There Be Dragons

A brief post on dragons in Sojourners in Shadow. Also on a few still talked about in legend.

Dragons came with the Shadow World. Arguably, they best represented it. While most monsters were strange, terrifying, unnatural, they were also mortal and flawed. Some could do magic, yes, but soon humans found that they could too.

Dragons were magic. They came in many shapes and sizes, they flew over continents with ease and made their nests wherever they chose. No one could contend with them. They tried, of course. Humans used science while hateful devil-beasts gathered and struck in numbers. It was all laughable. For one, magic did nothing to the dragons. It was like spitting at a rain storm. As previously stated, dragons were magic. It was their life, their blood and spirit, and they not only wielded it with ease but could do all manner of tremendous acts. Spells are needed by most magic-users, to focus the mind and summon the will along with what power someone possesses. Dragons breathed magic.

I should also take this moment to point out that dragons breathed fire too. Also, this was utterly incapable of harming them. It was their natural element, many would say. In fact, most would say dragons were just like fire – capable of giving, of life enhancing ability, and also highly destructive and tempestuous. Never piss of a dragon was an obvious general rule in the world while they reigned over it. Yet many suffered and never knew why.

Dragons left a century or so ago. They returned to the Shadow World, or at least that is the main claim. No one can say for sure. After all, the dragons didn’t explain themselves. The only person who may have an idea is Havoc, son of a dragon. Yet he is neither giving of information about his mother or her race, nor is he someone you can just stroll up to and bother with nosey questions. Much like a dragon, Havoc is known for letting an enemy live one moment and annihilating a settlement for disappointing him the next. Yet there is strong evidence that the dragons left of their own accord and went home. As previously stated (again), dragons were magic. They were huge flying beasts who spoke, could bless or curse others, and wipe out cities overnight to make a nest. They didn’t match anything this world contained, even after the Shadow World’s arrival. Not only that, but before they left, it had become noticeable that most dragons spent a lot of their time sleeping. In the early days they had soared through the skies, ravaged the land or etched their superiority upon humanity. Over time, they slowed down, then barely moved. Then they left.

A few quick details about the dragon race:

While they had their own names, they never shared them with non-dragons. They took the names of places they resided in or were associated with.

They tried to reproduce but never did. Havoc, of course, is something separate from that. There were never any new dragons. They seemed immortal and sterile. Another reason to leave.

While all were masters of fire, some also mastered other elements of nature.

They often chose islands and volcanoes to live on or in. They were also drawn to magical hot spots, for obvious reasons.

Dragons are very well remembered, also for obvious reasons. Because it has been a long time since they were around, the fear they easily conjured has lessened, as has any hatred. Even at the time, many lesser beings came to understand that the dragons never saw themselves or anything they did as either good or evil. They acted as they saw fit. They looked down on all other life. Impress them and you gained greatly. Annoy them and you were a memory within moments. While they caused many disasters, especially when they first arrived, rarely was it malevolent. People just got in their way. But they also did things to intimidate and conjure submission. Clearly some dragons enjoyed their role in the world’s hierarchy. But by now, people of all kinds speak of the awe inspiring beings, they tell tales of what they did and people enjoy listening, despite the horrors of those who had lived through those stories. People are glad the dragons are gone, many hope they never come back, but some do wonder if they could just see one again some day.

As for those remembered as individuals, here are a few famous ones:

Cornwall – Red. Male. Lived at the end of Cornwall, moved about to various posts along the coastline. Liked to watch the sea. Huge wing span. Would fly off to who knows where but always came back. At first had no time for humans, later taught them a bit, enjoyed the company of some. When he left our world, was sad to go.

Damascus – Green. Female. Devastated the city and curled up in the ashes. A long dragon. Later came to be a sleeper dragon and did not take kindly to the advances of the mutants. Warded them off. After that, they stayed away and she slept on until the dragons left.

Panama – unknown gender. Gold. Many think the reason the destruction of Central America didn’t reach Panama City is due to the dragon. Possibly even why things went weird. A nuclear attack versus a dragon’s magic, so close to a magical hotspot = a weird region to this day.

Gibraltar – Blue. Female. Had a mischievous nature, extorted ships coming in and out of the Mediterranean. Mostly playful, would scare those on ships rather than just attack and sink, but if any fought back she would destroy vessels and devour the survivors.

Hawaii – Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea – Two dragons who took up residence in volcanoes of Hawaii. One Black. One Silver. Genders assumed to be one male, one female. Romanticised story. Claim each dragon moved in, fought for dominance, then fell in love and became a couple. Their fighting terrified the people, but their relationship proved to be a blessing. There are other stories of them fighting a huge sea creature and controlling the weather.

That will do. I said the post would be brief. I should really learn to implement that word more honestly.

Yet this is just to give a flavour of what these beings were like, and how, despite their long absence, how their presence still lingers. People remember them changing their world. Literally.

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The Great Betrayal

Had a day off from posting yesterday seeing as it was Mother’s Day here in the UK. Mums are always more important than fictional posts, no matter how much fun they can be.

So last week I wrote about friendly groups, mostly so I could write about totems. So this week I’m going to talk about something negative, but again, that will be an excuse to write about a particular group. Scions.

To oppose last week’s post on being friendly, we can talk about being antagonising. Yet we can talk about being friendly too, which leads to betrayal. Scions are the masters of this. That is their purpose.

Scions are a race none who know them will trust, possibly even tolerate. Devil-beasts hate them with a passion, and aegis are quite severe when dealing with them. They are enemies, vicious deceivers, liars and manipulators. The problem comes when people don’t know who they are dealing with. Scions are charmers. Friendly to a skilled degree. That, again, is their purpose.

When the Shadow World arrived and brought with it monsters, there was chaos and mayhem. This is well known, passed on by oral histories with a little recorded evidence. But it wasn’t as if the monsters had things easy. They were a surprise, for sure, a terror even in most cases. They did things unthinkable, such as turning transparent, leaping over distances and smashing down walls. Not to mention magic. But as the humans adapted, which is what humans do, they started to get a grip on things. The human race was still suffering in many places, people were rioting and turning to new ways of thinking, but a number of governments were strong regimes that brought in stronger measures to keep control. Where authorities were weaker, some were overthrown and others merged forces and resources to strive to survive. The humans were reacting to the invasion and, while many of these events lead to the fall of what they knew as civilisation, not every step along the way was a wrong one.

Two things need a mention here. One is that the aegis, among the most powerful of monsters, stood by the humans and so over time earned their trust and support. The other is that the devil-beasts were hell-bent on ruining the human race, and perhaps even more so, their allies, the aegis.

This was back in the early days. So the devil-beasts were mostly first-generation arrivals, with some having giving birth to a second generation. This meant they knew by now they could reproduce in this new plane of existence, and they wanted to break apart the humans. Many devil-beasts were quite happy with using raw strength and power to attack, commanding armies and casting magic. But a good number wanted to destroy the humans from within, wanted to make them turn on each other, and also the ageis. There are a few reasons for this. Possibly it seemed a smart strategy considering some human forces were regrouping. It is also likely they wanted to hedge their bets, increase their chances of success by using all means of attack. Let others hit the humans directly, we’ll hit them from behind, all sides, even within. It is also very likely that going this course appealed to the wicked, vindictive natures of their kind. Smashing your opponent down was fun, obviously, but deceiving him/her while doing so was even better.

So the plan was made. Devil-beasts would give birth to more of their kind, except this time they would use their magic and refine the new beings while in the womb. Few know what was done back then, and those that know say nothing, because they don’t want this to happen again. It is claimed humans were sacrificed in rituals to help grant new and appropriate forms. That is easily believed. It is probable that long periods of time was spent by devil-beasts, focusing their power and making the changes over months. Whatever was done, it worked.

The scions emerged as human-sized and human-shaped beings. They still had red skin, but they also had golden hair and blue eyes, appealing to certain biases. Human they looked, and handsome too, but they were certainly the children of devil-beasts and were being schooled in the art of deception and sabotage from an early age. Their skills were different too. Not as large and powerful as their parents or siblings, these beings also had less power to call upon. Skill, swiftness, suppleness and subtlety were their natural abilities. These were honed over time. The scions learned to use their power to trick or allure people, much like deemi or pixies could. They also learned to kill by stealth or surprise, akin to the wraiths and harbingers. They were even taught as much as possible about humans. Scions had an education like no other race of monsters have ever had. They were the perfect weapon and were told this over and over.

Likely, this is where things went wrong.

When the adult scions were sent out into the world, they soon entered human groups, and soon after became eminent among them. It didn’t occur to the humans that these creatures were kin of devil-beasts. Yes, they were red, but they were so easy on the ears and eyes, so clever and helpful, so full of praise and sound advice. By now, the humans had allies in aegis, totems and denizens, so why not make a new friend? Especially when they were adept fighters and magic-users as well.

The devil-beasts waited for the moment to strike. While this was a pact made across the race, they were not so united in specific aims. They never are. So while some parents had their new children enter a society in Asia, others gathered in preparation to strike in the USA. In fact, it is claimed by some that there was even rivalry. Who could succeed first? Which scions would prove their parents the best? Which nation would fall to a scion deceit the soonest?

The scions, however, were more ready to work together. They talked to each other as well as to their new friends and their old family. Then the moment came. It was time for the devil-beasts to act. Attacks were made, and failed miserably.

This is remembered as the Great Betrayal among the devil-beasts and why they will kill any scion they can. If devil-beasts weren’t lured into a trap, the location of groups was given out. Attacks were made. Many by humans, but a good number by aegis and others. Of course, when I say humans, at this time the human race was still being served by mutant soldiers and machines, so these did most of the work. Either way, the betrayal worked, and the scions were celebrated as the best friends anyone ever had.

They pushed for more. They whispered in the ears of humans about how dangerous aegis were. What lofty aims they had. What strict laws they wanted to enforce. They tried to push a wedge between the humans and the aegis, and almost succeeded. Certainly, the relationship between the two has never been as good as it once was. Humans like to claim scions made them create super-soldiers and super-computers, that they led them to their destruction. Scions and others laugh at this. Even many humans don’t buy it. There is too much evidence that the human race wanted more power, more slaves, servants and soldiers, and at best scions helped them along in their ambitions.

The scions did many wrong things, yet they were as cruel and arrogant as their parents. Some pushed to be worshipped. Others attempted kingdoms of their own. Also, while the devil-beasts had been hurt by the betrayal, it did not come anywhere near to ending them. Vengeance was sought. The aegis acted too. Scions went from lauded infiltrators to hunted outsiders over a matter of decades. As word was spread, humans turned on them wherever they could. Their own kind didn’t want them back, their new friends were now angry enemies. Scions had to use every trick they knew and count on all their skills and wits to survive.

Fortunately for them, they rank among the most skilled and sly beings of all time. Scions did survive. Not many, but enough, and they have lived on since. Most of their kind were male, seeing as the majority of the societies and regimes they were seeking to enter were patriarchal or at least leaning that way. But enough were female. Females are still rare among them, and yet the scions continue, few in number, but always the cunning, charming, intelligent and focused individuals.

They were made with a purpose and while they betrayed that plan, even the scions cannot escape their nature. They act according to the designs that birthed and raised them. It seems instinct to them to deceive, to make friends and then betray them. They know humans so well, even after the centuries of change. They avoid devil-beasts at all costs, and aegis too. Magi make them think twice as those enigmatic beings can match wits with them. Some fear an alliance between those kinds. But scions are hated and feared around the world, except when people have stopped telling stories about them. Sometimes, they find a group of people – maybe human, maybe not – who don’t know what red skin plus blond hair and blue eyes means. They don’t sense the threat. All they hear is the charm, the confidence, the clever counsel.

Never trust scions. As untrustworthy as a scion. As treacherous as a scion. Like a backstabbing scion. These are all terms that aren’t uncommon to hear. Scions are notorious and rightly so. Not that there aren’t a number of groups or races that have bad reputations – everyone knows hobgoblins will ruin anything and gleaners are vicious bastards. But scions have a special place of hatred for being the most duplicitous and deceitful beings on the planet.

To them, however, that is praise indeed.

New Japan and the Secret Divide

Last week I laid out the origins of Australasia. As always, it was a more general outline, not going into too much detail – partly for length, partly as there is plenty I wish to unfold through the course of story telling. I’m hoping these blog posts help to explain things without each story being too slowed down or cramped up with exposition, yet I still want the stories themselves to do the main telling. When I get back to putting them out there again. Sigh.

With that said, here’s another post where I explain things. Namely, having given Australasia’s overview, now I’ll get into the Japanese people, their diaspora and the colony of New Japan.

So a good place to start would be an explanation of the magical hotspots. When the Shadow World came to ours and magic became part of reality, four places were soon known as hotspots because they were seeping magic like nowhere else. The people there, the land, the weather, all were affected. Magic was and remains a lot easier in these places and it comes in much greater supply. Again, no one knows why these are this way, why these four places, why nowhere else. Some speculate that they were the cornerstones of turning the Shadow World into ours; that Dylan Winter’s act was based in these places. Again, no one knows. But the places were Japan, Great Britain, Madagascar and the Caribbean Islands. All islands, all with magical histories if you believe their folklore, and all were soon utterly transformed. Magic attracts powerful monsters, it creates humans with tremendous abilities, and that led to unthinkable warfare. With outside factors coming into play as well, these four places all became difficult regions to live in. In the present day, only Great Britain remains a hospitable place.

To focus on Japan, the thriving magic produced brilliant spellcasters and spectacular events, and in response science was given free reign. It is said that here machines were made that matched the best from anywhere else. Nothing is said of mutants, only that impressive computers and droids were crafted into being to resist the onslaught by magical monsters. It is rumoured that the doom-rollers were made in Japan. The cyber-samurai must have come from there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Whatever fight occurred in Japan centuries ago, it was too much for the people. They left. The Japanese don’t say what exactly drove them out. Maybe it was more than one thing; maybe, as some claim, they did something that caused their exile and don’t wish for it to be known. Either way, the Japanese fought hard for their home and then chose to leave.

Mostly they went to the mainland of Asia, settling in new communities as the people there were afflicted by cyborgs, super-soldiers and monsters, among other things. A large number kept on moving southward to the islands. Of them, a good number had a chance to go to Australasia. They knew of the British and American contingents that had been allowed onto this island, and while they were living in better conditions than when in Japan, the prospects of Australasia appealed. They asked to come over and join, offering trained fighters who could use both magic and science, and more resources than many could hope to expect. The Japanese may well have fled their home, yet they had done so not in panic but in resolute order, bringing with them what they would need to survive, leaving behind what was too risky for them to rely on.

So the Japanese had to earn their way onto the island. They were placed along the north coast, told that it was their duty to be the first line of defence for the rest of the population. There were military outposts already and more being built – the newly forming nation was more than aware of what threats could come that way – but once the Japanese were in place, the onus lay on them. Their magic was to be a barrier. Their technology was to be the guardian of the new homeland. They would be allowed to keep their language, their customs, to have a territory marked out and live their lives as they wished – as long as this didn’t interfere with the customs and lives of the other groups – in exchange for being part of the community, contributing, aiding and defending the whole. New Japan was formed with gratitude and purpose.

Because of how things began for the Japanese, their outlook is pretty different from the British, Australians and Americans. The other three are different nationalities, true, and aren’t without culture clashes, yet these are minor. They are far more alike than not. New Japan doesn’t share that sense of unity. They look different, speak their own language as well as fluent English, and even their settlements have differences – many features of traditional Japanese culture are evident, alongside more sleek, sophisticated buildings. Tokyo Two was entirely of their own making and it shows. That brings me to another point. Many Japanese wear traditional garb, but many also wear suits. Some could walk in the cities of the whites, others would stand out drastically.

The main difference is that the Japanese continue to teach and use magic, while also producing and developing scientific equipment. The Americans have chosen to have nothing to do with either, while the British have magical talent but try to keep quiet about it, mostly to appease their American cousins. The Australians don’t really have much magic to speak of, and while they aren’t against science, they have come to rely on what the Japanese produce. Essentially, the Japanese have made themselves far too important for the others to move against, so while prejudice, even racism, exist, there are no serious clashes between the nations. It would take the white nations uniting and throwing everything they had at New Japan in order to win.

The Japanese see themselves as part of Australasia and yet somewhat apart. They are their own people more so than the others, and are secure in their usefulness while aware of the white wariness of them. I guess a good way to describe the Japanese outlook is that they are an insular people with their eyes and ears very much open to what’s going on around them.

For this reason, they can continue on in a private war that has been going on since not long after the Japanese arrived. A secret war between those devoted to magic and those to science.

The tradition is that once a Japanese person reaches thirteen they must make a choice: magic or science. From that point on, they must wear a headband with an insignia denoting one side. This is now their cause. It doesn’t mean that all those who revere magic can use it, although it is claimed everyone has power inside them. Nor does it mean those who follow science can or will make new machines. It is more a philosophical point of view. You see one as the saviour, the other as the reason for Japan’s, and humanity’s, fall. You believe the pursuit of excelling in one will enable the human race to reclaim its world. You wish it to happen, even if you cannot help this to be.

But there are some who can. Japan, as I mentioned, has a secret war that isn’t a war. There is no conflict. Perhaps if they were still on an island populated by their own there would be. But in Australasia, a divide cannot be known. The whites would play on it. Yes, they see the headbands, the two devotions are known outside of New Japan, although it must be stressed most white people rarely encounter a Japanese person. But they are aware of nothing more and it doesn’t help to ask. It isn’t for the whites to inquire and those who wish to do business with the Japanese soon learn this.

So left alone, the Japanese have among them two groups who act on behalf of all who share their faith. The Corporate are a group of influential people who view science as the way to go and have people working for them to further that end. The Civic are the same only they push for magic. Typically, the Corporate have commandos and agents working for them, using hi-tech equipment, while the Civic rely on magic-users as well as ninjas and samurai. It is remarked that those who follow science tend to be business oriented, those who follow magic more in touch with the past.

Again, they don’t fight. Well, okay, they scuffle. Let’s put it that way. Bloodshed is avoided as much as possible. It just wouldn’t do. Neither side wants an actual war. But sometimes, as they try to gain an advantage over each other, their operatives will have to cross paths. It could be one side is in pursuit of something it wants, so the other side wants to prevent that. Theft would be preferred, or perhaps a showdown that led to one side having to back out due to being outmatched. But sometimes a clash will occur. These are kept very secret.

Most Japanese believe there will never be a winner. To them, it doesn’t matter who follows which belief, so both sides marry, interact, mingle, etc. They think there is too much in the world to overcome for New Japan to have the luxury of descending into civil war. Even many of those who act on behalf of their side see it as a game of one-up-man-ship. Oh look, we’re in the lead, ha ha!

Yet the most committed, those in the Corporate and the Civic, as well as their uppermost and most loyal followers, are seeking such an advantage that a war won’t be necessary. They want to find something, or some things, that mean the other side has to hold its hands up and say, you know what, you’re right, this is the way to go. They want to win the war so it never has to be fought. Then, united, the Japanese can push on to greater things.

They employ whites, now and then, to roam Australasia. They do their own research and development. They read texts from centuries ago and discuss new ideas. Yet so far, nothing has come close to giving either side that edge both crave. It could be that the only way for this to happen is for them to push out into the world once more. They know there are many more Japanese out there. They also know magic and science were strong in other places once and they speculate as to whether these have declined or improved since. The only way to know is to find out for themselves. This could still be some time off, it may have to be a secret act as the whites aren’t as keen on going out, yet it feels inevitable.

New Japan is the home of these Japanese. Australasia is as well. Perhaps they aren’t always fully welcome when they travel to the other three nations, but neither are they met with hostility. The Japanese are typically viewed with respect, suspicion, curiosity and politeness. They return those, especially the latter. It helps to keep the other peoples at a distance. Gain the trust of the Japanese, and another world can be opened to you. Gain their friendship and who knows what may come of it.

But whatever you do, do not pry into their personal divide. It is their faith and not to be trifled with, and some take it very seriously indeed.

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 were 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.

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.

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.

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.