Portals

When the Shadow World came to our world, a lot of things changed. Magic became a power people could harness and wield. Monsters appeared. The sky was dimmed slightly so that less heat came through. Weather was more variable and certainly less predictable. Strange occurrences became something to just accept rather than disbelieve.

But a major change were the portals. Rips in the air, shimmering, showing another place within the opening that anyone could get to if they simply stepped through. At first portals scared people, they thought the world was being torn apart. Then they were tested. People went through to other parts of the world. Then they altered. Over time, humans and monsters came to understand what these were. They were openings through reality to another place, and this target would change over time, and magic could control them.

Portals are a risk to use, it has to be said. There is always risk when it comes to magic. There are stories of people being lost in transit and portals closing behind them, but it is widely suspected these are just stories. The real risk is that you step through to find yourself in a place where the inhabitants don’t like you. Or to somewhere so different to your own that you won’t survive there. The destination can be seen so that shouldn’t be such a problem, but to someone in a jungle, a snowstorm might seem a wondrous thing, until the cold hits.

Portals are all over the world and, to those who know about such things, no portal has ever closed, nor can they be closed. They exist beyond the control of people, of all kinds. They are tears caused by the Shadow World. They will change, but never end, and while the destinations vary, it will be the same series of places that will reset and continue. Essentially, if you know a portal, it can lead you to a number of destinations, but only those. Fortunately, there will be other portals to find to lead you around the world. If you want to risk that.

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why portals are where they are. No one knows how many there are in existence either. There seems to be more in magical areas, such as Great Britain, but they are also in desolate locations. Australasia has only one, in the centre, which has greatly helped to seclude the island – that and the fact it has been taken over by a group of devil-beasts. Why it has only one is unknown. But there is nothing that can be done about it.

As for finding portals, they give off a radiation so devices both magical and technological can be fashioned to detect them. This radiation is harmless to life, just there, as the portal pulses in the landscape. The stronger it is, the longer the portal is linked to the current location, so many have learned to use it before the radiation starts to ebb. Otherwise, you’ll be cut off from returning home. They can blink, as many term it. Portals will show a place, then change, then change again, and the time period for each link will be different. Rarely, a portal will show a place for a moment and then change – a blink. So that is another risk for anyone hoping to use one, especially if you lack in any means of detecting the flow of power.

Portals are used often, though. People with hi-tech equipment will place beacons in areas and are then able to detect them via portals, so they can know where a presented destination is in the world. Those who have mastered magic can feel more sure, using their power to hold a link or try to sense through the portal. This could alert someone with similar abilities at the other end, of course. But portals are instant transportation, so for all the dangers and concerns, using one can enable messengers to reach destinations far quicker and even armies can attack suddenly. Portals aren’t big, usually enough for a few humans to go through at a time, or a single totem, yet forces can be moved through gradually if both ends are secure. Again, risks and benefits.

One important note has to be about portal keys. They were made long ago, when jumping around the world happened more. They are nothing more than items made with magic and tuned to portals. Often they can look innocuous, sometimes they need operating. Either way, when someone has one, they can use it to shift through the destinations, choose one and hold it. There aren’t many, but enough are scattered around the world for them still to be known. More can be made, most likely are now and then, but they take a lot of time. Patience and focus are vital. Most suspect the magi made the original keys, that they each have one and hop and sneak around the globe this way. That is likely true on all counts. Now others can too.

It should also be noted that portals tend to sit on the land, a vertical rip that can be looked or stepped into from either side. They don’t appear half embedded or hidden within a mountain. They also sit on the surface of the oceans, yet can also be found on the seabed. While their creation seems to have been a haphazard event, a reaction to two worlds merging, they at least are there to be used, not hang out of reach. Useful, if weird.

Some people guard portals, claim them, try to keep them to themselves, for obvious gain. Yet most portals sit there for any to use. On the one hand, sitting guard on one means many others will attack to try and use it. It also means the occasional surprise attack from the other side. They are not easy things to keep hold of. Also, they don’t provide a great deal of benefit. They help to control an area, but only if you have the power to control that area as well, or at least if it is shut off. In Australasia, it has taken a group of devil-beasts in the middle of a wilderness to take command of the portal there, and the fact the island is surrounded by mines and has strong defences to keep even flying monsters out, means they are maintaining a level of control. In essence, they are preventing a stronger individual or group from coming in and making their lives unpleasant. But for most, you are better off leaving portals alone. They cannot be destroyed. There is another end to them. There are others around, other means of transport if really needed. Portals make travel easier, but it is not that difficult without them, especially for the more powerful groups.

One last note on portals. Most of the destinations they offer will be far away, but all seem to have a few nearby locations as well. They can be used to get to far off and strange places, yet also for a short hop to somewhere nearby. If you know your way around, you can travel a circuit of a region with ease by using various portals in sequence. For this reason, long ago (at least according to some stories) powerful magic-users tried linking portals and to set them that way for good. Nothing lasted for long, so again, no one tries that any more.

Portals are now a common feature of the world. Taken for granted by many, still feared by some; they sit there, gleaming, pulsing, offering chances to those seeking them, enabling those who would traverse the world to do just that. In a way they make the world smaller, but there is too much going on everywhere – too many warring factions, too many imposing individuals – that even these magical wonders haven’t tipped the balance. So far.

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Rulers and Terrors of the Past

It goes without question that many beings have wanted to conquer. Not the world, at least not usually. Most beings who strive for greatness have been realistic enough to know that taking over the entire planet is ridiculous. Anyone who attempts it will bring every other powerful individual or group upon them. But carving out their own corner has been the aim of a number of great and terrible people. Some still do. The Demon King has his piece of territory outside of Trade Island. Gemini rule their domain in the Himalayas. The Author continues to reside in his fortress in the Ural Mountains. But many of those who ruled most fiercely are gone, brought down for another generation of rulers to climb up. Here are some of them, their names, titles and achievements, and what became of them, if it is known:

The Emperor of the Golden Throne ruled part of middle and southern Asia, with his headquarters set somewhere in what was once India. Who and what he was has been lost to time. His name still echoes in the region, however. He ruled wisely as well as sternly. According to legend, he had an aegis and a devil-beast as his right and left hand, enforcing his commands. How he managed that is unknown and highly in doubt by some. What is certain is that he had an elite force called the Excubitors, a small army of highly trained and superbly equipped individuals. This is known because they exist now as a mercenary outfit, better known as the Sentinels. They fight for pay by necessity, but they remember their glorious past and many fear they will rejoin the Emperor if he returns. After all, it isn’t certain that he is dead. What happened to him isn’t fully known, however it is clear his power was broken and his realm disintegrated without him. Most likely he is dead, either slain back then or fallen since, but his title has meaning to many, even now.

Lord Ogre was a huge human who strode the island of Great Britain for a time, head of a horde of fierce fighters. He waged war as much as he could, conquering through sheer strength, and terrorised many. He wasn’t a simplistic thug either. While not known as a master strategist, he roamed for some time and learned much. He was ended in a fight with a devil-beast, a contest of physical might that he lost. He hasn’t gone, though. He exists as the weapon, Giant Breaker. Having had his spine and skull ripped out, the devil-beast that defeated him forged this into a mace, with his conciousness trapped inside it. He can talk to the one that wields him, and only that one, and so a long time has passed to frustrate the cruel warlord. He talks, he advises, he sneers and urges for bloodshed. Even after all this time, he hasn’t changed.

The Lord of Fire and Pain was a powerful and sadistic devil-beast that visited a number of places around the world and inflicted terrible cruelties upon any he could. Not known for ruling a territory or commanding forces, the Lord of Fire and Pain was notable mostly for defeating strong opponents and killing them in as painful ways as he could. If dealing with lesser foes, he would simply feed them into fire, but as long as screams were sounding, he was satisfied. An important note here has to be that it was he that beat Lord Ogre and turned him into a weapon. It was a typical moment in his life of vicious rampaging. He did rule sometimes, he led forces as well, but mostly he did as he pleased, took on who he wanted to and broke them into bloody pieces. For this reason, the Sect of Shadow and Steel was hired to kill him, which they duly did.

Morrigan is remembered for a few reasons. She wasn’t just a very strong aegis who fought with great skill and determination, but she managed to bring peace and unity to Great Britain for the first time since it fell apart as a human nation. It was also the only time. She brought together excellent fighters and led them across the island until every foe was dealt with. After that, she ruled, with an elite guard of aegis warriors flying with her. Her skill wasn’t just at fighting. Part of her rise to power was due to a sceptre that she forged herself and spent years concentrating her own power into. In battle, it enabled her to unleash strong magic, and supposedly she took from defeated opponents over time to make it even stronger. Regardless of that, it was a major weapon and many wish they knew of its whereabouts in the present time. As for Morrigan herself, her rule ended in an ambush. She brought peace and unity to the island for a time, but she was also ruthless in her governance and made many enemies. She was betrayed, ambushed, killed with many of her guards, and violent mayhem returned to Great Britain.

Iron Claw was a devil-beast reputed as a strong and fierce warrior, first and foremost. He sought challenges and conquest. He also sought to use a fire sword, the weapon used by aegis only. For this, he cut off his hand and forged a magical one of iron. It didn’t work. His rage at this is said to have claimed many lives and possibly caused a volcano to erupt. While he is famous for a failure, he is also known for leading a fighting force that focused on strength and suppression, making his rule unopposable. This force remains, now a mercenary outfit of smaller number but with the same ruthless intent, operating from the Falkland Islands, which was once his seat of power. He, though, is long dead, not just defeated by the infamous Havoc, but beaten to death by his own iron claw.

Valentius was a creative and cruel human who was both a warrior of renown and a magic-user to be feared. Tall and strong, said to be very handsome, with cold eyes and a soft voice, he was a force to be reckoned with in Great Britain. According to legend, he gathered a band of warrior magic-users and they roamed across the island in search of power and glory. It is also claimed they left the island a few times. Valentius was not just a commander, but a creator. His power was rare among humans and he liked to use it to reshape. He sought to create new monsters, superior of course, and also devoted to him. He studied and experimented, and some claim he made certain abominations. However, his warband betrayed him. They sealed him in his chamber with magic and left, free to follow their own course. That chamber remains sealed to this day.

The Magician is an unknown. Simply put, he or she was a human scientist that created many technological wonders. The ease with which this individual made such things left many feeling it was more like magic than science, hence the nickname. Who this person was, why they were so talented, why they made what they did, when they were born – these are all questions without answer. It has been deemed likely the Magician lived before the Shadow World arrived, but nothing has been proven. What is almost ridiculous is that people don’t even know what this person is responsible for creating. Maybe the doom-rollers, maybe the Hell-Raisers, maybe the cyber-samurai, maybe something unique, maybe all droids and robotic races come from this genius. It is simply the name that has been passed on in whispers by those who seek to wield science. The Magician was the greatest, no one else comes close. The person and the products are lost in time, yet the name, the reputation remains for some, and most likely the products do still exist. Perhaps the Magician’s handiwork has yet to be truly revealed.

The Coven were about during the Raging, if their origins likely started with the arrival of magic in the world. They were new magic-users, strong too, so they banded together to delve into this fresh power. They sought to understand it fully but also to uncover the mysteries and wonders many believed were waiting for them. They practised magic now forbidden, such as possession and necromancy. Without question, they were a cult, creating a sense of secrecy and mystery about themselves, basing their reputation upon power and death. The Coven’s drive for greater power and deeper knowledge led them to consume themselves and the name now exists as a warning to all magic-users: certain truths must be left untouched.

Alpha and Omega were two human magic-users from long ago, known only by name and reputation. They ranked among the first magic-users and were a formidable duo during the Raging. It is said that not only were they very powerful in magic, but they were deeply religious and believed their purpose was to end everything. It is also suspected that they were disciples of Dylan Winter. That would explain much. However little is known for sure, barring that they were two incredibly strong and aggressive magic-users who sought the ruin of all the world. For this, many opposed them, and while most failed, enough stood to end their crusade.

The Beasts is a name that resides in rhymes and warnings among humans, a name rarely talked about but impossible to forget. They were a number of humans who were extraordinary during the Raging and no one knows why. Each of them was something special, either in physical prowess or magical might or both, and they terrorised and/or ruled parts of the world. Eventually, they were all defeated, but they were a major reason why humans weren’t overwhelmed by their enemies, and at the same time a stark example of the bizarre horror the Shadow World’s merging with our own could create. They were forces of nature, a shock surge as they all came to prominence in different parts of the world. Their like has never been seen since.

What has Become of the Human Race?

This post about humanity within the world of Sojourners in Shadow was posted ages ago but I removed it so it could be posted elsewhere. Now it can return:

Humans were on the planet before the monsters, the mutants and the machines. They are the reason the others exist. Humans called forth the Shadow World. Some claim this other plane of existence was only ever a reflection of our own and what lurked in our minds, that the beings that came from it were those we inspired. Others felt that it was this alternate world that put those ideas in us. Either way, they came to us, by our actions, and so they live in our world now. As for the mutants and the machines, humans made them, taught them, and it was humans they reflected by breaking free and seeking power for themselves.

This wasn’t the beginning of humanity’s downfall, however. That had already begun. As the world moved on from what we know today, governments became more controlling the more people pushed for freedom. Fear and hatred of each other fed the flames on all sides. Societies spiralled and nature grew sicker. The more people needed help, the more it was denied them. Revolution movements arose. Cults seeking an end to the current decay became powerful. Strong leaders developed into tyrants. Many would claim monsters walked the earth long before the supernatural beings from the Shadow World stepped on it.

When the monsters did come forth, rules on morality were already stretched so it took little for them to be broken by those in power. Soldiers were cloned to replenish ranks, then more were altered and improved, and those cloned as well. Weapons of horrifying destruction were not only made but used. This was also taken as a time for rivalries to be settled. The world being invaded was never going to be enough for old hatreds to be put aside. Actions taken in the name of the earth’s defence were soon used for power, land and influence. Super-computers developed to organise a nation’s protection were wielded to undermine that of another nation’s. Mutated soldiers killed each other in futile battles as borders advanced, then receded. Humans themselves suffered. Many fled their homelands or took refuge wherever they could, others rebelled against those in power, which in turn led to new warring factions or outright banditry.

The world did not fall in one fell swoop. It was a series of disasters followed by another series, and it continued to become worse. As any kind of authority was removed, monsters had even more freedom to rampage, as did the new creations of mutants and machines. What followed has been referred to as the Raging. Monsters of terrible magical might fought each other across the skies. Mutant armies swept over lands and levelled all they could in vengeance. Machines betrayed their creators, competed with one another via various networks until these, too, were a broken battleground. Powers of all kinds met each other head on and often destroyed each other in the process. Many rulers arose swiftly but were either killed or overthrown just as quickly.

But the humans endured. In truth, they did more than their fair share of damage as well, yet for many it was a time of patience and desperation. Underground bases intended for a short refuge became homes for generations. Jungles, caves and wilderness were soon environments that every child knew well. Humans adapted, they grew tougher, they often became more harsh as well, and they lived. However they could, whatever it took, they did so.

Eden is perhaps the most famous of places, although many think it a myth. Here humans have lived securely under a force-field, besieged by a mutant horde, defended by their superior technology and their faith. In Africa, a continent regrown by magic, humans have survived in their beloved jungle where they can hunt those who once hunted them. Cities have even been planted. In Australia, British, American and Japanese refugees now inhabit their own nations alongside the native population. In Europe, as in North America, bases are still homes but many now dare to venture forth. A militarised people control the Carpathian Mountains. A vast swathe of land across Central Asia is teeming with tribes and warbands of humans.

Some humans wield technology. Others wield magic. Some rely on will or cunning. There remain great leaders to guide people through the threats that persist. There are also tyrants. Humans can still be counted as monsters but also heroes, champions and carers. The claim is that there are more humans in the world than all the monsters, mutants and machines put together. Of course, there is no way to know this, but a race of billions cannot easily be exterminated.

Not that this was the intention of all their enemies. Many types of monster enjoyed hunting humans, it seemed in their nature, but some preferred to rule over humans or even simply toy with them. Machines were more cold and so cruel, often seeing the human race as the greatest threat to all others. But their coldness ensured they were not devoted to humanity’s destruction. Mutants were the fanatics there, and yet even they cared more about living than revenge. The simple truth was everyone wanted to live and pursue their own ideals rather than devote themselves to genocide.

Humans also have their protectors. Monster is a generic term, everyone knows it really. Many of the types of being from the Shadow World are as different to each other as they are to humans or mutants. Some are allies to humanity. They chose a side during the Raging and have kept with it ever since. But those times of epic warfare are long past. Trade is a more appealing prospect to some rather than killing. In parts of the world, mutants and humans barter as they build their communities. Even machines, in their logic, understand that working with an enemy can be worthwhile, until the time is right to act for your own good.

The world has changed drastically. The Shadow World came and merged – not fully, a dark part of that other dimension remains somewhere else. But it has brought magic to our planet, and more. The world is cooler, slightly darker. The heat of certain sections of the earth is now something of legend. Deserts are open terrain to be wandered in or built on. Some land has been obliterated or reshaped. Much knowledge has been lost while ways of life have been preserved. Pirates roam the Mediterranean. Samurai walk across New Japan in Australia. Soldiers defend the Northern Federation. Scientists plan within bases. Warriors stand ready around the globe.

The human race inflicted much on itself, but it has taken it all and remains. It populates the planet and has no intention of giving it up. Some of it is very strong, some resilient in defence only. But it has the numbers and it has the determination. This is their world. This is home. Others claim they had their time. Many humans would say their time will come again. Certain ones intend on bringing that about. We shall see how they fare.

The Magi

More from the world of Sojourners in Shadow:

For many, monsters remain mysterious as well as deadly. Certain facts are known, while rumours and stories spread, regardless of truth. The more any interacts with a breed of monster, the more it is come to be understood, as with any race. But typically some secrets will be kept by a race. None wants to be vulnerable. Trust is very difficult to earn.

In no race of monsters is this as evident as the magi. While many monsters are steeped in fame and fear, even if the details are unknown, other types of being have a grasp on who and what they are. Devil-beasts, aegis and sphinx live a long time and are very powerful. This is clear. How long and how strong is much harder to determine. But magi? No one understands their nature. It is believed they live longer than most. Probably. Most think they reproduce and have made new magi, and yet no one knows when or how this occurred. Magi have perfected the way they seem to fully disguise what they truly are.

What is known about them is little, and even then some wonder. Magi can’t do magic. That’s a common fact, although some will claim they only pretend not to. After all, they grant wishes, and they can change shape. These are other known facts. What not all widely known is that magi have a particular form in every type of being they change into. Of course, the next question is do magi have their own unique form? A magi form. If so, no one knows what it is. They appear to be completely natural in any physique they take on, whether using the heat-vision of a writher, the superb hearing of a harbinger, the venom of a gleaner. But these are physical attributes. If a magi takes on the form of a deemi or wraith, they cannot then do magic, nor can they heal like a totem. Frustrating, but there it is. Magi shapeshift to pretend, hide and deceive, not to truly become those things, so the speculation remains about one true form of theirs, and yet, again, nothing – not one single rumour – exists.

Because the magi are excellent masters of disguise, none can be sure if any particular magi has always been that individual. For example, if you meet Dave the magi then perhaps this is that Dave of legend you have heard about, or perhaps not. Perhaps this is Dave but perhaps he was Fred and Bob in the past. Maybe he was even a Susan, except magi tend to stick or are stuck in one gender. Those who have more of an idea about magi than most – and they are few – know magi do tend to reuse names, so they can be tracked down, and there are certain qualities to these names. For instance, plant names abound. Even so, only magi know who is who for sure.

This is the problem I have in writing this post. Usually I write about a race or group or feature from the world’s perspective, then hint at more details from those in the know. This can’t be done here. The world’s view on magi is pretty much that they can’t do magic, they can change shape and they grant wishes. That’s it. They do have a reputation for being tricky and cunning, and in some places they are seen as liars and even bringers of bad luck. Others see them as wise counsellors. But little else can be said in the main besides general observations. As for those in the know, those who are close to magi and understand them, well, they don’t really exist. Yes, some know magi better than most, and they have some insights into them, but they don’t know the magi really. But the magi know them.

Here we get to the main issue of contention. Magi have been around since the Shadow World, and they certainly have got around. They have been advisers to rulers. They have been spies for enemy forces. They have helped to build kingdoms, even empires, and then assisted in ruining them. They have worked for devil-beasts and aegis and sphinx and humans and more, and they have brought them each down using different means. They have walked among communities, discussed with intellectuals, bargained with plotters and betrayed allies. They know about them all. Perhaps more than anyone realises.

One example of history should help. Once there was a great war occurring in Great Britain, the island of strong magic. There were three sides. One side was commanded by a brutal and strong devil-beast who had come from the Shadow World. Another was overseen by a family of devil-beasts, second and third generations. The third side was led by aegis, a group of friends, family and comrades. This war went on for some time and was peppered by skirmishes, battles, ambushes and murders. In this campaign, each side had a network of agents, and each was controlled by a clever and crafty individual. In other words, every side had a magi as the head of their intelligence.

What happened in this war? Let’s just say a lot that affects matters even now. But let me allow this one fact – a fact known to few by now – that the magi were highly influential in the outcome. Afterward, there were many powerful beings looking for the magi. Some still are. Having worked with others means those three are known to some people, but by names they no longer use, likely in forms they don’t stay in, and they will know those people too. Much better. They spied, they gathered information, they eliminated, and they communicated with each other in ways few would understand. They would be feared as much as they are hated, respected as much as they are sought for secrets.

Most will claim it is the nature of magi to be devious, duplicitous, conniving, enigmatic, charismatic, insightful, etc. But the magi themselves would argue that their nature has been defined to them by the world and those in it. They are hunted for their knowledge, skills and, of course, their ability to grant wishes. They have no magical power to defend themselves and their only physical attributes are those they possess when taking on another shape. They don’t seek power or rule, or at least they haven’t appeared to for the most part – it could be some great leader was a magi while pretending to be something else. But pretence at power is a high risk, even for them.

Now, those who have crossed paths with magi will argue how helpless they are. True, they lack their own power, but so do many. They can wield weapons and their knowledge of everyone else means they know how best to use which weapons against which races. They can infiltrate and assassinate like no other. Obviously shape changing isn’t easy and takes time, and yet there are always those more skilled than others. Basically, don’t ever underestimate magi.

Still, magi learned a harsh lesson long ago and it is a huge part of why they live the way they do. This is their secret past, something that occurred early on and is one of those important events lost in murky history. But the magi remember. Because it is their closely held secret I won’t divulge it here, just to say that the magi trusted humans and paid the price. I think we can all understand that.

Following on from that, I should mention population. This is another unknown. Magi are rare, but no one knows how few. So I’ll simply say they are very few, shockingly so, and a big part of that is due to what happened long ago. As I said, it was a harsh lesson, which led to a choice the magi made. A costly one. Now there is no going back. Keep hiding, keep learning, stay alert, and excel at subterfuge. Excel and survive at all costs.

In case you’re wondering how wishes work, understand that they strain the magi giving it and there are risks on both wisher and giver. But the results are incredible. No cheats, just chances. They can create out of nothing, destroy utterly, make dreams come true, and who knows what else. The limits seem to be placed solely on the will of the one who wants and the life, strength and ability of the magi granting the wish. But no magi can wish for themselves, not even grant another magi’s wish.

So you see, magi possess one of the greatest powers available, yet no power for themselves. What else can they do but be as evasive as possible, or as dangerously deceptive. It is the only way to survive. The only way to achieve anything.