Playing Around 3

The Black Rose is a scourge upon both magical and normal human society.  There is very little that is illegal in the human world that they do not have a hand in.  The same is true in the magical community.  If the Houses, Clans, and Schools decide it is forbidden, the Rose will begin peddling it.

They have branches and thorns in every major city in the world, from illicit casinos to arms dealers, protection rackets to smuggling.  But, no one has been able to catch any Rose leaders above a second tier, like middle management.  Worse, as soon as we shut down one arms warehouse, three casinos and a smuggling ring pop up and take its place.

For the last decade, some in the Houses and Clans have set up a joint alliance to share intelligence about the Rose.  We’ve even coordinated with human agencies like the FBI, Interpol, and BKA off and on, with no significant results.

All involved individuals and organizations agree that the only way to fully remove the Black Rose is the decapitate it.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to find the location, or even identities, of its leader, or leaders.

On the level of rank and file through low tier leadership, the Rose draws from all peoples, including humans, and too many backgrounds to produce a profile.

-Report on the Black Rose, prepared by Gail Clark, Clan Bradford

Playing Around 2

“Several anchors placed around . . . bind the great working. . . . False anchors . . . confused and mislead . . . lock doors. . . . prevent invasion or crossing for many millennia. . . . Keep children from repeating . . . Protect entire world . . . families appointed to watch, guard, and care for . . . for all time, lest the great working fail or diminish.”

So say the surviving fragments of Stirling document Shao.17.X, roughly translated from the ancient Egyptian.  Unfortunately, the document has not survived well, being made of papyrus and having been brought to Scotland sometime in the 14th century.  As we know, damp and papyrus do not mix well, especially with cold.  It was not until the 16th century that the fragments had preservation spells placed on them.

These bits and pieces are the basis for many people’s claims that the Nine Cities hold a greater purpose, beyond being our havens in times of trouble.  Some also believe the fragments refer to the so-called First Families.

As we can see, both interpretations are possible, but not explicit or necessarily true based on the available information.  Moreover, Stirling Shao.17.X is the only record we have of such claims.  It is not corroborated by any other independent extant texts.  Given its origins, it seems more likely to be a great spell planned in Egypt, one that clearly failed or did not persist as long as anticipated.

-Darius Carter, Magister of History, Hollyoake College


 

In the first age, when humanity was young and lived in a time of legends, there were nine great cities.  You will find no direct mention of them in the histories of normal humans.  But, there are hints and echoes in their myths and legends.

The oldest tales say the Nine Cities were created by the First Families as their homes, strongholds, and centers of rule.  Later stories attribute the cities to divine or other extraplanar origins.  The fact that the six surviving ones all reside on pocket dimensions today seems to support that theory.

Our historians, however, believe that ancient magicians worked together to bring about the Nine Cities.  They say the shift from our world to their current resting places was accomplished by means of massive circles of magicians working as one and supported by powerful artifacts.

This may be true.

But, the legends of the First Families founding the Nine Cities have deep roots in the magical community.  They appeal to our sense of self and our desire for an ancient Golden Age.  They connect with our desire for meaning.  It is said that the Nine were created to serve as anchor points for great wards that encapsulate the entire world and plane.

The legends may even be true, despite the fact that no one has ever found signs of these “great wards”.  That part need not be true for the rest to be valid.

No matter their origins, the Nine Cities have been integral to the magical community and its history.  They have been safe havens, anchors for culture, refuges in times of trouble, vacation and field trip destinations, and socio-political strongholds for millennia.

Knowing at least a little about the Nine is essential for all persons in the magical community.

First, and arguably oldest, is Usaad, the City of the Dead.  In this compact city of sandstone and marble, the spirits of the dead can easily cross the veil between worlds.  They walk or drift among the living through powerful necromantic wizardry.  Understandably, Usaad is home to many of the world’s most accomplished necromancers and the best schools of necromancy.

Arsalah, the City of Shadows, is next in age, or perhaps older.  Even when it was on Earth, Arsalah never saw a sunny day.  The city is perpetually cast in enough light to determine day from night, but never enough to ensure no shadows are cast.  Or to harm the Shadows, who govern the city.  They say that Arsalah was once in the Fertile Crescent and was given to the Shadows so they would have a place to hide from the sun.

The most famous of the Nine is Nimreh, the City of Towers, source of many legends and myths of mundane society.  Many believe tales of Irem and Babel were inspired by Nimreh.  It is said that the normal human desire to construct skyscrapers is an echo of Nimreh’s soaring spires.  Whether truth or speculation, it is unarguable that the city is home to the most beautiful and stunning towers in the world.

The City of Trees, Larre, draws the shifters and gargoyles, it is said.  In truth, there are as many shifters in Akkare and as many gargoyles in Nimreh, as in Larre.  Still the city built of, around, and within the living wood is a sight that all must see before they die.  As one would expect, Larreans greatly respect witchcraft and sorcery, more than any other magic.

That magic leads to Akkare, the City of Wonders, a most innovating and inventive city.  It is said that all the greatest magical inventors of Earth either lived or studied in Akkare.  Its schools of magic are considered the best of the best in the magical community, regardless of city or tradition.

While the Akkareans study and invent, the residents of Cuthar, the City of Doors, travel and explore.  Some say that they explore too much, and that it will be Cuthar’s downfall.  They believe this because the city’s doors lead all around Earth and to the six extant of the Nine.  They also, it is rumored, lead to other dimensions and alternate universes.  And the Cuthari love to explore and discover, often without thought for safety or consequences.

Which leads to Mahuran, the Locked City.  No one is certain what happened to the city once known for its gardens, but all known portals to Mahuran, even those in Cuthar, were closed over a millennium ago without warning.  Speculation has, of course, been extensive and outlandish.  The most likely appears to either be a disease with self-imposed quarantine, or that the residents simply closed the doors and became isolationists.

Either is better than the fate of Bisiah, the Lost City.  Once noted for its snakes, cats, and healers, Bisiah vanished without a trace over 1500 years ago.  It became immortalized as Lornadoone in stories.  Some think Avalon was inspired by Bisiah, as well.  No one knows why it vanished or how, but even the locations of portals to Bisiah have been lost.

Last is the Forgotten City.  None know anything of this city, not even its name.  No one is certain what happened to it or when.  Even the ancient texts simply refer to a nameless city that is one of the Nine, but has no location or other information.

Those are the famous Nine Cities.  Only six remain today.  Hopefully, if the stories are true, those six will be enough to maintain the great wards said to protect the world.

-Elaine Barkley, ThD; history lecture at Hollyoake College

Playing Around 1

So, I spent some time, while drafting a non-fiction book and other things, playing around with fiction.  I consider this post and those that share the title to be the writing equivalent of doodles, just playing around with things.


The barren field wasn’t much to look at.  In the summer and fall, it would be covered in soy plants, maybe corn.  Fifty-fifty either way, Jastian thought.  Right now, it was mostly mud that was doing its best to freeze.  At least it wasn’t snow.

He glanced to his left, taking note of the young man a few paces away.  Thomas, earth witch and their liaison with the local circle of witches.  He was young enough to not be missed by the circle, but old enough to have information for, and report on, the mercenaries the witches hired.  Jastian had to admit, the kid had been useful in the last couple weeks.

Looking north, he spotted one of his team.

Even if he hadn’t sent her ahead to scout, Jastian would recognize the auburn, nearly red, plait anywhere.  Squatting, leaning on her spear, she was studying the ground, a bow slung across her back.

His own short, Japanese sword bouncing against his thigh, Jastian jogged over to Shira, his team tracker.

“What do we have?”

The grey toned, auburn haired goblin didn’t look up.

“At least one, maybe two draconids.  See the toe splay, similar to a komodo dragon, but not.  One humanoid, not in a hurry.  The ground’s still damp enough from last week’s snow melt to get a good impression.”

“I’ll take your word for it . . . which direction?”

“Northeast, toward Akron, roughly.  Maybe ten, eleven hours, away.  Two hours to Smithville, and we’re about half an hour to an hour behind them.”

Thomas caught up to them and shaded his eyes, looking north.  He said, “Akron’s out of territory, but Smithville’s in our borders, and protected.”

So, they’d have to at least investigate the situation.  And deal with it through diplomacy or force.  Better learn what they could.

Jastian raised an arm and waved back the way he had come.

The other two members of his team came at a ground-eating trot.

A man of modest height and build led, slightly.  Yvain’s looks were entirely deceptive; he had been swinging the sword at his hip for centuries before the country was founded.  His blonde hair and rugged looks were not simply signs of Nordic ancestry.  He had once told Jastian that he’d sailed with Rollo, sometimes called Robert of Normandy, the founder of Normandy and ancestor of the 1066 William.  Jastian still hadn’t decided if he believed the tale.

The woman a few seconds behind Yvain was his interest at the moment.  Barely shorter than his own five feet nine, she was brawny from more than a decade of swinging the axe strapped to her back.  Talia Ringle was the team heavy weapons and magic specialist.

“Tal, Shira’s got some tracks, up to an hour old.  See what you can get.”

At her nod, Jastian joined Yvain in visually scanning the horizon.  The odds of their quarry doubling back were slim, but playing it safe kept limbs attached to bodies.  And kept the pay coming in.

In his peripheral vision, he watched as Talia planted her hands on either side of the tracks.  She chanted softly enough that Thomas clearly couldn’t hear, but a look exchanged with Yvain confirmed that both shtriga and werebeasts ears were much more sensitive.

After a few moments, Talia rose and brushed mud from her jeans.

“No dice on the dimension, it’s one I haven’t seen before.  I don’t think the humanoid’s a mage, though, anymore than Yvain.  I’m getting passive residue, not active, but I won’t swear to it.”

“Degradation?”

Tal shrugged.  “We’re only half a mile from the overlap, shouldn’t be much in an hour.  By the way, contacted the circle to monitor it.  Full details.  Sorry I can’t get more.”

“Better than we had before.  Ok, Shira, Tal, take point and get us on track.  Thomas, stick to Yvain and take the middle.  Give our lead any intel they might need on terrain and politics.  On the double, folks.”

They had less than ninety minutes to catch up to someone, and his dragon cousins, who had an hour head start.  Jastian mentally shook his head.  In a population center, even a small town, draconids could wreak havoc.  And they had no clue where these two came from, no means of predicting, or whether they were tame or wild.

Shite.

Just another wonderful day in the glitzy life of freelance protection and muscle services . . . mercenary life, Jastian thought as he kept pace behind his team.  As they all ran, he kept all of his exceptional senses peels for signs of impending trouble.