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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How to Dress a Monster

When it comes to clothing, the usual rules apply. People wear what they need to or what their culture approves of. In the Baltic region, fur is vital. In warmer climes, even with the sun lessened in this era of magic, loose clothing suits best. For the most part, humans, and mutants too, will trust in a few proven items, such as boots, leggings, jackets, etc. A good pair of boots is almost as valued as a decent weapon. In the underground bases, many can get by in jumpsuits and soft footwear, not questioning why all wear the same outfit, after so long within their home. In so many cases, people wear what they can make, what they need, and when allowed to indulge themselves, what fashion or luxury permits.

Machines, for obvious reasons, do not bother with clothes. Cyborgs do, yes, but that’s when mostly or at least half human. They wear various items, often to seem or feel somewhat human still, but also for decency and comfort. They wear armour when going into battle.

So humans and mutants wear clothes, machines don’t. That leaves monsters.

When the monsters came to our world, they ran about naked. Why wouldn’t they? They were newly formed, freed from the Shadow World, forged by our unconscious fears or possibly a reflection of our myths and fables. No one truly knows. But they were creatures, supernatural beings, not civilised or even influenced by it. The wind, the sun, the rain – these were all new to them. So monsters appeared and reacted, and then started to accept this world and settle in.

For that reason, monsters vary when it comes to clothing. Those who live more wild and free lives tend to forgo it. Those who have spent more time with humans or learned from their ways, they tend to dress to impress, as well as for necessary reasons. Many go for somewhere inbetween. Harbingers want things that won’t weigh them down. Magi can look human and often take that form to fit in, so wear whatever the locals do, and their clothes are bound to them so change when they do. Helps to be so magical, I suppose. Many monsters couldn’t fit most types of clothing and so don’t bother even making their own, yet they might try on something. Perhaps a trinket to look special or some armour to be stronger. It is claimed a gleaner king once wore a crown and a large coverall of chain-mail, making him as formidable a fighter as there ever was among his kind. The crown, however, might well have looked comical, not that any would have dared to laugh.

A few examples should be made to highlight the variety.

Deemi don’t wear clothes, they’re infamous for it, but then their sexual appeal is a large part of their predatory nature. But also the forms people see are not their true forms, and thus to them, they are always clothed. Then again, some in the Demon King’s court like to wear jewellery, to look even more special.

Vandals are tough as hell, with leathery skin, so the need for clothes isn’t much. Brutes are hairy, mainly down their back and across their shoulders, so they take the cold better. Certainly better than most monsters. Even so, vandals like to wear clothing sometimes, and even extra protection. Nothing like feeling invulnerable to really make you want to start a fight. Also, brutes preference for colder areas means they do often need to wear something across their bodies. The hair doesn’t cover enough to survive harsh winds and snowstorms, although it will help.

A side note is that it has often been thought that a major reason why monsters started wearing clothes was simply part of their hunting process. Monsters, especially harbingers, would take from those they killed, focusing on weapons at first to learn how to use them, but then things like clothes would go too. It would be seen as displaying your kills, in a way. Also mimicking the human race. Basically, monsters, for all their otherworldy nature, could not resist picking up human habits.

Wraiths need a mention. They always appear as hooded and cloaked beings, and also wear generic-looking human garments underneath, such as a top and leggings, then soft shoes, possibly slippers. None of this is real clothing, however. Wraiths can control their forms, going invisible, transparent and solid. Their clothing is merely a manifestation of their innate power, so that their features – if they have any – are hidden. Wraiths are male and female, but otherwise tend to be very vague about physique. This is intentional. They are beings of shadow and stealth, so they form an appearance to keep to that way of life. The young are taught to imitate the old and so all wraiths look alike. At least to the common eye.

My final mention goes to the grand three monsters races – devil-beasts, aegis and sphinx. Now the last one, as beings who have lion bodies with human faces, don’t often wear much clothing. As mentioned, getting something to fit isn’t easy. Also, with fur, mane and wings, they are fairly well covered. Still, most do like to look their best, and they have a strong reputation for being a race with close ties to others, choosing to talk and learn more than attack and rule. So seeing a sphinx in a robe or cloak isn’t uncommon either.

As for the devil-beasts and aegis, they share a common preference. They don’t tend to wear much, but they have both taken to wearing kilts. They might wear more, usually to show off or intimidate, and many wear items that have power, to use in battle. But the kilts can have a special function. Devil-beast kilts tend to be made of the skin of others. They tend to favour the leathery hide of vandals, possibly with brute hair, or maybe writher skin. The most terrible individuals will wear kilts of leather, torn from the wings of defeated devil-beasts. The aegis do the same, but they have another source. Aegis have scales on their bodies, which shed naturally when healing, like scabs. These can be brought together and made into a kilt. The scales of an aegis are hardened skin and are excellent protection, and those lost to healing are even harder. Wearing such a kilt is a high honour among the aegis, not least as usually it is made from fallen comrades, even family, who handed over their scales in tribute. Devil-beasts would wear these too, except they hate the aegis too much to let their kind touch them. The same goes for aegis and the idea of making tough kilts from their enemies’ leathery wings.

So that’s a quick note about monsters and what they like to wear. They won’t be starting any fashions or trends, although there are a number who follow such things. While most monsters are fierce still, some are practically dandies by comparison. Clothing is there to enhance your image, as well as keep you comfortable, possibly help protect you, and to hide your shame. Some don’t care for any of that; to them, baring all shows strength and courage. Maybe so. Whether it is dressing to impress or putting it all out there, monsters, just like all people, tend to follow the old adage:

When you got it, flaunt it!

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.

Do Monsters Eat People?

More from the Shadow World:

This is designed to be a short post.

So do monsters eat people? The answer is yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always remember monsters come in many forms.

A monstrous form could even respect sentient life.

You can never be sure.

The Forced Evolution of Gleaners

In a previous post (https://uppitymonkey.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/unpleasant-and-unpopular-monsters/) , I gave a brief history of the gleaners. I actually said more than I planned, but I wasn’t sure if this was going to be the only mention of their origin. Here, I will tell more and flesh out not just their beginning, but make it clear just how bizarre and unique the gleaners are.

So when it comes to monsters, there are a few types that don’t get a lot of attention but are just as dangerous. Brain-maggots, for instance, are small, leech-like and will latch onto the back of the head or neck, where they can drain the intelligence from a person. At least, that’s how most people term it. In scientific terms, they drain the fluid surrounding the brain – the cerebrospinal fluid, which is also found in the spine, hence latching onto the neck as well – and if not removed, they’ll suck up every drop of fluid or juice available. Not only that, but they release a toxin to paralyse. Basically, if the brain-maggot isn’t removed, the victim ends up dead. If it is, they are usually left unconscious with possible long term affects.

Originally, as I have mentioned before, gleaners were small scuttlers, on the same level of brain-maggots. They even worked the same. Gleaners could sting with their tails, bring much larger beings down, then drain them. It is claimed they had sharp mandibles to lock into flesh, even bone, as they stung until victorious. As for their danger rating, they were a step up from brain-maggots and other small monsters. The venom was very potent, deadly often, and they would drain every type of fluid in the body. Stories tell of downed individuals being swarmed over by small gleaners and left withered husks. That’s an important detail. Gleaners drain, they don’t eat. The very tails that inject venom can also extract fluids, although never at the same time.

Many suspect gleaners were a level up in every way. Because of what happened, a higher intelligence would make sense. A higher and much more vicious intelligence.

This brings us to Madagascar. There are four magical hotspots around the world, including this place. Each overflowed with magic, which meant the inhabitants produced far more magic-users, also more powerful ones, and drew those who craved magical strength, such as aegis and devil-beasts, and dragons. There were immense, fantastical battles across Madagascar early on, just as there were at the other hotspots. As far as anyone knows, there was nothing there to draw the gleaners. It was an island and had people living there, mostly humans. Other such places existed.

The gleaners came in vast swarms. They must have come close together or the inhabitants would have either fought them off or left in time. Perhaps they didn’t have that chance. But the legend is that the gleaners were quickly all over the island. Everything else died. No matter the individual or collective strength, none could endure the numerous injections of gleaner venom. Then the gleaners fed. Then they made nests and laid eggs. Again, as said in the previous post, a new type of gleaner was born – far larger, more monstrous, much more deadly.

So the question remains, did the gleaners plan this? Was this an intentional act? Did they co-ordinate their efforts? Were nests all over the world summoned? If so, who by? Could it happen again? Could another race bring about such a drastic and empowering change?

Even now, gleaners are more savage than intelligent. They may well have had some animalistic cunning before, and certainly do today, but while gleaners are capable of coherent thoughts now, they aren’t known for complicated or far-reaching machinations. They can plan, some of them may well be quite smart, yet gleaners follow their instincts. They hunt, they catch, they feed, they breed. If they attack a secure position they will rush in with their numbers and strength first and only work on alternate ways in after being beaten back. If they are.

So could something like gleaners have known that emigrating en masse to Madagascar would result in a new and improved form? Highly doubtful. Not impossible, yet none believe the gleaners could have foreseen anything like this. But maybe there was something at a lower level. Something primal, some instinct, something in the nature of the world that called the gleaners. Or, of course, maybe it was just one of those many bizarre incidents that has come about since the Shadow World’s arrival. After all, no one knows for sure if all the gleaners showed up, and there were some already on the island. The new ones replaced the old, but who can tell how long that took. Perhaps only some were changed and they eradicated the rest around the world. Gleaners certainly are capable of such ruthless behaviour. So maybe the stories make it sound more planned than it was.

It has to be mentioned that it wasn’t just the gleaners that came out of the carnage changed. The island itself soon became a twisted and dangerous place, with poisonous plants and barren landscapes. It could be argued that this was because of the abominable gleaners, a fitting home to match their decaying and deadly ways. It could also be argued that the island reacted to them and wanted them gone, so made itself as inhospitable as it could be. True, it remains the home of the gleaners, with vast networks of tunnels joining the many nests, but most now live around the world. That could just be due to the ways of their kind – they fight, kill and compete for food and power, so nests continually have to expand or split apart to create new ones – but even gleaners must find the new form of Madagascar a difficult place to live. It should also be noted that the small islands near it remain flooded with magic, as does it, yet are not changed, so if you want to tap into that power, it can be done, if you can evade the neighbours.

While there are many questions surrounding the creation of the new gleaners, it isn’t utterly shocking something like this happened or could happen. After all, mutants abound. They were created by science, of course, and with deliberate intent, yet magic has affected people as well. Changes have been made to individuals and groups. It is hard to discern what level of radiation and pollution turned humans into mutants, and what part magic played in it, and those who distrust the power from the Shadow World will add it into the blame. But mutants exist, therefore mutation among monsters isn’t unthinkable. Also, there are the scions. Devil-beasts created a generation that they used their magic to transform while in the womb to create a new type of their own, planned to infiltrate and enamour humans in order to bring them down. Now, again, like most mutants, this was done deliberately and with a lot of effort. But the similarities are there.

Really, the origin of the gleaners – as they are today – is still a unique moment in history. There are things like it, but nothing matches it completely. People can change and be changed, so the question remains as to whether this was done deliberately by the gleaners. Even so, miss migration, wholesale slaughter, eggs being laid amongst and within corpses, new and much more terrifying forms emerging, all on a land steeped in magic – either this was one hell of a convergence of rare moments or something, somewhere, brought about one of the worst races in existence.

Because of the presence of so many gleaners and the current state of Madagascar, few go there. So what is happening there is mainly conjecture with some thoughtful guesswork and a sprinkling of knowledge. There are rumours of a High Queen that rules over all. Fears abound that the gleaners are trying to create a new form or that they are massing for a world-wide conquest. Close by, the people of the south of Africa watch for raids but secretly wonder why another invasion hasn’t taken place. The aquatics stand guard, or perhaps that should be swim it. When gleaners leave to make new nests, they follow them to ensure they leave the sea as well. There are those who want to raid Madagascar in search of power, secrets and just knowledge of the gleaners. Until someone does so successfully, the many questions and fears the rest of the world has about this race and this place will remain.

Rivalries

The world is a maelstrom of factions, organisations and powers, vying for dominance. Everyone wants similar things – to survive, to prosper, to be safe – while many want more – to prevail, to control, to conquer, to eliminate. For this reason, most types of beings are competing against each other, whether for resources, ideas, territory, people or more. Yet, there are many who have a specific rivalry that goes far beyond necessity. There are those on the world who have their arch-rival, their nemesis, or just someone or something they really hate.

So let’s go through the major rivalries:

A great place to start is with the cyborg sects. While they are all competing with each other to recruit people and grow in strength, each hoping to become the unrivalled power among their kind, some have personal enmity to fuel their fight. For instance, the Order of the Hybrid Complex and the Order of Mechanised Tyranny are arguably the two leading sects, with the Order of Symbiotic Harmony a close third, and they have been warring since the beginning. Prime, the leader of the Hybrid Complex, and the Grand Master, likewise leader of the Mechanised Tyranny, both lived before the Shadow World came, so their sects are not just the top two, but the oldest. Both leaders know of each other as well, and their views do not mesh. Jamshid, the leader of the Order of Exclusive Excellence, was also alive back then. His sect is small and elitist, so not a powerful rival, yet all three individuals have crossed swords and battled ideologically over the centuries. Basically, the three men want each other gone.

When it comes to the Order of Symbiotic Harmony, they are led by the Author, as he calls himself. Here is a strong rivalry with the Hybrid Complex and Prime, because the Author was a member of that sect. He betrayed his leader and made his own group, so ending them would be more than satisfying for Prime and his followers.

Returning to the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, they are a very aggressive and belligerent sect, so they have made many enemies. They have ended many sects, so any survivors want revenge, and they are claimed to have ended the fabled First Sect, also known as the Lost Sect. Some suggest not all of that sect was destroyed and they are hiding, hence the second name, and if so, they have their sights set firmly on the Grand Master and his soldiers. Also, the Order of Organic Triumph has suffered much from them, being a more peaceful sect where cyborgs have less machinery attached and so look more human. This is the polar opposite of the Mechanised Tyranny’s way of living. Another foe the Grand Master has made is Nebulous. This entity runs the Mekazone and had his arse firmly handed to him long ago by the Mechanised Tyranny when he first tried to break out from his own territory. This is why he has stayed put and built his strength up, apart from some raids via portals, and he is planning his revenge, if he ever has the guts to try it.

Oh, and another foe for the Grand Master is Eden. At least, in this case the enmity is all on his side, as Eden has no idea he or his sect exists. But he knows of Eden, the hi-tech sanctuary of humans, and so sends the occasional force on crusade to destroy it. So far, all have been lost, but that doesn’t matter to him. He knows the threat Eden poses. As do the mutants. A mutant army has formed and consolidated its command of land, stretching from Eastern Europe to beyond where Eden sits, and its main purpose is to destroy the stronghold. They have surrounded it and attack often, to great cost, and still Eden stands, resolute and brilliant. If the humans from there came out to lead the humans around the world, mutants – and all others – could soon find themselves a hunted race. So they continue to attack, hating it intensely. Many who fight against it hate it for the toll it takes on them as much as what it threatens to do.

Mutants hate humans, this is well known. Because of their origins, they want revenge, even though that was all centuries ago. Humans hate mutants, this is equally well known. The bitter rivalry is at the forefront of all hatreds and blood-feuds. Of course, this isn’t as clear cut as many think. In some places humans and mutants have more pressing issues than past injustice. But as a general rule, these two races have shed a lot of each other’s blood, and both sides know it.

Another of the most famous feuds is devil-beasts and aegis. These two races of monsters warred over humanity, but their very natures seem to indicate peace was never an option between them. They fight and kill each other on sight. There is never a question of will they be a threat to each other. The default setting of both sides is that of enemy. Perhaps some can be shown to be otherwise, strange things do happen in this world. Yet if all others in the world made peace, aegis and devil-beasts will most likely still be clawing at each other until one side is no more.

Then again, there is another race of monsters devil-beasts hate, and it could be argued over which they hate more. The rivalry with the aegis is old and natural, but their hatred of scions is far more personal. That is because scions betrayed them. Scions were originally devil-beasts, so to speak. Born from devil-beasts, they were subjected to intensive magic by their own kind while in the womb, until they were birthed in a different form. Scions have red skin and golden hair and eyes, representing their heritage in a way, yet they have human forms and look pleasing to the eye. Scions were created by devil-beasts for one purpose: to infiltrate the human race, dazzle, charm and bewitch as necessary, and then ruin them. It was a cruel plan, aimed to break humanity as well as hurt it, and some would laugh mirthlessly at how this act turned on them. The scions were taught to deceive and harm, and they kept to their nature. Many did as instructed, but many more did not, and as a race the scions were soon hated and hunted by their parent kind, having caused as much damage to them as anyone else. The details of that are for another post, but scions remain their own kind, plotting and manipulating, and the devil-beasts want them all slaughtered.

A quick mention here is deserved for the denizens. These monsters don’t exactly have a rivalry, but they are a main target for other monster races. Aegis and totems took to humanity’s side in the early struggles, but this was understandable as they acted according to their nature – guardians and protectors. Denizens made a choice. They were even feared and disliked by humans early on. They chose to help humans, seeing it as more logical, so other monsters see them as the greater traitors.

A rivalry most won’t know or care for is that between aquatics and sharks. Aquatics are the mutants who live in the sea and have it to themselves for the most part. Meanwhile, sharks are more intelligent having been worked on in the past by humans. No one is sure why or when this was done, but it means sharks aren’t just the usual eating machines. They can discern. Typically, they are fine with humans and others now, knowing what to eat and what not, but aquatics are a threat. Sharks are intelligent enough to see what a dominant species will do to its environment. They are to aquatics what wolves have often been portrayed as – hunting animals to be feared.

A genuine concern for the aquatics are gleaners. These abominable monsters don’t breathe, so they are known to live underwater as well as in dank caverns. If any race could move into the sea and take it from the aquatics, it is the race of gleaners. Intrusions by land dwellers are met with vigorous defence, sometimes attacks, by the aquatics, but when gleaners are the invaders, the response is as hostile in intent as it is vicious in action. Oh, and the Order of Mechanised Tyranny earns another mention here. Of all the land based groups, they have the strongest presence at sea, with numerous island bases and several fleets of ships. I wouldn’t really classify the aquatics and them as rivals, but it is certainly a likely outcome in the future.

Finally, a rivalry that has been going on for some time but is something of a secret is that of the one among assassin organisations. There are a few groups that operate around the world and their services are costly. This means they are well connected, often working for some of the most powerful and influential people around, which brings a level of security few know, and a life of privilege to be jealously guarded. Not only do these groups kill for pay, they spend a lot of time performing other services, such as spying, carrying messages, gathering information, etc. In this world, with so much chaos and mystery going on, knowledge is indeed power, and they know it.

The Sect of Shadow and Steel is the strongest group of assassins, who are famous, or perhaps infamous, for their abilities. Most people know them as figures of legend, not by their actual name, and some even worship the killers. The Sect has mastered the dark arts, travelling the world swiftly via shadows, slaying with ease, spying and learning while none even knows they are present. They sit at the top, and so do what they can to ensure other rivals fail. It has been known for Sect members to show up and strike down assassins. They can hunt down spies and eliminate messengers. All so they are the ones turned to in order for the task to be achieved.

There are various other groups competing with them and I’ll leave that for another post. But one of the stronger groups is Myriad. This organisation seeks out skilled fighters and equips them with magical weaponry and gear, and increases these gifts as they prove themselves. They are a loose collection of individuals rather than a united group, like the Sect, but those who run Myriad – whoever they are – have a vested interest in ending the Sect’s dominance, if not outright ending the Sect altogether. Nothing has worked so far, obviously, but if a member of Myriad sees a member of the Sect – easily recognised by their all black clothing and all white eyes – then weapons are drawn. There is no better way of proving yourself to Myriad than to kill a Sect assassin. Although, there are few ways better to get yourself killed, too.

Obviously rivalry is everywhere and this post could go on for a very long time. There are the business families in Trade Island who compete for financial power, as well as the gangs there. In Australasia, the debate amongst the Japanese as to whether magic or science is the way to live, is a passionate but secret rivalry. Also, the peninsulars of Europe – Iberian, Italian and Aegean – host market towns that even go so far as to hire mercenaries against each other, while pirates and pirate hunters fight across the Mediterranean. Rivalry is easy to start and very difficult to end. Anywhere two beings are struggling to survive, there is competition. But the ones I’ve covered are some of the biggest and also baddest going. Famous, old, ferocious, bloody, potentially never ending. The Grand Master wants the heads of his old foes and many more want his. Aegis and devil-beasts still rend the skies as they fight. Humans and mutants fear each other gaining the power to take over. It is all ongoing and feels like it is getting worse over time. Where it will end, if it will, is what we will find out over the course of my stories.

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.