Christmas Mayhem

 

 

I was going to follow up my pirates blog post with another following up on it by running through some notable pirate captains. Maybe next week.

Basically, this last week has been hectic yet fun. Horrible fun sometimes. Essentially my wife suddenly became intent on getting all Christmas shopping done now. I mean NOW. Not next week. Not in December. Not even before December. No, NOWWWWW.

As someone who hates shopping and travel, this was hell for me, and especially as things kept going wrong and we often didn’t get anywhere until later than planned. At least twice, maybe thrice I suggested we didn’t go that day and wait, but no. NOW.

Yet after it all, I can say I’m relieved we have done 99% of the Christmas shopping. We even have some presents wrapped. I still think we could have done it all via a gradual process of smaller incursions rather than one bludgeon charge, but there we go. The missus is happy and that’s what counts.

But it was something I’m glad we did too. I live near a market town called Chippenham and the city of Bath. The first we went to just planning on shopping and ended up watching Torvil and Dean turn on the Christmas lights. So that was nice. The main street was packed like I’ve never seen before. I’ll never walk up it again with dozens of people around and consider it busy.

Speaking of packed, Bath was churning with people. The buses were the same. Only just managed to get a seat on the ride there, but going back – due to the trains being out – it wasn’t just standing room only. We were almost wedged in. The whole thing fogged up, which made it difficult to spot the right stop. We ended up getting off a lot earlier than usual, but both of us wanted out of that jam jar on wheels. Not even going to mention the lights going out. Okay, so I just did.

But Bath, while so busy it made Chippenham the night before seem spacious, was great to visit as usual. We saw the small stalls and the tree and lights. These two events I’ve never been to before but have heard of, so, thanks to my wife’s insistence, we got to experience them. I STILL maintain we could have done them in a more easier way, especially picking a day less busy for Bath, and yet, hey, it’s all in the past now, and I have a tale to tell.

While I hate shopping and look forward to a lot less busy week, I am glad we went and saw these things. I’m glad we got to share them. As my mum would say, it’s one of those times you get to be sat there some other time, at peace, and chirp “oooh, remember that time we did that thing!” This Christmas, as we had out presents, we have a history to go behind many of the items, which I’m sure we’ll bore the receivers with more than once.

I don’t really care for dates and calendar events. I live for experiences and genuine change in life. This week has had plenty of those. So, while I should post about pirate captains from a fictional world I’m still building, here is a bunch of me going “ooohhh, what a time we had!”

And here’s some pictures of Bath:

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Pirates of the Mediterranean

There are pirates in this world, here and there across the vast oceans. Yet in the Mediterranean, piracy is more than just a means to an end. Around the world, various beings raid at sea, but it can’t be said that there is a lot of traffic for them to prey on. In the Mediterranean, commerce is ongoing, flourishing in recent times, and pirates have been around for decades now. They have havens and hideouts, they have their own culture and hierarchy, so here I’ll discuss all of that.

To understand the pirates of this enclosed sea, you have to understand the land around it and those who live there. Across the north of Africa we have several cities, surrounded by numerous villages. This network is known as the Northern Federation. It has been a long struggle, yet these Africans have managed to raise their level of technology and civilisation to a point where they have ships ready to expand their influence. Many of these ships are steam powered, this has been their level for some time, but better craft have been made recently. Mainly warships.

To the east are the mutants. In Eastern Europe they are mostly mutts – the lesser, deformed types – but there are many super-soldiers who have organised the rest. An army is in charge, centralised at Constantinople. Villages and towns are scattered across this end of the Mediterranean, with military camps and bases among them, keeping everyone in check. The mutants don’t go out to sea, their objectives are all on land, but a good number of them are open to trade, as long as the soldiers don’t find out.

I should add when I say mutants, I don’t include the aquatics. These reside in the sea and are part of the reason why the mutant army don’t intrude on the water – the two groups have an understanding to not interfere with each other. But the aquatics here aren’t exactly the same as those elsewhere. Aquatics swim around the world, sharing everything with their own and supporting each other, while keeping the land races at a distance. But a certain number of them reside solely in the Mediterranean, and they have more contact with the land, and are more influenced by the people there.

Finally, across the European coast line, are human settlements, which have been trading with one another for a long time. A number of these have grown to be known as market towns. Trade has brought many things, including new resources, and also ambition and greed. Wooden ships sail along the coast, transporting goods and spreading the wealth. Everyone wants in on the action. Which returns us to the pirates.

They began as European humans. As trade spread along that coast, many who couldn’t afford to get involved found alternative methods. Grab a ship, bring some ruffians together, try and ambush a trade ship. Simple enough. Of course, this caused a reaction, and soon secrecy became more important to hide the whereabouts of the trading vessels, while fighters were hired to be onboard. Trading was never hindered enough to stop progress, which was good for the pirates as well. As the humans of the Iberian Peninsular got to know those of the Italian Peninsular, and in turn they began to deal with those from the Aegean Peninsular, word spread even further. The Northern Federation wanted to trade – sparsely at first but more as contacts and routes became established. They were also able to provide better ships to combat the pirates, although those kept to African waters unless provoked. Aquatics began helping out, usually for a fee, sometimes for knowledge. The mutants of Eastern Europe, who were under less restriction by the army than in other places, started to trade, and so word spread again, leading to certain mutt settlements becoming part of the network, able to sell military equipment their unknowing overlords had stored away.

 

To be honest, this post has become more about the Mediterranean region than just the pirates, but they are an important ingredient and reflect the various parts of the region. Pirates are now of many types of being. Mostly they remain humans from Europe, but Africans are not unusual, nor are mutants. In fact, mutants from Normandy are known to travel down and adventure at sea because of the fame of pirates. They sail in wooden ships, yet other tech and types of equipment will usually be found with them too. Pirates raid to sell on, but also to better themselves. The more the market towns of Europe and the Northern Federation try to protect their trade, the further the pirates go to overcome them.

Pirates vary as well in nature, although they are all pretty much criminals aiming to steal. Some are bloodthirsty. Some act according to cunning as opposed to brute force. Some are looking for financial gain. Some want glory and action. Some crews are well organised and well led. Some are little more than vicious gangs. Some are there by choice, others enslaved.

As expected, a captain leads each crew on each ship. In order to be one, you had better either be the scariest bastard on the ship or have some kind of usefulness that makes the crew want you in charge. If you are of the latter, even with popular support, it is best to have a few strong lieutenants to back you up. These could include first mate, bosun, helmsman, quartermaster, navigator, etc. All roles on a normal ship are just as vital on a pirate one. The difference is any failure could meet disposal rather than demotion.

The running of the ship will vary, depending on the type of captain and the way he or she does things. A brutal tyrant who treats the crew little better than slaves will pretty much keep them together, allowing little time off the ship to relax. Most pirate captains tend to rotate personnel. After a successful raid or adventure, crews tend to want to land and enjoy their gains. If things didn’t go so well, part of the crew might want to get away, or the captain might want them removed before they start trouble. Either way, a captain will tend to have a smaller, select crew who have proven themselves over time, while the rest will come and go depending on timing, the risks, the reputation, etc.

Obviously, a successful captain can attract more and better pirates, so reputation counts for a lot. It can also help where enemies are concerned. As occurred in times past, pirates have flags and emblems to let others know who they face, so if your reputation carries weight, a ship may give in without a fight. Also, as used to be the case in our world, pirates of this time and place have a dreadful reputation, and many people around the Mediterranean have heard horror stories. Not all are true, but there’s certainly enough truth in them. Pirates have havens for a reason – anywhere else and you’re a wanted criminal. Even a suspicion of piracy can get someone hung.

Pirates lead very dangerous lives. The sea can be tough enough, along with diseases, illnesses and ailments any ship on voyage might endure, but the problems they have caused for merchants mean rewards for their heads are high. Pirate hunters roam the Mediterranean. Not nearly enough to stop the pirates, but they tend to be formidable foes, so are best avoided. Of course, other pirates are a danger too, and while at sea, everyone is considered fair game. That’s why the havens were created. Mainly they are very small islands, usually with no one in charge. Everything operates on an understanding that everyone plays nice and so everyone benefits. With a few exceptions, it has always worked, not least because even pirates need a place where they can relax.

While pirates are the criminals of the sea, they aren’t the only ones. Merchants from the market towns, even from the Northern Federation, have found these scum to be useful allies or employees. Trade secrets are jealously guarded, so spies are watching and listening, and gathered information tends to get sold onto pirates or handed out with an agreement for joint reward. Betraying pirates is a bad idea though. Pirates are divided and divisive for the most part, but they also understand the need to stand strong, as all groups do. Pirates will strike back if they have been wronged. Not all, many are selfish and will only act if they are the victim, but if someone mistreats one of their community, enough will react, and others will join in seeing the chance for personal gain. In essence, doing business with a pirate is as dangerous an act as it is unscrupulous.

The pirates of the Mediterranean are a frustrating yet inevitable part of the expanding trade there. While the attempts to prevent them from raiding settlements and stealing ships goes on, many have come to accept their presence, along with storms and human error. When pirates steal, the goods usually end up back in the trade system anyway, so often merchants put more effort into buying their cargo back rather than seeking revenge. In this way, sometimes they even buy it back from those who stole it. Cuts out any middle-men. Pirates can be bought and bribed, same as anyone else. Well, many pirates can. To some, being a pirate is something to maintain. Yes, they are criminals – cutthroats and thieves, raiders and marauders. But merchants and mercenaries are no better. Pirates should keep their word to one another. Pirate captains need to listen to their crews and rewards need to be handed out justly. Havens are to be respected. Fear must be maintained but excessive cruelty only brings down greater repercussions.

Pirates have their place in the ecosystem of the Mediterranean. That is, as long as they don’t push it. Once, someone did. A pirate climbed the ranks and became head of a number of ships and crews, and terrorised the sea and coastlines. He went so far that all sides came together – the Northern Federation, the market towns, and even other pirate captains. They all wanted him gone. After a severe battle, he was chased out, and what was left of his fleet was hunted down. That was twenty years ago. There are those who fear his return, his name is even banned in some places, but for now, pirates know they can keep making this life work as long as they don’t overstep too far. Breaking the law is one thing, but the trade of the Mediterranean has to keep going. For everyone.

Do Monsters Eat People?

More from the Shadow World:

This is designed to be a short post.

So do monsters eat people? The answer is yes.

Fair enough, it is a bit more complicated than that. People have flesh and flesh is food, even to other people, so it makes sense that monsters will eat that. They need to eat and sometimes food isn’t easy to come by. After all, people eat animals, and vice versa, so why wouldn’t monsters eat either of those?

In truth, people can and do eat monsters too. This is much more rare, not least because most humans think monsters would taste disgusting, possibly be poisonous or at least stomach churning. In some of the more desperate regions, humans eat whatever they can kill, and will prey on monsters for that reason. Some human groups will track, hunt and trap monsters regularly. It can also be done as a terror tactic. Most humans will say monsters have terrorised their kind for centuries. Acts of barbarity are committed as a brutal form of defence but also as revenge.

When monsters first came to this world, they ate people, and that got around quickly. In fact, many suspect stories were spread rapidly in order to inflame fear and enable the more tyrannical regimes to impose tighter laws and use stronger force. People hating monsters was useful to a lot of individuals and organisations, and monsters found the fear useful. So yes, monsters ate people and that became the norm in short time.

Perhaps monsters were used to hunting and killing and eating. Certainly some are naturally designed to do so. The murky history of the Shadow World is that the larger monsters preyed on the smaller ones, that life was a cruel and grim existence. Then again, it isn’t known for monsters to eat each other much now. It happens, but less so than humans eating monsters. Probably because it is a lot of hard work to seek brutes, vandals, harbingers, deemi etc as prey. It could also be that monsters have gotten used to preying on the human race rather than each other.

Monsters vary. Totems are herbivores, perhaps by choice, no one is sure. Ghouls eat the dead only and they don’t care which dead it is. Vandals are omnivores, eating whatever their short, blunt teeth can chomp down. Most are like brutes or writhers, eating flesh when they can, plants when those are available. Some have preferences. Deemi like to be known as predators, ensnaring humans and draining their life essence in order to create new life within themselves, so feeding on the remains suits them. Harbingers like to hunt and kill too. Perhaps it is their nature, perhaps a choice – not all of those kinds do that. Devil-beasts love to eat people in gory displays, but they’ll do that to all life. Sphinx have been known to eat people. Not nearly as much but they are part lion and part eagle, so never think that the human face bestowing wisdom isn’t considering what you taste like.

Do monsters eat people? The reputation is somewhat overplayed yet has centuries of evidence to say yes. It might seem unfair to single the monsters out. Machines will recycle corpses of living beings. Mutants are far less likely to eat humans – while the two kinds are considered different, in truth it would still be cannibalism – but depravity can be very difficult to resist. Monsters do eat other living things and many like to do it. The name monsters isn’t exactly accurate, but it has stuck for a reason.

Always remember monsters come in many forms.

A monstrous form could even respect sentient life.

You can never be sure.

Fighting Pits

Many things exist or happen in the world which are far more real to some than others, but the fame – or infamy – is well known. In certain places, people live in fear of being raided by enemies, of being captured and enslaved. In some places, wars rage, and violence has become so normal that it can be entertaining. It will often be the case that what is normal for one group of people is a bizarre happening to another, and what is the obvious thing to do is unthinkable depending on who you are and where you live. In amongst all these things are fighting pits. To some, these are very real. But elsewhere, they have heard tales of them, either from the past or the present day, and usually stories of them are passed around to scare or warn. Sometimes, though, to entice.

Fighting pits are pretty much as described. Basically, people are made to fight – sometimes they chose to but rarely – and they do so before others, so they fight below the audience. It is such a basic, common-sense feature that is always happens. You could go to a small dip in the land where two desperate communities watch their selected fighters compete to see who wins this annual contest, or a much more luxurious stand where captured combatants bleed out in full view. The fighting happens in pits of all kinds. But the term also comes from the fact that many places are underground hideouts with cells reaching down into the depths of the land. People can see out lives of darkness and violence, kept against their will, brought up to fight for entertainment, then returned to their cells. Or worse. But whatever the setup, many fighting pits are prisons as much as anything, and being dragged into one is a sheer dread for millions of beings.

Fighting pits are known around the world by many, maybe even most people, but they are not everywhere. For one, they have a tendency to occur where warfare and violence is so prevalent it can be turned into entertainment. In most instances, fighting pits are there to thrill and amuse. However there are a few other purposes too. Sometimes they are used to hone the skills of beings and to weed out the weakest warriors. These will often be found in areas of constant battle. Another use is to eradicate your enemies. Yes, you could just wipe out an enemy force, but sometimes you want to do it in a more prolonged, humiliating way, or perhaps you want to do it in secret. Again, in an area of long term war, a pit might exist where the influx of prisoners go, and never make it out of. Sometimes they will be used to scare people into submission as much as entertain the audience. In the history of this world, many of the more famous pits existed at the behest of a powerful ruler, who would sit and watch the show with underlings and soldiers, keeping them delighted but also putting the fear of ending up in there into their heads. It might even have produced tougher, more ferocious fighters from the prisoners, if they could be made to obey.

The other place pits can be found are remote locations, in order to not be found. These ones tend to be the more select pits, run by powerful and knowledgable people, often assisted by someone with strong influence who has a use for the pit. Most pits are average to less in condition, coming into being by necessity or opportunity, yet some are well kept, strictly managed, with an established hierarchy. Often, they have been there for decades, even a century or two. If you end up in one of these, escape is near impossible, and yet there will be more chance of fighting your way to glory.

I think the best way to fully explain these places is to give a variety of examples. For instance, the mutant army that dominates from Eastern Europe to the human sanctuary of Eden are, unsurprisingly, intensely anti-human. So while they maintain the act of being a militarised force with rules and regulations, there do exist a few pits they throw human prisoners into. The mutant army has no real use for human captives. If they were able to get their hands on an inhabitant of Eden, then the knowledge that person has would be vital. But other humans in the area are weaker in tech and certainly in organisation than the mutants, so they are essentially pests to be got rid of. They might cast a monster or someone in there, but mostly to watch them tear into the humans. These pits are typically crude structures dug into the harsh land, with no individual cells, just a bottom where all end up. Food is thrown in to be fought over. The aim is for all within to end up dead one way or the other. Humans will be brought up, often in batches, and have damaged weapons thrown at them. Sometimes they won’t fight, so the mutants know to use rewards or threats to get a reaction, and if not, everyone gets gunned down by the guards. They never offer escape. No one leaves. The mutants watch to be entertained, yet also to feed their hatred and that of any others who may be doubting. Humans are shown to be the weaker, vicious creatures they truly are.

These places might be called death pits rather than fighting pits, but even hateful mutants don’t want it to seem that obvious. A fighting pit offers a fighting chance and that often makes the inevitable destruction of the prisoners all the more satisfying. This is true of all the places and all those who run them, of course. Humans who hate mutants equally have similar pits, although they have to be more careful when keeping super-soldiers under guard, but these also provide much more entertainment. In fact, the stories of the end of civilisation – in the aftermath of the Shadow World’s arrival here – feature many super-soldier filled pits, created by those who made the mutants. When mutants were rebelling or deemed a threat, many rulers and ruling factions decided to kill off their creations the more entertaining way. Sometimes, this was a big mistake.

Across the southern coastal areas of Europe, a number of market towns have become established and trade among them and the many smaller settlements is now flourishing. When competition spills over into conflict, usually mercenaries are hired, yet specialised fights have also been known to be arranged. They cost less in terms of time, blood and money. But there are a few fighting pits along the coast as well, often containing captured pirates, criminals, mercenaries or people who can’t pay their debts. While life in these is harsh, it isn’t nearly as dreadful as those previously mentioned. Freedom can be earned. Those who win often can become celebrities of a kind. They are a source of business and income as well as entertainment and punishment.

However, nearby in Spain, there are several pits close together, run by a sphinx and his three wives. This individual has contacts around the Mediterranean and can bring in better fighters as the need calls, but he also has friends and followers in other places. The more richer merchants and town elites will travel there to watch the superior fights, and to meet the more important guests from abroad. These pits are run as fighting pits first and foremost. Anyone new gets a cell down the bottom but the more you win, the higher you rise, and the living conditions become better at each level. The level of fighting is much higher and competing here is more likely to get you noticed. For this reason, individuals voluntary join. They have to be treated like the rest, this is part of the deal going in, but if they truly believe in their skills, they know they can leave here with high paying work on offer. Sometimes, people are sent here to become better fighters. It is even suspected that a couple of the pits are nothing more than training arenas to create soldiers for paying customers. It would explain a lot.

A fighting pit that surprises many is one found on a small island near Madagascar. As stated in a recent post, the gleaners are all over Madagascar, but this is also a place of powerful magic. So this pit is one for magic-users, because even weak ones can summon serious power to wield, making for a much better show. As expected, magic is used to keep the prisoners there and to keep gleaners and other intruders out, yet some kind of arrangement has to be going on. Who has made it with the gleaners of Madagascar is unknown at the moment. But those who end up there are chosen with care and the combat is broadcast to select individuals using the abundant magic present, so there are some strong gains to be had, despite the risks.

At this point I should talk about the two most notorious fighting pits from history. The first was called Hell. An obvious but apt name. It was owned by a devil-beast who was a powerful and tyrannical ruler in Great Britain long ago, best known – by those who remember such things – for being involved in a three-way war. He was opposed by two sides: one a family of devil-beasts, another a faction of aegis. He ruled over much of the land and commanded thousands of warriors; he was also a cruel being with no use for prisoners and a love of displaying his power. For this reason, a deep and harsh pit was made and many ended up there – mostly prisoners, yet a good number of his own followers too. Due to the nature of the war and his own power, all kinds of beings lived, fought and died there. At one point, he had an aegis from one side and a devil-beast of the other fight on the basis that the winner would leave. According to the legend, he kept his word. When his end came, so too did Hell. Supposedly, it collapsed during ferocious fighting, and after everyone had scattered, few wanted to find it again.

The other fighting pit is the Hungry Bastard. This was a nickname rather than an official title, yet it is this that remains spoken in stories – no doubt a creation of dark humour. This is said to have existed at the bottom of a sea, perhaps the Atlantic Ocean, but no one knows for sure. Back during the Raging, somewhere in the first century after the Shadow World merged with ours, a number of powers allied and sent their prisoners to this place. The story goes that people poured in dozens a day, that the conquests of the allies ensured a steady stream of captives, and yet the Hungry Bastard was never close to being filled. It was a grim, brutal place, there to slaughter the incoming victims, if it also produced many savage, broken warriors who went on to serve their captors. It consumed for decades as a world of billions became one of millions, this being just one of the causes, until those who fed it were all defeated. The pit itself was never found, so none truly know what became of it. Perhaps it still sits, waiting for more food.

There are many ways to die in this world. Also to suffer. Also to make others suffer. This is not a pleasant place and most understand it, even embrace it. Fighting pits are a practical outlet in many ways, yet often represent more darker and crafty appetites. They have their uses, and so while now and then something goes wrong somewhere, when prisoners break out or an outside attack occurs, they never go out of fashion. As mentioned at the beginning, most of the world hears of them only, and the horrors within. To many, fighting pits sound grimly entertaining. But to others, they are everything – a life of blood and brutality and captivity.

I should also mention another feature about the pits. As much as those who run them enjoy their power and often stamp their authority on their prisoners, they all have a deep dread. Anyone who runs or works at a fighting pit has a lingering, whispered fear. For most, this fear never materialises, but the tales of when it does spread around. Havoc, the infamous warrior, has a habit of breaking into fighting pits. He leads his gang of mad-dogs around the world at breakneck pace (usually he does but he is currently sitting things out) and expects every member to do their part. He has recruited many from the pits. It is every pit owner’s nightmare that Havoc will show up and slaughter everyone in charge, for that is his practice. Afterwards, he makes everyone fight and chooses some to join him, others he may just let go. Of course, this means those confined within a pit wouldn’t be too keen to see Havoc and his gang appear either, but for many, such an end would be far better than the life they live. Especially if they can see their captors and tormentors dead first.

Fighting pits are told in tales, some true, some complete fiction, many a mix of both. In a world as cruel and callous as this one can be, none doubt such a thing could be happening. Too many have tasted what people – of all kinds – can do to others. Slavery exists. Murder is matter-of-fact to some. War is celebrated by certain groups. While there are more peaceful and secure realms, while there are many people who live better lives than most, even they know what individuals and communities can be pushed to. Essentially, everyone knows that if you end up in a fighting pit, hope you’re the one at the higher level, looking down at the unfortunates who kill or die, who are just striving to live another day. Of course, also know that if any of those unfortunates could get their hands on you, they’d likely bite your throat out. If the roles were reversed, so would you.

Little Goody Two-Shoes

I grew up in the 80s and 90s. A lot of my early influences are from the 80s, especially in terms of tv I watched as a kid that left an impact I didn’t realise until much later. For instance, it wasn’t until my twenties that I understood I saw all evil henchmen as either a Starscream or a Soundwave – that they’re either smart but craven or stalwart and subservient.

I watched Transformers, He-Man, Thundercats, MASK and the A-team, as well as many others. Personally, I loved the bad guys a lot more. Megatron and Skeletor were far more entertaining and I admired their ambition. Mumm-Ra I was never much of a fan of. He always ended up skulking back to his crypt and claiming he’d win one day. He never did nor would he.

Back then, bad guys were designed to lose. The 80s – at least this is how I feel looking back – were much more black and white. Good guys were smart, brave, loyal, nice, etc. Bad guys were nasty, dumb, cowardly, treacherous even to their own (glaring at you. Starscream) and would always lose. So I wanted them to win. I got bored of the bad guys losing. I liked them a lot more, some were pretty cool characters, and Evil-Lyn was perhaps my first love in life. I wanted them to win, if just to shake things up a bit.

It’s not as if I didn’t like the good guys. Optimus Prime remains my shining example of what a good and strong leader can be. But the bad guys appealed more and, again, I just wanted a change. Just once, let the baddies get a win. Even a dream sequence! Actually that could have been dumb.

I suspect the baddies had their day occasionally and I just don’t remember it, but back then, I saw a lot of goody good guys beating bad baddies. I preferred the latter and still do. I proudly wear my t-shirt with the Decepticons badge on it.

Then anti-heroes came along and I loved them. At first I found many confusing. I remember watching Snake destroy the tape that could have brought about world peace at the end of the Escape from New York film. I was aghast and shocked. Why would anyone do such a thing?! Now I’m older, oh, I know why. But despite that, I loved his character and many more.

I’m a Batman fanboy. I also love Judge Dredd. Clint Eastwood’s characters in westerns inspired me. I found myself preferring darker heroes and champions. I enjoyed seeing someone be sarcastic, even selfish sometimes, and challenge the ways of the world while winning in the end. Which could piss off those they saved.

But you know what? I do love a good goodguy. I do. Maybe now we’re inundated with anti-heroes and we see bad guys more often get a one up on the hero, if not several, that the nice guys feel like the refreshing change. I liked the good guys back in the 80s, I admit. Even though I wanted to rebel and cheer on the baddies, I still admired the likes of He-Man and Lion-O. I saw the Christopher Reeves Superman films and loved them. Not as much as the later Batman films by Burton – although Superman 2 remains one of my favourites. Yes it is campy and daft, welcome to the 80s.

So speaking of Superman, I saw the latest incarnation on Supergirl. Well I loved the bloke. From the moment the music kicked in (yes, I’m sure that played a huge part in it) and he ran through the smoke (wherever that came from) and ripped open his shirt to reveal the S, I was into it. I almost cheered. It was great to see Superman back. Not just back, but how he should be. I really liked how they made him in this show. He isn’t worried about Supergirl getting in this way or taking his limelight, nor is he condescending to her, nor does he try to lecture her. Superman is Superman, so he knows he’s THE GUY and doesn’t need to prove anything, so he enjoys letting her get the glory, but also genuinely respects her and likes being around her. They captured the nobility of the man as well as the do-goodyness.

Superman is a goody two-shoes. One of the biggest. But that isn’t a weakness. It’s his strength. While I love the brooding Batman and his questionable ways, while I get a kick out of the fascist Dredd, while I want DECEPTICONS FOREVER! engraved on my tombstone, it is great to see a purely goody-goody running around again. Not as a parody or a sly injoke. No, he’s just being Superman. All American good boy, and I say that as an uppity Brit.

I love complicated characters and those who work in shades of grey, who question themselves and those they represent or serve. I love those the most and always will. But I do love me some nasty, despicable baddies, and I love me some goody two-shoes. There’s room for all, and when one lot is everywhere, it makes me appreciate what qualities the others bring to good storytelling. After all, a good story is what I want most of all.

Magical Mutations

Typically, when it comes to discussing mutants, we mean beings who have been transformed and/or disfigured by science, either by design or accident. So there are those who were created in labs – sometimes for the better, others ruined by failed experiments – and those brought about by accidents or attacks featuring radiation, biological warfare or various pollutants. Of course, many of those accidents were suspected of being deliberate when they occurred. For instance, Eastern Europe became flooded with radiation briefly, and some suspected this was an attack by an outside force, but others claimed those in charge were analysing the effects before carrying out their own experimentation. After all, the radiation ‘cleared’ up quickly. Back then, the technology to counter those kinds of accidents was available for some, as was magic and magi wishes. This means that, while the mutant race continues today, the events that created many have little or no presence.

Speaking of magic, just as it seeped into the world and made it something new, so it had its effect on the inhabitants. Many types of beings have been altered due to the presence of magic, and also by nature itself, now that has been introduced to the Shadow World. There are instances of magic and science interacting too, such as in the Caribbean when a nuclear strike landed. That area has never been the same since and we’ll talk more of it later. Mostly, though, magic did its own thing and usually that took time. People have been changed by it. For the majority they are never classified as mutants, but in truth, they aren’t much different.

A strong example of this is Africa. The people there have spent a long time living in a continent now overgrown by jungle. The idea of this place being a land of desert is ridiculous to them. Magic was used, Africa was reborn and the Dark Land became a haven for humans. They lived amidst the shadowy jungles, beneath the entwined branches and vines, and they changed to have larger irises and be able to see better in the dark. They hunt the monsters there, because, for all that the creatures of the Shadow World came from such a named place, they don’t see in the dark any better than most things. Now, the people of Africa are seen as human and count themselves as such, yet there is no doubt they aren’t the same as everyone else. But then again, many aren’t.

Another region is the Philippines. Here, long ago, a powerful magical bombardment came from Japan, a land strong in magic. This was before the Japanese people left their homeland and were fighting for it against many powerful enemies. It has never been thought of as a deliberate attack, more likely a deflection of some kind. Some even praise it as a gift. That’s because people born and living there who aren’t magic-users will often have some kind of special ability. It varies from something small, such as a click of the fingers creating magical sparks, to being attuned to the weather. Again, none of these individuals are counted as mutants and there is no fear of them among their people. It is part of who they are. Often, those abilities come in handy defending their home.

Returning to the Caribbean, the nuclear attack of over two centuries ago left that group of islands broken and changed. In fact, most of Central America is gone. Again, there are claims and counter claims of responsibility here. Most say humans fired to stop a mutant horde from coming north, although far more mutants were made in the northern hemisphere than otherwise. Some wonder if the attack was directed at the magically charged islands. Many humans say the computers fired. Either way, a devastating assault was launched. It hit Mexico but also the Caribbean, and the result of nuclear power meeting magic set off a wild and bizarre reaction that, legends say, completely overwhelmed the rest of the nuclear explosions. Now, between the northern and southern continents of the Americas, is a wide spread of tiny islands – some not much more than large rocks in the ocean. Despite everything, people live there, and have done since then. Yes, many were killed, but it seems some survived the devastation and others moved there over time, either by choice or forced to as they fled other threats. The people there aren’t quite the same as everyone else. For one, they have to be very tough to live there, so even the more ordinary islander is a toughened, determined survivor. But many have something special about them too. Not as flamboyant or obvious as the Lilliputians. Well, not always, because the magic-user Razmatazz is about as flamboyant as they come. No, usually it is more inward. A higher level of perception perhaps. A stronger will. Some good examples would be Persephone, who gets a strong sense of what people are about to do, especially in a fight; Tryst, who has incredible luck, sometimes to the detriment of those around her; FUG, who is a very ugly (the U in the name stands for Ugly) yet physically strong and resilient fighter.

A mention has to go to Great Britain, the last magical hotspot to be fully lived on. Here more weird things happen and people can be born with some strangeness that is less surprising than it would be to us. Bruin is a man who cannot be cut or stabbed, and even he doesn’t truly know why. Dalliance is a bright champion and I mean that literally. Also, this doesn’t just pertain to humans. The Beast is a giant brute and the Serpent is a, well, giant writher. Also there is Gobbler, who was once a big fat man who succumbed to a brain-maggot, which then slithered into his mouth to rest in safety. He woke later, only he and the creature had merged, and now he wanders around, seemingly simple-minded, yet with a tongue that can lash out and latch on so he can feed. He has even swallowed people up whole, hence the name.

In many respects, these are all mutants, but never are they named such. The divide between human and mutant is much more blurred than the rest, with the exception of cyborgs, and for the most part it depends on how a group or person identifies. There is a group in Africa where the men are born as super-soldiers and the women are more human like, if more athletic than usual, and so while they could all be considered mutants, they have often seen themselves as humans. There is also a group of super-soldiers in the Baltic region who don’t know what they truly are, so see themselves as just big, strong humans, born to prevail in the harsh climate. After all, Monolith roams there and he is human, also called such, despite being bigger than any of them.

When it comes to magical mutations, those involved are seen as monsters or freaks more than mutants. Another example here would be witches. These are magic-users with some level of psychic power, so they stand out even among those empowered by magic. There have also been those who use magic to transform people. Once a being called Valentius enjoyed reshaping others, sometimes to punish, often to try and create a better army. None of his successes lived past his downfall. Enacting this desire isn’t just an issue of power but skill and imagination, so while others continue to try this now and then, few get anywhere.

The truth is there just aren’t enough magically mutated people around to bring about a sense of identification or a concept of uniting with the ‘normal’ mutants. The only case where this is close to being so is in Asia. Before the Shadow World came, China and India were strong rivals, both well equipped technologically. Many mutants were mass produced by the Chinese, but the latter refused to create new life due to religious beliefs. At least not while the centralised government was in charge. But in both nations magic was found among the poorer people, so while machines were built and battles were fought, authority collapsed and the Raging began, many communities sought to keep themselves safe via what power they had. They created havens – a term used for when people embed spells around their settlement or if they dwell on a place strong in magic which they can utilise. Then, when things got even worse, when biological and chemical weapons were brought into play, these havens helped many survive. The key word here is survive. Magic did what it could to keep those it was meant to alive, yet it could not prevent the physical effects completely. People were changed and I’ll go into that more another time, but these and the other mutants now interact, feeling more akin than with the fearful humans around them.

One last group to mention are the Dragon Singers – to some a fable, to others a part of history. Dragons did much while they were around, they destroyed cities and nested in the ashes, but they could also bless and protect people. It is said all dragons loved to hear singing, and those who could sing so well as to send one to sleep was especially honoured. They would be quite liked by everyone else too! Many of these were blessed by dragons, and some of the descendants of them still bear the legacy. Dragon Singers are supposedly immune to fire and even a lot of magic, they can sing spells and dance like no one else. Some herald them as majestic beings to be adored, others propose that they have scaled skin and slitted pupils, and are the spies for the dragons for when they return.

Magical mutation is a very real thing, and while few will ever be seen as mutants, it is just another reminder that few things are ever so neat and tidy so as to bracket everyone in restricted groups. People will view with suspicion what is different, will praise what helps them, fear what threatens. Communities form and band together, using names to make them united and strong, but many will stand out and look to make their own name. Magic has taken its toll and given a great deal of blessing to the world, the very nature of reality has become less predictable, less controllable, and more open to the strange and unusual. Science has broken barriers and opened new doors as well, and so together, mutation, evolution and development of all kinds is there to be sought out.