How The Hell Did We End Up Here?

The world of Sojourners in Shadow is a chaotic one to say the least. It has order in places, and many seek to impose their order on all, but so far none has come close. Factions, armies, sects, secret organisations, cults, nations, gangs, crews and elite squads are everywhere. Some formed by necessity, some by the charismatic will of a leader, and also some exist due to deep running ideologies. People are following the paths begun by their ancestors, laid out in blood and sweat. The way things are now is because of what went on before. The choices individuals and groups made over the centuries are scars of the face of the world. Plenty of people alive now have little knowledge of the past, and yet so many of them are living the way they are because of it.

What the world was like when the Shadow World came. What those in power did when it did. How the masses reacted when magic and monsters appeared among them. How they responded to the actions of their leaders. How nations interacted. How people were swayed one way, then another. How technology developed. How civilisation fell apart so that new ideas and new groups could take over. How those ideas and groups took shape. How and why some ideas and groups vanished and others remain to this day.

All of this is highly important when it comes to understanding the world of the present in Sojourners in Shadow. The people, the vast majority of them, cannot hope to know all this. As readers, I think it will help to get to know the basics.

The core divide in how a terrible event provokes reactions is that of how two sides respond. The two sides are those in power and those without power. Understanding this is key in going forward.

When the Shadow World was brought to ours by Dylan Winter, there were two main responses:

Governments = Holy shit, there’s monsters and weird magic everywhere! We have to do something!

People = Holy shit, there’s monsters and weird magic everywhere! Someone has to do something!

This was followed by:

Governments = We need strong measures. We need to be shown to be in charge and in control.

People = We need help now. We need for those in power to listen to us and if not, then to follow someone who will.

Obviously, this created a tug of war situation. The more people demanded change, the more governments felt the need to suppress that feeling. The more governments made moves to control their people, the more people sought something new. The more both sides pushed for the things they wanted, the more each side responded with stronger demands.

To be clear, this was happening before the Shadow World integrated with our own. With advances in technology and the world developing as it was, many nations were experiencing authorities who spied on their every move while at the same time the public continually found ways to express themselves. Foreign influences were sited as threats to national security. Uneven wealth distribution incited more and more anger. Trade deals between regimes were applauded by those who benefited and denounced by those who did not.

Figures emerged to exploit the growing tension, becoming political leaders or social champions. Revolutionary movements became more commonplace, even in democracies. Tyranny became a widely used accusation. Law and order were hailed, even when they took away rights. Free speech was the motto of numerous organisations, typically used to suit only their own agenda.

To so many, the struggle was a simple one, that between good and evil, right and wrong. Those people on the other side were all bad, hurting everyone else, and they deserved everything they got. We on this side are all good, living correctly, and we will win.

Yet in truth this was the ancient struggle the human race had always experienced, that of order versus chaos, control versus freedom, community versus individuality. Both sides believed they represented the majority and were doing what was best for them. Populist movements had the backing of most, it had to be said, and yet many were led by charismatic charlatans or ambitious megalomaniacs. The elitists countered with every facet of their authority, using media, law, even terror if they had to, clinging to power with all their might. They preached that they were the guardians of decency and equality, that they ran things so that everyone benefited, and breaking the system – whichever system that was being used – would only lead to anarchy and collapse. They convinced many to support them, bribed and coerced others to do so as well, and so across the globe the clash of elitism and populism became the foremost struggle.

Eventually this went beyond mere loose collective thinking. Organisations and groups formed, with clear identities and goals. Here are a few from each side:

Populist movements:

The Saints of Bushido

The Glorious Hedonists

The Movement for Renewal

The Peasants’ Revolt vs the People’s Rebellion vs the Socialist Renaissance

The Humanist League vs the Salvation of All Souls

 

Elitist movements/forces:

The Varangians

The People’s Judiciary

The Gendarmes

The Terracotta Army

A quick explanation about some of these groups. The Saints were people who believed in living a martial yet peaceful existence, based in the USA. By contrast, the Movement for Renewal was essentially a cult, calling upon the doom of humanity so that it could be reborn. The three revolutionary groups were left wing uprisings that ended up clashing with each other across Europe, Asia and Africa. As for the Humanists versus the All Souls, this was a conflict begun in verbal exchanges that led to violence. A meeting was held where humanists and atheists confronted religious leaders about the hysteria of their followers following the Shadow World’s arrival, and especially the persecutions it resulted in. Yet the religious entourage was attacked and killed. Naturally the non-believers were blamed and this unleashed a wave of fanatical fury around the world. It was dubbed the Harvest of the Heretics. After that, humanists had little choice but to become militant themselves.

As for the elitist groups, some were truly mass movements as well, often with a fascist viewpoint or existing to counter another ideology. Others were funded and commanded by establishments, sometimes encouraged to fight the populists, more typically paid to do so. The Terracotta Army was a genuine mobilisation of people, when government loyalists in China took to the streets, going so far as to claim they were the first emperor’s guards reborn. On the other end of the spectrum, the Varangians and the Gendarmes were paid enforcers. The latter were quite famous in their day, serving the Oligarchs of Central Europe. They were named after police and yet their sole purpose was to do the tasks the ordinary officers wouldn’t do. It was they who made the Fascista the most marketable gun in the world for a time. The M-33 Carbine was made in the USA yet it was once the Oligarchs equipped their enforcers with it and it performed so well that it was sought after by all oppressive regimes. Light, easy to use and aim, with a solid stock that did a fine job as a club, this weapon became the symbol for oppression everywhere. It earned the name the Fascista and that’s what people call it even now, despite the history behind it being forgotten by most.

I will go into more detail about how the world was doing and how it changed once the Shadow World was summoned another time. This is a general overview. Enough, I hope, to make the point clear. Seismic events were occurring. People were crying out for justice, while those who sat in judgement feared being overthrown. Some preached about the end of the world and many listened. Some demanded that advancements in technology became available to all and only a few agreed. Protests led to riots and those led to organised resistance. Countries were at each others’ throats and stabbing each other in the back, all in the name of progress. Some nations were led by tyrants, others by those who wished they were, and others yet by committees or congresses, which tried to appease all the angry voices. None succeeded.

The world was going mad and no one knew how to mend the ills. Perhaps it was too late. It could be claimed that the time to save humanity had long past, so there was only the struggle to see who would stand victorious among the ashes. Perhaps. No one will ever know. Dylan Winter, like so many, saw the world as needing a tumultuous change. Unlike them, he found the way to bring it about. When he did, when the sky darkened and magic began to take effect, when monsters came into being among humans, the world was a powder keg waiting to go off. He wasn’t the one to light the match. He lit his own bomb and dropped it. Every friction, every conflict, every fear and doubt and glare of hatred was swept up in this new maelstrom. People who wanted change found new power to make it happen. Those who attempted to restrain change were forced to adapt themselves or being destroyed. There was no going back. Normal was a thing of the past, and yet the desires and needs of people never went away. They found new form. People who believed the world had been about to end or called for a return to more primitive ways became aquatics. Others like them who though in terms of advancement were drawn to becoming cyborgs. Martial thinking found life in new armies, whether cyborg, mutant or human. Order collapsed, and yet pockets of it remained and was therefore easier to maintain. Change was happening, but rarely did it occur the way those who had sought it so passionately had wanted it to.

What is occurring in the world as I am developing it is far removed from the events I speak of here. I have no intention of writing stories about back then. But it is important to know, and to think through, the past of any world in order to understand what you are handling in the present. The world I possess is developing even as I write it, and yet the foundations for it were set in its past. People – whether human, monster, mutant or machine – are still fighting for survival, progress, ambition, their future. Most of what once had been is ruined or lost, but some parts linger, either in the persons of the Grand Master, Jamshid or Prime, who lived back then, or in automated death-machines programmed when brutal answers were needed. Secrets wait to be found. History might yet be told. What lies in the future for the people of the present could well be explained in their past.

The Order of Mechanised Tyranny

When you have faith in specific institutions, and that faith is ripped apart by cataclysmic events, how do you continue? Do you admit you were wrong and try a new path? Perhaps some would. That was not the course of the Grand Master, leader of the Order of Mechanised Tyranny. He is one of the oldest beings alive, having lived before the arrival of the Shadow World. He was a general in the army of the United States of America, and he had total faith in his country, its armed forces, and also in God. He knew his homeland was safe because of the deity he worshipped and the soldiers he commanded. When he witnessed the downfall of humanity, he saw his faith prove worthless. The armed forces could not overcome the magic and monsters that appeared. Soon they were outclassed by the creation of super-soldiers, cyborgs and other machines. As for God, there were no answers to the general’s prayers.

The general did win victories, however. When his forces were supplemented with super-soldiers and cyborgs, he was able to defeat a machine army. Power won the day, not faith, and certainly not humans. He saw the future in the cyborg race. More and more people were getting improvements – either soldiers for defence or the rich for better lives – and he demanded his forces become the main focus. He never took to mutants; perhaps there was still some lingering of his old faith in seeing them as abominations. Maybe. Few know the mind of this individual as he once was. What is known is mostly who he is and the sect he leads, the latter reflecting the first. The Grand Master forged the sect in his singular vision. He has never faltered since.

To return to his past, the general had lost faith in God and saw the only chance of survival for the human race was biomechanically improved soldiers. More than that, he saw humanity reborn, not just mechanised but forged within as well, moulded into a dedicated and dutiful force. No civilians, no politicians, no weaknesses. Cyborgs of all kinds were being made, and this was not something the general approved of. Control of the country had been sliding away for some time, the general had more recently been serving a new and localised government, so saw no issue in choosing to take command himself. Others had failed them all. He would not.

The general managed to get his soldiers altered, himself too, and they began their march to a new, stronger way of life. Others were made to join them. More and more became cyborgs, but more than this, they became soldiers who followed his orders and pledged themselves to his way of life. Obey, serve, fight, kill, die. Cyborgs began in one place and could have been a united race, yet factions emerged and then they splintered. The Grand Master and his aggressive, militarised sect were a major driving force in that disruption.

Yet the sect was more than military cyborgs. The Grand Master was not the only follower of faith to lose his way. Others in organised religion saw the Shadow World and the chaotic consequences as either end times, punishment or evidence that no higher power was protecting them. Many who once believed fervently became fervent enemies to faith. Those who saw the Grand Master’s sect recognised the anger he possessed and joined him, proclaiming their loyalty, pledging their enmity. More than this, a number of those who had commanded in religions now saw their power waning, and spotted opportunity in this sect. Preachers of faith turned into preachers of anti-faith. Militant believers were now militant disbelievers. The Grand Master was soon commanding much more than a mere army. He led a passionate, fanatical legion of soldiers.

It has been suggested that perhaps the Grand Master allowed these once-believers into his ranks to laugh at religion. An insult to God even. None know. Maybe he saw kindred spirits or merely useful tools. Whatever his reasoning, the Grand Master made a choice and his sect changed, and he saw the benefits. He had lost his faith in God, as well as his faith in humanity, his country, in the military as he had known it. All of it was gone. But he had pushed and remade his military might to become something stronger, and now he could remake the religion as well.

The Order of Mechanised Tyranny is a sect of conformity, with all the trappings of the military and religion. They march in step by ranks, crushing all opposition, converting those they choose to. They are religious yet without any god to waste their time on. Everyone is uniformed, to the extent that all are regarded as male. They all wear the same, including masks, and their swords are attached to their right arms regardless of favoured sides. Everything and everyone must act as one, as the Grand Master wishes it. His will is done, his vision is fought for. When he had been a God-fearing general, he had fancied he had a special destiny, or at least a favoured standing from which he could act for the good of all. His faith in God had been ripped away, but his faith in himself had faltered, then regrouped, and now was stronger than ever.

His followers believe in him equally, and also in his new way of life. Their religion is about their sect, their laws, their truths. For instance, they have Six Sins, which are disobedience, disloyalty, cowardice, dishonesty, slothfulness and mercy. Anything that could harm the sect is bad, essentially. They must all be dedicated and focused, working tirelessly, never doubting. Their Nine Virtues are courage, dedication, intelligence, purity, resolution, integrity, excellence, diligence and sacrifice. These may sound worthy virtues, and they are, and yet for the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, many of these words have a slight twist in meaning. For them, being resolute is about being ruthless. Integrity insists that when you proclaim your loyalty, you mean it, that your actions follow the same course. Sacrifice can mean soldiers giving up their lives for the sect, but also the ‘sacrifice’ of non-members as they are defeated. These lists are drilled into the minds of recruits, often during Recitals. There are three a day, every day, in any base or outpost around the world. Attendance is mandatory unless your services are necessitated elsewhere, such as guard duty. They do not pray, but they recite their laws and other mantras. Their faith in the sect must be absolute.

A quick mention should be made of their understanding of eternal life. This is something few outside the sect know of. Basically, all personal information goes into the sect’s database. All that individuality which is surrendered on joining, this is stored, and so is kept for all time. Members of the sect long dead are in there. They are remembered at Recitals as well. Past victories, and sometime defeats if useful for instruction, are recalled. The sense that the sect lives, and thus do all who live in it, is the new truth to them. Those born in the sect are given an identity as children, then taken away and stored, so they can believe equally. After that, they are just more ranked members, moving parts of the greater whole, fighting on. To the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, the saying is true – life is struggle, struggle is war, war is life. We are always at war. We live for ever.

Mentioning all of this, I must return to those previously mentioned fanatics who made the sect what it is, at the Grand Master’s behest. To outsiders, all members look the same and are the same really, and that is how he likes it. The truth is that there are some differences. Most are soldiers, with officers leading them. Yet some belong to other groups. One is the clergy. This is the result of those ex-religious, anti-faith recruits. The Grand Master utilised them and created a branch of his sect to fuel the rest with speeches and incitement. Soldiers who show enthusiasm along with eloquence are nominated to enter this group and, if successful, become as powerful as officers. Cardinals, for instance, act like roving high commanders, showing up to ensure unquestioning loyalty is ever present. In that regard, the clergy are part cheerleaders, part secret police.

Obey our law. Judge others according to it. Anything else is wrong. The meek are accursed, the strong will take the world. We are the strongest and the world is ours to claim. This is the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, a sect built and honed by the Grand Master himself, driven by his will, and it pleases him greatly. There is much more to be learned, about both the man himself and his followers, but for now, all anyone needs to know, is that when the red and black clad legions appear, make ready to fight for your life. They will not stop until they have it, one way or the other.

Money Makes the World Go Round

Well not quite. It should be made clear from that start that, in this post-apocalyptic world riddled with magic and mayhem that we experience in Sojourners in Shadow, there is no global currency. There is nothing that everyone uses. People barter, that happens everywhere. If you want to trade then you need to be able to give up something yourself. But the world contains patches of civilisation, and in those money has taken some form. So here I’ll explain them: each place, each type, and give some kind of context and history about them.

The first place to start has to be Trade Island. As the name suggests, trade is the main aim, and while you can barter and swap goods, a form of money had to come about. Now if you’re a high up and wealthy member of a business family, then a credit note is all you need. These are worth whatever is written on them, because everyone knows you have that money, so if words say you’re giving that to someone else, you are. It also helps that the families all keep their main wealth in the same bank, the Vault, so dealing with each other is literally no more than moving numbers about. Others can use credit notes too, but you had better be someone of worth, otherwise you could end up eating that note. Or worse.

As for a more menial form of money, something that looks pretty but is not really valuable, then people use gems. These are small crystals, not like anything of this world as we know it today, and that’s because gleaners make them. Literally. Gems are gleaner shit. They often leave their, well, leavings about their caves and tunnels to give off a small glimmer of reflected light. Gleaners see better in the dark than most monsters but they don’t fully see in it. Whatever their cause and use, the people of Trade Island handle these daily, buying goods. Some know where they came from. Most don’t. Most don’t want to know nor care to. In Trade Island, handling gems is the least of the dirty tasks you’ll have to do to get by.

In many places money has developed where humans are maintaining communities, especially small forms of civilisation. In essence, if things are in order and people are trying to trade and grow, then a currency is created.

In Central Asia, across the steppes, where many tribes and gatherings have merged, the people have developed coins. At first, they were made of precious metals, but over time they used cheaper things and were pledges, as in I don’t have this money to buy, but if you give this to someone else in my tribe, they will give you something. Tribes and groups had coins that had the names of their leaders on, as a sign or promise that they were supporting this pledge. You would use a coin to buy something and any problems later on could be taken to the leader himself and he might pay up, or at least see recompense made. This gave the leaders more prestige, and also more power. This led to a counter move by certain richer people, who began to make their own coins and give them out, and people used them as they knew these had the wealth to back up the offer. These people were also looking for a currency that could be used beyond each tribe, as more and more were moving closer together to avoid enemies, and more were trading together. This is what led to the rise of the kulaks, the merchant class that now has power without being leaders or elders. By now, most coins are cheap metal with kulak family names on, and are handed about and taken as worth, and so, while people still barter, the wealthy have a form of power over others.

The Deliverer is a ship, stranded in the Pacific Ocean. To be honest, it is three ships, but they have been fixed together so long the humans living there see it as one. They are a practical people, surviving by working together, so for them, you mainly get what your role earns. Everyone is meant to contribute. Yet some tokens were made long ago, small bits of scrap metal cut and stamped by machinery. There’s nothing fancy about them, they have numbers for value on, and marks from the machines down below to prove they’re authentic. You have any and you can hand them over to buy yourself something special once in a while, to get a bit more than your role in the ship earns you. Some frown on them, wondering why they’re still around when they haven’t been made in a long time. In a way, it is an expression of individuality within the community. Most likely that’s why their production was ceased.

The Northern Federation, because it has had to grow, regrow and develop, has dabbled in money a few times before now. At one point wooden tokens were currency, once you had etched your name and debt on. Some still use these, mostly in the villages. In the cities they have gone back to coins and notes. Oddly enough, there is a direct parallel with the market towns of Europe across the sea. While the Northern Federation are together, the cities themselves tend to compete. Each produces money with their name on. They are all acceptable across the region, but it has become a matter of pride for each city. Carthage was the first to make coins with its name on. It pushed them to the other cities with a passion, seeking its place as first city, which it gained. After a while, the other cities fought back with their own coins, but this had to be negotiated. Basically, the coins, and later the paper notes, had to be the same value across the Federation, and all were to be accepted. Money could be used to promote pride in your home city, but it couldn’t actually become an act of independence. Also, while it was never made official, the Carthaginian coinage was favoured. By now, notes and coins are commonplace, the first called dollars, the latter, which are bronze metal, are pennies.

The Mediterranean market towns are developing money. At first people made coins to try and pay for things, but as market towns grew and became known settlements, they were able to make their own coins. People in those places were commanded to accept them as money, and so others began to do so, knowing they can be used there. Barter still goes on, but more towns are producing coins and as their trade and influence spreads, so does the coins. Funnily, pirates have been a big boost in this. By robbing the merchants of the Mediterranean, they’re the ones first responsible for taking coins to other places, and exchanging them with other coins.

The Coalition of the South has money that harks back to the era before the Shadow World. Back then, the region was an important trading nation and it did well, the perfectly placed go-between for other countries. In that time, the rand and cents were currency, and the people today remember such things, and more. They use paper notes, called rand but sometimes dollars too, and cents are the coins, which look gold, hearkening back to the glorious trade era. The cities of the Coalition are more inland and secluded, unlike those of the Northern Federation, so their money has yet to be taken abroad. Perhaps soon.

A final mention goes to Australasia, where they have notes and coins as well. When the nation was formed, including the Aussies, the Brits, the Americans and the Japanese, they had to agree to a currency to share, to include them all and maintain equality. The easiest thing to do was to stick with Aussie dollars and cents. They’re not the same as today, obviously, but called the same and used for the same purposes. Only in the wilder central areas would anyone think of bartering instead of just delving into their wallet. Oh, it should also be mentioned that some Americans and Brits use old slang for coins, such as dimes and shillings.

Those are the major realms and communities where money has emerged once again. New, and yet fulfilling an old purpose. The more humans spread and interact, the more they need stable forms of currency to work with. So far there is nothing that works around the world. It is too fractured a place. It can be pointed out that bullets, fuel or food are forms of currency, far more sought after than most coins on a global scale. But as time passes and more groups become organised, these forms of money can begin to overlap. Already Mediterranean settlements work with money from the Northern Federation, and vice versa. As the two sides get to know each other, it is possible the merchants will push for a common currency. Others might well oppose it.

Many places around the world have no need for money. Cyborg sects are fighting a constant war for the betterment of the human race, so getting paid or buying goods isn’t even considered, not even among the less united groups. When a power rules, there rarely develops a need for money so at Constantinople the military takes as it likes, although some settlements of mutants are beginning to trade secretly with other places. Eden is a place of science, faith and unity, so wealth is abhorrent, and in the religiously inspired Octagon State in Texas, the love of money is still seen as the root of all evil.

Perhaps those people are right, perhaps not. With money, people find themselves able to buy, to improve their lives, to provide for others. Yet there is no doubt that often, the creation of coins has been done as some seek to exercise power over others. By making a form of currency, not only can that be used to praise your greatness – bearing your name, perhaps even your image – it means you get to set the standards. Whether it be Carthage or the kulaks, the market towns or the business families, those with the wealth and the will seek to rule others via the power of the coin. The pen is claimed mightier than the sword, although others can argue the gun beats both. Yet to these people, the coin beats them all. As currencies develop and spread, we will see who is right.

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.

Why so Friendly?

Returning, as I’ve been meaning to do, to the world of Sojourners in Shadow, and not feeling so well, I felt like a brief mention could be made of the nice guys. At least, those from a certain point of view. I have a number of more complicated and in-depth posts to make, but right now I don’t think I could manage one. This will do.

But this isn’t a meaningless post. In a world so brutal, so divided, it remains not just a scarce occurrence to find someone who can be on your side, but also a very perplexing moment. Why are you on my side? Why would you want to help me? What do you want in return? These aren’t just common questions, these are good survival instincts kicking in. After all, many stragglers have been invited in by a friendly community, only to find they are deemi in disguise or a cyborg sect, eager to convert them.

I have discussed before about alliances and races who work closely together, or just feel a strong bond. This isn’t the same thing. I’m talking here about those who are nice to others. No gain sought. No reward wanted. Just those who are there to be helpful.

As you can imagine, it’s a short list.

Basically, it’s totems. That’s it. As far as races go, they are the only ones who naturally seem drawn to being helpful. Yes, they are well known for being allies to humanity, just like aegis and denizens are. But those two are also known for being ruthless with their enemies. With totems, they prefer to avoid conflict. They can fight. Some do. It is rare but these gigantic, powerful creatures can hit harder than most things. But they are a benign, mute race of healers and helpers. Often they are found in the ranks of an army as a medical unit, forced to march for their captors and aid fallen warriors. Other times they join a war willingly, ready to help those who they feel need it. Humans, mostly, often on the verge of annihilation. But other instances have been known. They prefer peace, they want to help. Monsters they are, true, yet whatever dream they have come from, it is a pleasant one. Aegis are like guardians to humans, denizens like comrades, but totems are friends. To more than humans, if others seek it.

Why they are this way is unknown. Totems are typically about eight foot tall and covered by an obsidian-like skin that is impervious to most attacks. That is, apart from their front. Here, they are soft, and if another being is held here, then the totems’ natural healing ability will work its wonders. They can even fold up about someone, enclosing them in warmth and comfort, and this act can heal almost any injury. It has even been known to cure diseases and re-energise people. Of course, totems can also roll up and become invulnerable. So, for all these physical attributes, totems appear naturally crafted to be pacifists. They are very tough to kill, able to heal and cure others, and strong enough to survive many environments. Oh, they also float. It’s weird but they can.

Totems are the world’s best at enduring and aiding, so being friendly to all seems like a natural step. It should be noted, however, that they are often called pacifists, yet they aren’t truly. Yes, they seek to avoid a fight, but they will resist anyone who tries to hurt them, their people or make any of them do something they don’t want to. When others seek to enslave them, the best trick is to capture their young and hold them while the adults go out with your army and heal the fighters. Totems are more amiable, more quick to concede, that is well known. They would rather submit than stand proudly in defiance. But those that know their kind are quite clear that they aren’t weak. The more you demand of them, the more you will have to push, and even they have their limits. Totems are pretty much unique in that you could call them good natured, but those who think them spineless or saints have often paid for such assumptions.

Having talked totems, I should make mention of a few other friendly groups. In their cases, they are more going against their nature or the ways of their group than with. For this reason, many won’t trust them, despite their history.

A few groups are cyborg sects. One is the Order of Organic Triumph. This sect believes in individuality and also of placing the human over the machine. For this reason, they are more flesh and blood than mechanical, which leaves them weaker in combat. They are also much less regimented. Because of these facts, this sect has suffered from attacks by more militant forces, so most of their number are hiding among other races. Usually humans. Now they tend to be a very open-minded and tolerant people, partly due to their philosophy, perhaps mostly due to their need to survive among other groups. They will seek to persuade humans to join, not ‘recruit’ them. As a non-militant force who have often been refugees, the Order of Organic Triumph have more often helped than hindered people.

Another group also has a refugee past. The Order of the Mothers Mechanical began when a few collections of survivors from defeated sects met up. They were mostly young with women – their teachers and carers – in command. They united and pressed on, away from the conflicts that were more common back then. They found others like them, then settled at a defensible site and made it their home. They remain there, strong enough to feel safe, a new sect, and they are also known for being open to refugees. They remember their past well. Many cyborg sects have been smashed over the centuries and small groups or even lone individuals roaming the world aren’t that uncommon. A place like this is a needed sanctuary. Yet it should be made clear, they are mostly keen in welcoming cyborgs, if they will tolerate other kinds too, and they let most stay a time and then move them on. They consider themselves a temporary refuge, unless someone meets their standards.

Another sect is the Order of Jubilant Transformation. As the name suggests, these cyborgs are all about celebrating the new and better form of existence they inhabit. This makes them very friendly and open, and they love to tell non-cyborgs how much better things are for them now. They are so tolerant, in fact, they have no qualms if anyone wishes to leave their sect. The sad truth is many have done so over time. Their way feels good, especially to the newly converted, but they have little power and so are one strong attack away from extinction. Also, some just can’t stomach how jubilant they are all the time.

It should be made clear here that, while these sects are seen in a much better light than most, they are still suspicious to some. There are claims that the Order of Organic Triumph convert in secret and infiltrate human, mutant and cyborg groups. There are rumours that the Mothers Mechanical have their own agenda. There are strong remarks that the Order of Jubilant Transformation are just a bunch of nutters.

Only the totems stand beyond reproach. Monsters who hate them, deem them traitors and human-helpers, see them as genuine in their tolerant and caring nature. Their size can be intimidating, they stand higher than devil-beasts and aegis, but their benevolent character soon overcomes any such fear. Aegis are powerful in aspect and scare those they help. Totems are strong but caring, helpful and loyal. Many will claim that if they weren’t so useful to have around, they would have been wiped out by now. Maybe so, and maybe the same could be said about how non-threatening they are. No one fears totems. But somehow, they never seem to fear anyone either. If more races were like them, there’d be a lot less to fear for all concerned.

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.