How to Talk Around the World

So when the world is a broken and battered place, when civilisations have crumbled and many beings of all kinds live in their own communities, watching out for threats, there are obvious problems in communication. You can’t pick up a phone and call the next group over to see if they want to talk, trade or just fight it out. You can’t pick up a newspaper and read about the happenings on another continent. You also can’t surf the web, although you can paddle about in what’s left of it. More on that later.

The point is, for people to get to know those far from them, it takes a lot of work. Leaders around the world, at least those in strong enough standing to know there is a lot going on in the world, want to keep an eye, and also an ear, on current events. Even if they preach seclusion, they themselves need to know. Because there are a good number of individuals like this, various methods of communication have been developed. Some even reach around the world. But all have their risks and often different means are used by different people. Nothing is easy.

Any of the more technological groups that want to stay in touch have a few means of this. Cyborgs sects, machine nations, underground bases of humans – these usually possess equipment that can transmit messages over far distances. Not around the world though, not any more. Once the world was surrounded by satellites that, among other tasks, bounced messages between each other, on their way to and from places of the Earth’s surface. Many of those were destroyed as nations used cyber attacks and orbital devices to hinder each other in any way possible. Communications were cut. Spy satellites were shot down. But as well as this, control centres below were destroyed or abandoned, and so the satellites they were in control of were left to drift in the grasp of gravity. Due to human action, human dereliction and just the simple passing of time, the fact is that while there are a good number of satellites still circling the world, not many are functioning properly, and gaining access to them is very difficult.

As I said, the internet has gone, yet there remains some vestiges of it left. What was once a information highway is now more a series of streets and alleys that connect only if you know the right turnings. In essence, cyborg leaders and others who can access these satellites – and few can access all of them – know that at certain times certain satellites connect and they can talk to, well, certain people. Sometimes they can talk and just hope another is listening, other times there can be direct conversations. It all depends on equipment available, timing and power sources. Even then, there is no point where access grants world-wide coverage. You wait, talk within a certain region, then wait again or try passing messages around to get to the right person. This is also very difficult as most who can do this don’t let their guard down often. Some, not at all.

So the information network, as leaders such as Prime, Jamshid and the Grand Master call it, can be used by them to argue with each other or try to discuss problems. Eden, that bastion of humanity, can access it but won’t for fear of what the outer world may bring. Individuals like Miss Mech can work their way in if she finds the right place to link with satellites, which she is seeking as she wants to gather as much of the stored information within them as possible. The network has uses, and knowledge, and so both are sought after by those with power.

That is by far the most technological method. Cyborg sects have relays and bases so they can reach out across continents and talk to each other, but only within their sect. Some groups, such as the mutant military in the Middle East, have radio towers. In the Northern Federation, they have an actual media, made up of newspapers and radio stations. But otherwise, if you want to talk to others world-wide, you need magical or physical means.

Portals exist around the world and messages can be transmitted via them. This has been proven. It helps if you are a magic-user as then you can command the portal to latch onto the place you want – if it links there naturally – and then send a message through. Magic can be used that way, and in other ways besides using portals. Spells can be voice commands that open to the receiver. With a healthy power source and strong will, communication can be established and maintained over distance, if those at both ends are able. A group of magic-users who are attuned can spend time establishing a harmonious feeling among themselves so that they can later connect to each other no matter the range, although this is very difficult to accomplish. Magical items can be fashioned for this purpose as well.

So if there is such as thing as the information network on a scientific level, there is also a kind of magical version, where portals, spells, magic-users and magical items all come into play. Messages can be passed around, sources of transmissions can be detected, so that someone, such as the Demon King at Trade Island, could find a way to talk to other devil-beasts. Obviously this would be a fairly public form of communication. Instead of satellites, there would be living beings involved in spreading the word, and they can rarely be trusted. Which brings us to the next segment.

When it comes to a magical network, the most essential part of it has to be pixies. These tiny creatures are experts in camouflage and subtlety, and they are strong in magic if not in physique. Therefore they make outstanding messengers. Obviously, they could be told something and sent out to relay it verbally, and yet pixies are known for mischief and deception as much as anything, so unless someone has a pixie to send that is utterly trusted, the message will be magical, for the intended person’s ears only. For instance, the spell would be passed on from one pixie to the next, flying under the watches of so many, passing undetected by both science and magic, until the service was complete. Pixies have been around the world a great deal in their attempts to avoid being captured and utilised by other beings, so they know how to get around, and they want to be useful to powerful people. The same is true for magi. As I have mentioned before, magi and pixies have a close bond, a shard lifestyle. Both are hunted for their gifts, both known for cunning and trickery in order to survive, and so both work well together in organising and conveying messages around the globe. It leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many, like the Demon King or Gemini, that magi are out there, hiding, and yet know well a lot of the chatter going around. Magi make it their business to know, in case their ability to hide is ever proven inadequate. To some, magi are just gathering information, biding their time before they act against everyone else. Often that is mere prejudice or paranoia, and yet it isn’t unreasonable to suspect these two races of being up to something. However, without proof, both pixies and magi are too good at running the communications for anyone to want to remove them.

Still, there are further options. Sometimes you just want someone to physically take your message and bring it to your target. Takes longer, might seem somewhat mundane, yet there are two groups this can be entrusted too. The better is the Sect of Shadow and Steel. The members of this organisation of assassins can use shadows to travel around the world, so not only can they get from place to place a lot quicker and easier than most, they are far from vulnerable to ambushes. Usually the Sect are killers, lethal fighters with special blades, but they also sideline as spies and messengers, taking these duties as seriously as they do when dealing with death. The Sect hold honour high, among themselves and when concerning the outer world, so if you hire them to do something, they do it with their utmost ability. Messages that are vital are handed to the Sect. Even if an organisation has their own means to talk to each other, the Sect will sometimes be trusted the most. Of course, just as with the pixies and magi, it leaves a number of people resenting their position in the world’s set-up and wishing to usurp them.

The other group who can take messages around the world by physical means are the aquatics. These sea-living mutants roam all over and intermingle often. Now, they don’t have the intense honour code or deadly skills of the Sect, nor can swimming through seas be anywhere near as swift as jumping in and out of shadows. But the aquatics are trustworthy to those who have earned it and they feel very safe in their own environment, away from cyborgs and machines and most monsters and humans. The aquatics know the currents, and they can pass messages around so as to keep the line of communication as rapid as can be. This race has an uneasy relationship with the races who live on land. The aquatics see the seas as theirs, they resist strenuously serious attempts to enter it, and yet they know that trading with the others benefits them. They want to keep in touch, they want to lend a hand, they want to have an idea of who is talking to who. As the Sect and others know, being part of communications between other organisations means you have an idea of what is really going on, and who is doing it. You can’t pry too much, you can’t let anyone down or betray them, and others will want the information you have. But being a small part of the growing and developing networks is a lot better than being left out.

Those are the major forms of communication. None are fullproof. Everything is a risk when you try for something important. As well as these, there are spies and agents for various groups. Of course, if these are any good at their jobs then most will have no idea of who they are and what they are doing. If not, they won’t be around long enough to take note of. Speaking of such, there is a fabled cyborg sect claimed to be specialists in infiltration. According to the rumour, they are a sect who favour the human over the machine, much like the Order of Organic Triumph do. Therefore they can pass off as humans or even mutants, although, while the Organic Triumph can do so if they avoid close inspection, this sect is said to be able to fool all manner of tests and devices. Being cyborgs, they supposedly can go among the other sects as well, changing their forms to fit in. This is all hearsay, of course. The name and origin of this sect is unknown, and while that should indicate they are nothing more than a rumour, the fact they are so secret would support just how adept they are at infiltration.

As for any other type of messengers, there are two more worth noting. One are the messengers who operate around Europe, mostly between the market towns of the Mediterranean coastline. Lacking technological means to talk to each other, and to get word to mercenaries or pirate hunters on short notice, the towns have developed a messenger role. In essence, if you are quick, you can become one, and the more time spent proving yourself, the more important messages you get, along with better pay. The main feature of these beings is that they must wear red. This grants them some protection, but mostly you need to fend for yourself and get the job done.

Returning to cyborgs, we must mention the Order of the Hybrid Complex. This is one of the most powerful sects and led by the ancient Prime. He resides in a hidden base – secret to both enemies and most of his own followers. The only cyborgs he has any real contact with are his Ravens. These beings are more machine than human, unlike the sect itself, and contain his most loyal minions. They are built to be light, fast and very dangerous. Gabriel and Hermes are the two top ranking Ravens, said to be among his first disciples, and when Prime wishes messages to be so secret he won’t even trust his sect’s own communications, let alone the information network, he tasks them to get his order sent. If any of his commanders waging war see a Raven, they know it is more important than anything else they have been commanded to do, and just as urgent. The Ravens are revered in the sect, and yet also somewhat feared and suspected. After all, when your leader trusts an inner group more than those fighting for him, it makes you wonder what he is up to.

Communication is more important now than it has been since perhaps even the Shadow World’s arrival. If more nations had talked then, a lot of the madness that followed may have been prevented. May have. Powers and groups have been growing for some time and many are starting to think now is the time to act. Or sometime soon at least. The question is where to act, against who, and possibly with who on the same side. Allies and enemies are being sought. Knowledge is still power. Messages are vital and therefore so are the systems and groups involved in carrying them. Perhaps it will become truly global one day. Whether that will be good or bad is yet to be seen.

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Partnerships

My last post dealt with rivalries. As mentioned, these are pretty easy to come by. The way the world works now means most people – humans, monsters, mutants, machines – are trying to kill each other. You usually need a reason not to attack first. However, there are some partnerships. As strange as it may seem, certain groups have learned that they are better off helping each other out. In certain cases, they have come to depend on one another. Clearly, these cases are rare, but here are some of the main ones:

A major partnership is that of super-soldiers with other mutants, especially the lesser mutants derisively referred to as mutts. This combination has become so well known many won’t question it, they are all mutants anyway, and yet it is a partnership of necessity as much as anything else. Super-soldiers are powerfully built individuals and most would think they don’t need others on their side. In fact, most super-soldiers would boast that they never have and never will need help, that they of all types are the strongest and most capable of conquering all. They will even declare that they, and they alone, are carrying the mutant side of the war against humanity. But they need the other mutants. While super-soldiers aren’t few in number, they are vastly outnumbered by humans, and the lesser mutants are not only much more, but they aren’t restricted by reproduction limitations. Many mutts have survived by breeding a lot and toughing things out. Of course, the super-soldiers stay in charge and often use their inferior comrades as cannon fodder.

I have to stress, this happens mainly in the more militarised groupings, such as the mutant army based in Constantinople and laying siege to Eden, and the mutant nation around Trade Island, where the military is the real power. Mutts endure the rule of their superiors because they grant them protection. It isn’t a pretty partnership, yet it is one, all the same. However in other places the relationship is more pleasant, where mutual support is the aim. Such a place is Normandy, where many mutants have gathered to make and develop their home, and where there isn’t any segregation between the types of mutants. While in other places, super-soldiers breeding with inferiors is disdained, here interbreeding is the norm. For this reason, there are much fewer weaker and badly disfigured people, and a hell of a lot less resentment.

It makes sense for mutants to work together, and humans do too, but not always. Many pockets of humanity will fight as savagely as necessary for resources, even against each other. Yet they have other allies as well. Ones that have been on their side since the beginning. Funnily enough, humans who encounter them are more likely to trust them and offer or accept help than their own kind. Aegis, totems and denizens are three types of monsters who have chosen to aid humanity rather than assault it, as most of their brethren did. Aegis became their guardians. Denizens are their allies. Totems are as well, healers and helpers, pacifists for all their physical strength. It has to be said, though, that when aegis are involved, it tends to be a very one sided partnership. While they defend humans, they are not their equals. They tend to be strong minded, often overbearing, so humans spend most of their time listening and nodding. Much preferred to being stomped on by devil-beasts, however.

A special mention has to go to sphinx here. While it is stretching it to refer to this as a partnership, sphinx have forged a strong reputation for being powerful individuals who can be worked with. True, they have been known to manipulate and betray, but all the best players of the world game do that. There is something to be respected there. But sphinx can be relied on, they would rather co-operate than create trouble. They rely on their wisdom and cunning, first and foremost. Physical and magical strength comes in when needed.

A number of monsters are considered more neutral than most, so have been known to work with others more often. Again, this isn’t really a partnership, but creatures such as sphinx, and also wraiths and magi, ally themselves more readily with those equally dependable. In this regard, magi are known for a partnership with pixies. Both sets of beings depend on secrecy, deception and skill to keep themselves from harm. Both races have been hunted, oppressed and mistreated. Both magi and pixies understand magic well, despite the former being unable to use it. Together, they often help each other, sharing the risks to lessen the overall threat. Also, pixies are excellent spies and messengers, and espionage and information gathering are specialities of magi. They are a natural partnership, but also one needed in this brutal world.

There is another type of partnership among monsters, but this is more variable. It tends to feature the scavenger types – vermin, hobgoblins and ghouls. They can team up with another race and follow it along, picking up whatever pieces they like. Usually this goes with a stronger group, such as brutes, vandals, etc. Not always is this a mutual act either. Many monsters won’t want these creatures near them. They can have their benefits though. Vermin are inventors, if crude. Hobgoblins are among the best thieves around. Ghouls tidy up bloody messes. Every ecosystem needs its bottom feeders.

Returning to the human race, we can talk of some specific partnerships. In the last post, talking about rivalries, I said that in Australasia we have the four groups of Britannia, New Japan, America and Australia, and there is a level of competition going on, especially among the Japanese themselves. At the same time, there is a partnership going on, one that has enabled them all to benefit and flourish. The four nationalities work together, with difficulties, and there has never been a major conflict between any of them. Australians remain in charge of their home and the ‘guests’ understand that, while living in their own ways. Another human partnership to be mentioned is that of the Octagon State. Eight bases in the Texas region have managed to gain enough control of their territory to join forces, helped by the fact their culture and rules are all pretty similar. They live by the Bible, look to the glory of Ancient Rome for inspiration, and hate mutants, who they have warred with for generations. Only together will they prevail.

When it comes to partnerships, essentially all you need is an understanding which works because it benefits everyone involved. Because of this, I can talk about pirates, mercenaries and criminals. Basically, they have their own rules and ways to make sure they aren’t killing each other off. In Trade Island, mercenaries take work and kill whoever they are told to, but otherwise don’t hinder each other. In fact, many of them loiter in the Rough House, where they can talk about work with one another. This isn’t too different from how mercenaries around the world behave. In Europe, groups of them will be hired by market towns one day to fight each other one day, then unite to force more pay from their employers the next. As for pirates, across the Mediterranean there are several small islands which are considered pirate havens. Here, ships will dock and crews will enjoy themselves by whatever means are available, and no robbing or killing is to be done. Well, that’s not strictly true, it will happen, they are pirates after all. But by and large, no one is meant to. Pirate havens cannot operate unless the frequent guests behave themselves. Merchants and innkeepers will only reside there if they can make money. In truth, there is less chance of being accosted in the dark while on a pirate haven than in most of the market towns or numerous villages along the Mediterranean coast. Criminals reside on the outskirts of society. In order to survive, they have to co-operate and sometimes even aid each other. No one else will.

As much as the world has created an environment that makes rivalry as commonplace as breathing, this has meant that partnerships are vitally important. The problem comes in that most people can’t trust another group for long, wondering what will break the trust, who will act first, who will get to act last. Partnerships will come and go, they always have done, but these ones have lingered the most or stand strongest at the current time. They are rare gems. Still, they are also very dangerous in the wrong hands.

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.