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 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.

Understanding Magic

Part One: What is it and How Can it be Used?

Magic is the name given to the power that came with the Shadow World and now resides in what has become of our world. It is a power that responds to will and is controlled by the mind, so in most respects it works as how many of believe magic to work. Therefore magic is probably exactly what it is. However it is still a mysterious force that most don’t truly understand, and many would claim it uses people as much as they use it. Some believe it is a living thing, a sentient power that wants to be used. This kind of thinking typically belongs in secret cults, though. Some who are steeped in science would propose that it is really a form of telekinesis that manifests itself in apparitions of energy. But for most, it is magic, and that’s all anyone needs to know. Yet the very fact magic is a force of nature that does manifest in various ways and is used to differing results by all kinds of creatures, does leave questions, doubts and fears that might never be resolved.

There are few solid facts about magic, so we’ll cover them and be done. First and foremost is that magic originates in the Shadow World. While no one alive knows just how Dylan Winter summoned the Shadow World to our own, it is known magic was involved, but not the way it is used in the present day. It is widely suspected he performed a kind of arcane ritual which unleashed magic, and so the world with it, into our dimension. But what is certain is that, for all the tales of wizards and witches before this event, magic was not in our plane of existence. After the Shadow World came, then humans began to feel power within them, and soon they were able to wield it. Magic became a genuine presence among nature itself. Weird things would occur and still do. The weather became far more unpredictable. Life was never the same.

Another fact is that magic is highly risky. Many succumbed to it in the early times, either destroyed by it, driven mad or a few simply vanished. Magic is no one’s pet. It is wild and thriving and needs great presence of mind and strength of spirit to command it. People can use it a lot easier in smaller and simple acts, but to truly use magic, one must grasp fire and endure the burning.

Magic is in the land, and in some places more than others. Great Britain is a magical hotspot, where more people are born with the power in them and where those who can use it find it more freely available, in greater quantities. Japan is supposedly a magical hot spot as well, yet no one has been there for a very long time. Magical hotspots drew monsters of power to them so all four had great difficulties early on. Madagascar is now the home of the gleaners, corrupted and deadly. The Caribbean was the other place, the last of the for corners upon which Dylan Winter turned the worlds, and it was decimated by nuclear attacks early on. Now a smattering of tiny islands pepper that region, and where Mexico once was, and many weird and wonderful things occur there.

According to those who sense magic, it is stronger in some places than others. Obviously the hotspots are steeped in magic, but elsewhere it varies. The region of North America shows little sign of it, overrun as it was by cities and industry and scientific warfare. South America, Africa and much of Asia show more signs of magic, but never in abundance. For the most part, it will spring up in specific locations, revealing itself with more natural born magic-users residing there, along with possible unnatural vibes or unusual phenomenon. Many such places are hard to find as they drew dragons or other monsters early on, which drove everyone else away, or the locals do their best to protect themselves and their secret. Magic is sought after. Even those who cannot summon it themselves want the power as it is occasionally found in objects that any can use, if with the usual risks. Magic can be embedded in an object so a user can wield that like a weapon, and many powerful devices are strewn about the world after the Raging and subsequent wars. Sometimes magic can be so strong it is seeping out and any who come by could find themselves imbued.

While it shouldn’t be deemed a fact, something many know is that magic and the Shadow World remain entwined. Essentially, the strongest power lies there, and the more you delve into one, the more you delve into the other. It is a common tale among the most devoted magic-users that some sunk too far and never returned. It is a warning, one that not everyone heeds.

Magic is often something that people wield with natural ability. Magic works like stamina or physical strength, and so it will drain and replenish. But it also involves the mind and there are many in the world who spend a lot of their time studying magic and training their minds. Students of magic will often better those who scream and hurl energy. Focus, intellect, awareness, understanding – these are key factors in the use of magic.

The formula for magic is a simple one. To use magic, you need power, and then you need the will to command it, along with the mental focus to make it do the thing you want. Power, will, mind. Those who have a considerable amount of one often need the others less so, but you always need all three. You can improve them all as well, if you know how. Magic is claimed to be able to do anything anyone wants, if you have enough power, will and know what exactly it is you want it to do. The power side of it often dictates the end result, and the will is there not just to command the magic, but to prevent it from commanding you instead. The mental focus is often the trickiest part. It also typically takes the most time, so many will train themselves to do something specific, which they find easier to focus on. Much like muscle memory, they will work to their own nature and attributes, and perfect a style of magic use that means they can act fast, think later.

When it comes to power, any user must understand one simple and unbreakable rule. Power is given, it varies, but what you get is what you get. You can better your skills and improve your command of it, you can refine techniques and use less in an act, but you cannot raise power itself. Your power is your well to draw on and, while it may be deeper than you first thought, that is all you have. Power cannot be enlarged. Enhanced, yes, but not made more. Think of it as an adult physical body. You can make it more muscular, stretch out the tendons and lose or gain weight, but that’s what you have. You can’t add another head or gain three feet (while some could possibly do this via science, I’m talking in natural terms).

For this reason, many magic-users will seek magical items, or even make their own if they can. The idea is that by pouring power into an item, then it is there to draw on at another time. It is taxing to do and difficult to achieve, and the result will depend on skill, practice and effort, but if a magic-user could create, say, three items that contain power, then those could all be called upon to add to their full strength. Better yet is to find an item or weapon imbued with the power of someone much stronger. Many items will drain and become useless again, but the best either last long or cannot be worn out. It all depends on the power put in and the craftsmanship of the maker. Magical weapons and items can change an individual’s standing in the world. It could also put it at serious risk. There are some cursed items out there, and some that offer more power than almost any can handle.

Most monster types cannot summon magic. Machines cannot either. Most mutants don’t even think to try. Magic is a vital weapon in the human arsenal. When the Shadow World first came and devil-beasts and aegis battled, and sphinx sought influence, and deemi and wraiths and scions and pixies caused mayhem, and dragons did as they pleased, magic seemed like the human race’s doom come to find them. People were in terror of it and that led to many choices later made, and that fear resides in numerous communities still. But magic soon proved useful to them, and also dangerous. Human magic-users fought the monsters, and anyone else they needed to in order to claim a realm for their own. Magic was cast and humans were saved, and other times it turned on the inept user to devastating effect. Magic helped saved humanity, after threatening it, and it remains a danger and a salvation to all. It is craved and feared. It is used and misused. Magic is something that no one can take for granted, and yet here it is, embedded in our world, affecting nature and people and all manner of life.