator between the other benevolent Shard-oriented groups on Earth. Led by the original Gatchaman himself, Dr. Ken Washio, the modern ISO is the global answer to ultra-powered threats and crises.

While they field a variety of forces both investigative and special, including the still-active Red Impulse, their elite remain the Science Ninjas, reorganized into the Science Ninja Squadron X (Kagaku Ninja Sentai X). Currently commanded by Jinpei Nambu, the Ninja Sentai consist of three separate Ninjatai (ninja teams), based in Japan (agents 1-5), France (agents 6-8) and the United States (agents 10-12), and one individual "special unit" (agent 9). Originally, the US team consisted of the more traditional five-agent unit, but ironically, agent 13 proved to be a mole, killing one member of the team and almost resulting in the resignation of the former leader -- Agent X-9.

The other two officially-sanctioned international agencies are the Special Defense Force and Interpol. The SDF operates on a military level to defend Earth from unusual threats. Their chief experience is with the Radam, through which they have acquired multiple human Tekkamen agents informally dubbed "Space Knights." Interpol hasn't really changed much, except for aggressively recruiting Shards to counter the "super-criminal" threat.

Of course, there are also private interests involved with the Shards' power. Most are unknown, but a few smaller players, such as the "Devil May Cry" monster-hunter agency, operate publicly. Most who want to operate openly, but wish to avoid "agency entanglements," become involved with one of two private forces. The Banzai Institute is a non-profit NGO with the sole purpose of world prosperity; its founder needs no introduction. Cranston Enterprises has a less savory reputation, given the infamous nature of its most legendary CEO, but The Shadow still has enough respect in the Shard community (he gave it its most commonly-used name, after all) that many flock to its sheltering opportunities. Eldest son Harry Vincent Cranston is the current CEO, and Patricia Cranston-Hawke and her husband Joseph take a personal interest in the Shard-related businesses.

Naturally (and tragically), there are more than enough villainous forces operating semi-openly to keep the heroes of the world in adventure. The greatest known threat to the world is unquestionably Galactor; while its rivals might threaten world domination, Galactor has endangered the very existence of Earth more than once. They are ISO's top priority. Meanwhile, the World Crime League is easily the most dangerous super-gang in the world, with its master Hanoi Xan having overthrown Fu Manchu himself. Xan wants nothing less than complete domination of the global economy, though open rule of the world's governments holds little interest for him. Both Galactor and the WCL leave such supervillain-like ambitions to Shadaloo and its deadly Master Bison. He rules Thailand all but openly, though he seeks to conquer the world through subterfuge and Shard power rather than attempting direct global conquest. One of the deadliest and most powerful hand-to-hand combatants who's ever lived, Bison is perhaps the greatest living threat to human freedom.

Secret Wars

There are many secret societies, both young and old, hiding in the shadows of Earth X-9. Easily the most common and dangerous are the demon cults, dedicated to the release of Mundus and/or Hild. Both reward successful followers well – neither is stupid, and both need skilled underlings, which is why their cults still thrive – but failures may get a second chance. Sometimes. Third chances are for “those fools in Heaven.” Heroes break up these cults regularly, so no particular long-standing names can be attached to them, but like cockroaches, they keep multiplying and surviving somehow.

The ninja clans have considerable power in the dark places of the world. The two greatest rivals among the shinobi are the Dragon Clan and the Black Spider Clan. Guess which ones are the good guys and which ones are the bad guys. ;-) The Dragon Clan has strong ties to the Science Ninja project, and its current leader Jinpei is from one of its branches, the legendary Iga family. The Black Spider Clan is empowered by Mundus and guided by some of his most terrible agents, the Greater Fiends. To the shinobi, Mundus is simply the “Archfiend,” and his name is not to be spoken.

The Singh Brotherhood is probably the World Crime League’s greatest rival, and the fact that they’ve kept their existence secret speaks to their ability to operate undetected. They have their fingers in many criminal pies, and if a major cartel is not a part of the World Crime League, then the Singh probably have their hand in matters somewhere. The Brotherhood is loosely organized, mostly dedicated to the wealth and power of its individual leaders by any means necessary, and they primarily coordinate to avoid turf wars and, more recently, to oppose complete domination by the Crime League.

Opposing the Singh in the heart of their power is the “Jungle Patrol,” an alliance of heroes from wildly diverse origins. Their leader is unknown even to most Patrol members, and is generally just referred to as “the Phantom.” The Patrol, like the Singh, remain secret, especially after the Shadow Crisis. While they don’t think of themselves as vigilantes, some governments might disagree, and they prefer not to press their luck on the matter.

Finally, the Umbrella Organization is what remains of a eugenics program created by three ruthless biologists and their “Umbrella Corporation.” Ironically, the original Organization and Umbrella were competitors, but with the collapse of Umbrella Corp., the research of the latter is now in the control of its former rival. Reorganized multiple times, most recently as Tricell, the Umbrella Organization has become a nigh-fanatical underground network determined to see humanity achieve its potential through the legacy of a bio-agent called the Progenitor Virus. Unfortunately, most results of their experimentation have resulted in the creation of horrific monsters, ranging from the stereotypical “zombie apocalypse” to titanic monsters of dubious physical stability. Nevertheless, they keep at it, led by the man who united once-bitter foes – the brilliant, super-powerful and mentally unbalanced Albert Wesker.