Archive | November, 2011

Child of Prophecy–Snippet

28 Nov


How to start?

How should I, your humble narrator, start? At the beginning?

Let’s see, then. Once upon a time, a dark sorcerer of great and terrible power entered the service of a king in a faraway land. This sorcerer’s powers were so vast that the king rapidly conquered all of his neighbours and found himself poised for further expansion. He didn’t live to enjoy it. His sorcerer, as sorcerers tend to do, killed him and took the throne for himself. A mighty army, composed of the foulest beasts from darkest lands, took two continents for him – and the third would soon fall.

But there was a problem. The sorcerer had ordered that all with magical powers who refused to swear loyalty to him were to be executed. One of his victims, an old and wise seer, made a prophecy for him. He would be overthrown by a girl born on a certain day at a certain time in a certain place. And as she died, the sorcerer sent out his armies. All girls born on that specific day were to be killed. His army did as it was commanded and great was the grief among lords and peasants alike as their baby daughters were torn from their arms and killed. The sorcerer felt himself secure.

Yet he didn’t know the truth. He had indulged himself with countless women, one of whom knew a few simple magic spells of her own. Carrying his own child within her womb, she begged the aid of powerful elementals and gave birth – on the fated day – to her daughter. Knowing that it would not be long before the sorcerer came in search of her, she gave the child to a childless couple to raise and passed outside the bounds of mortal knowledge.

Her daughter – the sorcerer’s daughter – grew to womanhood on the farm, until the day that a band of raiders thought to amuse themselves with the helpless farmers. Great and terrible magic awoke within her and the raiders died; she herself was forced to flee into the wilder lands, knowing that those who had killed her foster parents were intent on terminating her life. Slowly, unsure of what she was or what she had to do, she gathered an army around her and fought back against the empire. And then the sorcerer sent forth his magic and her army was smashed effortlessly.

She herself, her identity unknown, was taken as a prisoner back to the heart of the empire and forced to work as a scullery maid. There, she suffered many humiliations before she finally broke free and confronted her father. He attempted to strike her down, unaware of the true nature of their link; angered, the magic he had summoned turned on him. His daughter bent the magic to her will and killed him. The prophecy had been fulfilled.

That isn’t my story.

My story is about what happened next.

Magic’s Great Families?

21 Nov

Here’s a fun little idea.

Back in the time of Good Queen Bess (That’s Queen Elizabeth I) there was contact between mankind and the faerie, a race of powerfully magical creatures from Avalon. A number of human women were impregnated by the faerie and gave birth to the first human magicians. All of humanity’s magic-users are descended from those families. They exist in a twilight world that ordinary humans rarely get to enter.

So I had two story ideas.

The first would revolve around a young couple from families that are historically at war, a kind of Romeo and Juliet story. The second would focus on a murder – which could mean war between the families – that has to be solved before they start fighting each other.



Timeline For ‘End of Empire’

19 Nov

Some people may remember the series I wrote a few years ago entitled ‘When the Empire Falls.’ (When The Empire Falls, Shades of Grey and The Three-Edged Sword.) I’m looking at rebooting that universe – comments?

[Note: dates are given in Imperial Standard Cycles, roughly 1.5 Earth years.]

0EE (Empire Established): The Imperials, a historically reclusive race, return to the galactic scene when a war fought between the Phyllis and the Sassnorah spreads into their territory.

10EE: The Imperials end the war by conquering both of the combatants and restructuring their societies.

10-100EE: The Imperial Empire, using labour from the occupied worlds, starts to spread out. Each conquest is absorbed into the Empire, with locals granted autonomy and colonisation rights. The Imperial Navy is founded as the main tool of expansion.

101EE: Imperial survey ships enter the isolated Kerr System – and vanish. The Imperials send a squadron, and then a fleet, to investigate, only to lose both units to ‘causes unknown.’ Eventually, they declare a quarantine around the Forbidden Sector, banning all travel to and from the Kerr System.

106EE: The Imperials discover the Tarn, a race of spacefaring humanoids who worship the Kerr. For reasons unknown, the Imperials effectively destroy the race. The whole affair is covered up.

107-1000EE: The Empire continues to spread out from Centre. Each sector is assigned a sector fleet to protect it and to allow swift reactions to any trouble. Larger fleets are stationed at nodal systems, while the frontier guard continues to survey and expand the Empire’s territory. Seventy new races are discovered and absorbed into the Empire.

1001EE: An Imperial starship stumbles across Earth.

1005EE: The Imperials launch their invasion of Earth. Human orbital satellites, ground bases and wet-navy ships are wiped out within the first hour of invasion, followed by ground forces landing outside the capitals of major human powers. Fighting is heavy in places, but the Imperial Navy picks off any human target from orbit, crippling any hope of organised resistance. Eventually, the majority of human governments surrender. Imperial post-combat teams rapidly arrive to begin the task of organising Earth’s absorption into the Empire.

1006-1011EE: Multiple human resistance groups attempt to fight back against the Imperials. The fight is grossly uneven from the start; the Imperials have too many tools to use against insurgents and terrorists. Eventually, the Imperials destroy Chicago, Paris, Berlin, Birmingham, Mecca, Tehran, Delhi and Tokyo to crush most resistance groups. Human population numbers fall sharply in the wake of chaos caused in the post-invasion environment.

1012EE: First humans enter Imperial service as ground troops. They are not based on Earth to ensure that they don’t have their loyalties tested by ongoing insurgency.

1013-1123EE: The Imperials slowly bring most of humanity under their control. Creation of the human provisional government, formed from collaborators and given teeth by Imperial troops. A handful of nearby worlds are settled by humans; other humans join the Imperial Merchant Navy or take advantage of Imperial loans to set up their own businesses in space. Titan is claimed by the Imperial Navy as a base for a sector fleet. Mars terraforming project begins, only to be abandoned when other extra-solar worlds are opened for settlement.

1124-2345EE: Humans slowly slide into a prominent role within the Imperial Empire. Humans serve in the Imperial Navy while others serve in the ground forces, both as enforcers and settlers on unclaimed worlds. Earth’s Home Guard is founded. Human provisional government becomes autonomous, with humans electing representatives to local parliaments and to Centre, the core of the Empire. This growing prominence alarms some other races, leading to a series of nasty incidents. The Imperials are quick to stamp on them, although they often funnel human expansion and settlement out into the Rim. More worryingly, a number of humans have become pirates, living on the edge of the Empire.

2346EE: Sector 666 is surveyed by the Imperial Navy and deemed to be empty of intelligent life, although there are a number of Earth-like worlds. The Imperials open the sector for settlement and invite settlers to move to the new planets. A series of human-funded planetary development corporations are founded and start settling a number of worlds.

2390EE: Unnoticed by most observers, the Empire starts entering a dangerous recession. Funding for further development projects starts to dry up, while the Imperial Navy cannot afford to maintain the number of hulls it needs to protect the Empire. Colony projects along the rim are sometimes abandoned, the settlers left to fend for themselves. The Imperials, realising the danger, work hard to conceal it from their subjects. Their success was based upon inviting others to share in the Empire’s profits – and those profits are drying up.

2391-2422EE: The growing lack of security along the rim allows pirates and rebel gangs to start hacking away at the lightly-settled worlds. Rumours of a new spacefaring race only add to the Empire’s problems. Investment dries up completely as stories of attacks and entire planetary populations being slaughtered or taken into slavery start spreading through the Earth Sector and further into the Empire. Taxes start rising sharply, to the point where many shipping corporations are in serious trouble.

2423EE: Under orders from Centre, the Imperial Navy dispatches a fleet into Sector 666 to locate and destroy the pirates. Instead, the fleet is ambushed by the unknown aliens and almost completely destroyed. In the wake of rumours spreading out of control, the Imperials decide to start pulling in their horns…leaving Earth and the human race standing alone against the oncoming threat…


18 Nov

Infection Notes and Concept

I’ve basically had this idea going through my head. Imagine a life-form that exists as a virus. When there is a sufficient quantity of virus in a single location, it develops sentience. Because it is breaking up and recombining constantly, it is something of a hive mind; individual fragments separate, operate independently, and then link back into the whole. There isn’t a whole race of intelligent minds as there is a single vast distributed entity that blurs out a lot at the edges. This is obviously an intelligent that has little in common with humanity. For one thing, the alien considers parts of itself to be utterly expendable.

It’s debatable if the alien is intelligent in any manner we humans would understand. Like humanity, its prime goal is survival, but survival means something very different to it than it would to a human.

The most dangerous aspect of the alien is that it can take over bodies of other intelligent races (there is no reason why it couldn’t take over a dog or another animal). When it infects a new host, the virus cells start multiplying rapidly, feeding on the biomass to encourage cell division while it spreads through the entire body. Once it reaches critical mass, it takes control directly – absorbing the host’s memories and knowledge in the process. To a very large extent, it can mimic the host’s personality as to make it very difficult for an outside observer to determine if someone has been infected. A blood test will reveal the alien virus, but by then it may be far too late.

In its natural form, the alien lives within fresh water. It is not capable of surviving or thriving within salt water. Boiling water will make it safe to drink – but anyone who fails to boil infected water will rapidly start the transformation into a new host. A secondary vector is through sexual contact (not unlike AIDS). The virus requires a certain quantity to begin cellular division and so cannot be passed through the atmosphere, or through light bodily contact. (A kiss would not pass the virus).

In a healthy human body, the virus rarely causes symptoms that could warn the newly-infected person that they have been infected. Like most parasites, it tries to avoid causing harm to the body (at least harm that would kill the host, which would also kill the alien biomass within the host). (It is debatable if the alien recognise humans as fellow intelligent beings, or would care if they did.) A human who was suffering from HIV or AIDS might find themselves dying when infected, although the virus would continue to live on in their festering bodies until it died. Humans who do not live in developed areas and do not eat daily food may also die. This is unintentional on the part of the alien, but it simply doesn’t care if it loses a piece of itself.

As the alien biomass builds up within the host’s body, it can push the body beyond its normal limits. In effect, bodies that have been heavily infected can continue to function even if they are badly damaged. A host who has been shot in the head can continue, zombie-like, until the body is completely destroyed (or at least rendered incapable of moving).

To some extent, the alien is capable of evolving to exist within a new ecosystem and survive medical attempts to remove the virus from the host. However, there are limits to how far this process can go without accidentally creating a subgroup of the virus that cannot interact with the main body of viral particles.

Human medical science can detect the aliens through blood tests. Curing a host, however, may prove impossible without a quantum leap forward.

The aliens do not have starships, at least not as humans imagine them. What they do have is hundreds of thousands of icy asteroids which they have shot into space. This process can take thousands of years before the alien spreads to another world – if it finds another world – but the aliens are effectively immortal. They could spend millions of years drifting from world to world, taking over the native populations and then using them to catapult themselves to the next target. A small asteroid entering Earth’s atmosphere might well go unnoticed, until the infection began…


18 Nov

Chapter One

On the day of her betrothal, Princess Abigail stood naked in front of the mirror, staring at herself.

She was taller than her mother, almost as tall as her father. Long blonde hair framed her heart-shaped face and fell down her back. Her skin was perfect, the result of healthy living and a small amount of rejuvenation spells. At fifteen years old, she knew that she could be promised to anyone at any time. It was only surprising that it had taken so long. But even the Imperator – or one of the Barons – would decline a child bride.

The thought was a sobering one. No one, apart from her maid, had seen her naked since she was a child. She’d grown up as an only child, with no one to be her friend and confidante. And she had very definitely not compromised herself with any man. The sole heir of the Dynasty of Gold, the family that ruled the northern state of Irina, had to be above suspicion. She had been chaperoned since she had learned to walk.

But I was lucky, she told herself, firmly. I could have been born in the Empire.

The Barons – the noblemen who controlled the great estates, who defied her father regularly – would not accept a female ruler. They tested her father enough for him to be sure of that. A Queen would be the pawn of the strongest Barons, little more than a figurehead as the Barons divided the Kingdom between them. Whoever Abigail married would become King; everyone knew that. And it meant that her marriage had to be to someone strong enough to keep the Barons in line. And the only person who could do that was the Imperator.

Abigail stared into the mirror, meeting her reflection’s blue eyes. They were wide – and frightened. Marriage had always been her destiny. It had been tradition ever since the Days of Fire that a female aristocrat, even a Princess, would marry someone who would link two powerful families together, or secure a Kingdom. Her mother had admitted, in one of her rare moments of candour, that she’d been terrified before her marriage to Abigail’s father, but then her dowry hadn’t included a whole Kingdom. The person who married Abigail would win Irina. And he would inherit the problem of the over-powerful Barons. It hardly mattered that the marriage treaty allowed for Abigail to rule Irina as regent once her father died. The Imperator could rewrite the treaty at will.

It was her duty, she knew. She had been born to great wealth and a position that was the envy of every other woman in the world. It came with a price; her marriage, the most important event in her life, would be to a man picked by her father, a man who would take her dowry and Abigail herself. Her mother had refused to be drawn on the issue of martial duties, but Abigail had her sources. She knew what was expected of a woman in the marriage bed and the prospect terrified her. Even the most considerate of men couldn’t be expected to respect her wishes. She would just have to endure for the sake of the Kingdom.

None of the Barons were strong enough to challenge her father, at least on their own. As a group, their private armies and great wealth was enough to rip the Kingdom apart, shattering Irina into a mass of competing states. They knew just how finely balanced the Kingdom was between order and chaos – and they knew that they would have one chance to put crowns on their own heads. Her father’s last-ditch gamble – betrothing Abigail to the most powerful man in the world – had caught them by surprise. Irina would become part of the Empire, even though it would retain its independent character. And with the Seven Sisters to the north, the city-states that had broken free of Irina years ago, the Imperator needed Irina. It was the only way he could reach the Seven Sisters and unite the continent under his rule.

Abigail ran her hands down her body, staring at herself. She was slim, although tall, and her trainers hadn’t stinted just because she had been born a woman. It would have surprised anyone to know just how capable she was with sword and knife, or a handful of other tools that many people would be surprised to discover could be used as weapons. And yet…she couldn’t fight her destiny. How could she resist the Imperator when she knew that her homeland might suffer for her transgressions? She wanted to run, she wanted to flee, but there was no escape. Her duty held her in its grip.

“You shouldn’t be standing there, child,” a voice clucked from behind her. “You’ll catch your death of cold.”

Abigail didn’t turn. Martha, her maid, was a law unto herself. She had been a mother herself before entering Abigail’s service; in many ways, she had been Abigail’s real mother, caring for her from before she’d learned to walk on her own two feet. As one of the Children of the Book, everyone knew that she was trustworthy – and harmless. The common people hated and feared the Children. A single misstep and the pogroms would begin again.

“I’ve run your bath,” Martha continued, when Abigail said nothing. “It’s time to make you look pretty.”

She put one gentle hand on Abigail’s arm and pulled her towards the rear of the suite. The Princess followed her, feeling almost as if she were in a daze. It could take hours to dress for formal court appearances – her father, thankfully, excused her from attending most of them openly – but how long would it take to prepare for her betrothal? Martha poked and prodded her gently, and then helped her into the bath. It was hot and smelled sweet, a perfume she hadn’t smelt before. She guessed it had come from the trading ports near the Seven Sisters, ports that traded with countries and continents on the far side of the world and shipped to Irina at great expense. Considering its possible origin kept her mind off other matters, so much so that she was surprised when Martha had finished washing her hair and helped her back out of the bath. At least she was allowed to dry herself. She wasn’t exactly a little girl any longer. Soon, she would become a woman.

Her skin felt cold as Martha dressed her, piece by piece. Everything she wore was white and would remain so until her wedding day. The undergarments alone had cost thousands of crowns, produced from silk shipped down from the Seven Sisters; the dress had cost upwards of a million crowns. It was a chilling reminder that there were more ways to gain wealth than through owning land and grinding the peasants into the dirt, a reminder that the Seven Sisters were free – and in freeing themselves, they had doomed her family. One way or another, the Kingdom would never be independent again. The Imperator’s heirs – heirs born of Abigail’s body – would rule the world. She looked at herself in the mirror and shivered, hardly recognising her face. She looked almost like a china doll, surrounded by a glowing halo of blonde hair.

Martha turned her around one final time and nodded in satisfaction. “You’ll do,” she said. “I think the Imperator will take one look at you and fall in love.”

Abigail scowled. She didn’t want to go, she didn’t want to marry…but she knew that there was no choice. Her Kingdom would fall without the marriage as the Barons scrabbled for scraps like cats fighting over raw fish. And if what it took to save her people from civil war was a Princess giving herself to a figure many regarded as touched by Malice Himself, it was a sacrifice that she would have to make.

“But you’ll need this,” Martha added. She reached into the pocket of her robe and produced a single glittering crystal, dangling from the end of a golden chain. Abigail took it – and felt a tingle as the magic buried within her reacted to the magic infused into the crystal. A moment’s study revealed that the crystal was actually a tiny jar, with a clear liquid hidden inside the solid exterior. “You may discover that marriage isn’t so bad – I did, when I married my Rupert. A good man is a hard thing to hold.”

She giggled at her own joke – Abigail pretended not to understand – and then grew serious. “But you may discover that it is a nightmare,” she said. “Men don’t understand us very well, particularly powerful men who are used to getting their way. If you can bear it no longer, drink the liquid and go to Null in peace.”

Abigail stared at the crystal. A simple illusion spell concealed its true nature from all, but its wearer – and the witch who had created the spell. Abigail had never had much formal training in magic, but she did know that the spell was subtle, subtle enough to pass unnoticed by even a Master Sorcerer. All it really did was conceal its presence and the true nature of the simple crystal pendant.

“Thank you,” she said. It was suddenly very hard to speak. Martha would be coming with her, of course – she’d been Abigail’s maid for so long that Abigail couldn’t bear the thought of life without her comforting and steady presence – but they would never be alone again, not while they dwelled in the Golden City. No one, even one of the Barons, would dare to spy on Abigail’s personal chambers. The Golden City operated by different rules. “I…”

“Don’t speak of it,” Martha said, flatly. Abigail understood. It was not to be mentioned, ever. “It’s nearly time for the formal presentation.”


The Grand Ballroom was massive, easily large enough to hold nearly a thousand people. It was teeming with grand lords and ladies, each wearing their finery as if they were intent on outshining their rivals at court. The great Barons could be seen within the multitude, keeping a careful distance from each other as they consulted with the armies of sycophants surrounding them. Their ladies moved from person to person, cutting each other dead whenever they happened to encounter a social equal. Abigail had once heard her father remark that if his nobles spent as much time developing their military skills as their social skills the Kingdom would rule the world. But he couldn’t risk a policy of expansion. It would create new threats to his throne.

Abigail stood in the chamber above the ballroom and peered down through the stained-glass ceiling that gave the impression that the guests were under a starry sky. A competent sorcerer back in her grandfather’s day had imbued the glass with a spell that allowed observers to look down without being observed, something that had always amused her as a child, back when she’d been ordered to study the court and learn its ways. As the Princess, she had been the target of more plots and schemes than she cared to count, from ruffians intent on taking her to be their bride to Barons who wanted to push their children into her orbit. There were days when one didn’t dare cough in High Society without fearing that someone would take it as a sign to start something violent.

One figure stood at the end of the room, waiting patiently for his time to step forwards and greet the King. He was wearing black armour that concealed his true face and features from the crowd, a gesture that Abigail suspected was intended to be an unsubtle reminder of his master’s power. The black-clad Knights served as the Imperator’s messengers, bound to him by powerful oaths and subtle spells that rendered them incapable of being anything, but loyal. He wore a sword at his belt – another unsubtle reminder – and a handful of guards were keeping an eye on him from a safe distance. But then, no one really expected the Imperator’s Voice to start a fight. He was in the Castle for a different reason.

Abigail shivered. He had come to take her to her husband.

Martha tugged at her sleeve as the trumpets sounded and her father made his way into the Grand Ballroom, with her mother on his right arm. King Rudolph VIII was a tall broad-shouldered man, who walked with a slight limp. He wore his finest robes and the Royal Crown, which glittered under the magical lights that hung from the ceiling. Queen Katrina looked pale and wan. Her sickness had prevented her from having a second child and everyone knew it. The real mystery was why the King hadn’t put her aside and married again, or simply taken up with a succession of royal mistresses. Abigail knew the answer, almost despite herself. They loved each other.

She could still hear the herald announcing her father as she entered the antechamber. It was designed to allow someone to peer through a hidden keyhole and look into the ballroom, but it would damage her dress if she pressed against the wall. Reluctantly, she waited until she heard the warning knock and then pulled herself upright, into a regal pose. Her father had drilled her in it until she was perfect, warning her that a single mistake would be taken as a sign of weakness and the vultures would start circling. The doors opened wide and Abigail walked through, into the ballroom. She kept her face expressionless, but allowed herself an inner smile at the reactions. The crowd knew that no one would be allowed to outshine the Princess, not on this day of all days.

Abigail reached her father’s throne and went down on one knee. It was difficult in the dress, but she’d practiced time and time again until she could do it without hesitation. Behind her, the court followed her gesture, bowing in respect to their monarch. Abigail kept her eyes on the ground as her father stood up, accepting the respect as if he actually believed that it was real, and then returned to his throne. The silent signal sent the court back to their feet, while Abigail stood up beside her father and turned to face the gathered notables. Her heart almost missed a beat as she looked into the visor of the Imperator’s Voice. She couldn’t escape the feeling that inhuman eyes were looking back at her.

“On this day,” her father said, “my daughter comes of age.”

A low murmur ran through the crowd. Technically, Abigail had come of age when she’d started her womanly cycles, but she wouldn’t formally become a woman until she was married and no longer living with her father. They all knew that her marriage meant a shift in the balance of power; after all, surely the Imperator wouldn’t hesitate to help out his father-in-law. Barons who had defied the King, certain that he couldn’t punish them for their lack of respect, would wonder about the Imperator’s massive armies. They had quashed all resistance with brutal efficiency as they marched north, towards Irina – and the Seven Sisters. And in their wake came the priests of Vasilios, the Holy Tyrant, the Lord of Order. Those who resisted their teachings died.

“Today she will be betrothed to the Imperator himself, the Emperor of the Aquilian Ecclesia,” her father continued. “She will live in the Golden City until I slip away into the arms of Null, whereupon she will return as the Imperator’s regent in this Kingdom. Her patrimony will remain hers under the terms of the wedding contract. I ask you all to pray for the success of the marriage.”

Abigail kept her face impassive, but she was laughing inside. No one would pray with any great feeling, except perhaps for her parents and the Imperator’s Voice. The Barons would fear her – and her husband – greatly. It almost made the risks and terrors of marriage seem worthwhile. If she had to be a bargaining counter in her father’s endless games of power, at least it would bring a reward for her service.

At the King’s command, the Imperator’s Voice stepped forward. Up close, there was still no way of peering into his eyes, yet she could feel him studying her. The urge to take a step backwards was almost overpowering, but somehow she held her ground. He spoke to her father in a voice that was little above a whisper, yet could be heard by everyone in the massive chamber. Abigail had been promised an escort to the Golden City. The Imperator had sent a small army, spearheaded by seven sorcerers. It was another unsubtle reminder of his power. An army that size could smash any one of the Barons.

“I pledge her safety with my life,” the Imperator’s Voice said. “It is time for us to depart.”

Abigail was surprised – she’d expected more time, somehow – but her father offered no objections. She was almost in a daze as she was escorted out of the ballroom and into the courtyard. A massive carriage was waiting for her, curtained off to prevent anyone from looking inside. She turned to look back at her father and saw tears in her eyes. Perhaps, if she’d had a brother, her father would have been happy using her as a pawn. But instead, it was clear that he feared for the future. He might be sending Abigail to her death, or worse. She thought of the pendant and shivered. At least she would have a way to walk into Null’s arms – and even that entity, the most feared of all the Gods, would be a relief if her husband was the monster rumour painted him to be.

The Imperator’s Voice wasted no time. She hugged her father, was kissed by her mother, and then she was helped into the carriage. Seconds later, it was out of the castle and on the long road to the south. Two weeks of travelling, she’d been told, and then she would meet her husband. And then…

It was hard to hold back the tears, but she managed it – somehow. She knew her duty. She would do her duty. And may the Gods, she vowed silently, have mercy on anyone who got in her way.

Timeline of ‘GodKin’

17 Nov

0ADF: The Days of Fire. A mass outbreak of insanity on Earth eventually leads to a catastrophic series of disasters that cripple world civilisation. For various reasons, historical records from before this time are vague – it effectively serves as the beginning of recorded history.

10-1100ADF: Apotheosis. The Gods arrive on Earth. Their mere presence distorts reality as humans understand it. Humans (and other forms of life) that go too close to the Gods are often driven mad, or transfigured simply by being too close to them. Birth of the Horrors on Earth. Most of the Horrors die out fairly quickly, but the most dangerous ones survive and breed.

Eventually, large parts of the remaining human population start worshipping the Gods. Pre-DOF religions almost die out. Science and technology largely forgotten.

1100ADF: The Sundering. Some of the Gods leave Earth for higher realms. Others fission into creatures more comprehendible to humanity; the New Gods. New human civilisations are formed around worship of the New Gods.

1157ADF: The Revolt. The New Gods (aided by a set of legendary human heroes) revolt against the oppressive rule of the Old Gods. The Old Gods are defeated; some leave the human plane entirely, others are bound and trapped within sealed chambers on Earth. With victory in their grasp, some of the New Gods start interbreeding with humanity, creating a strain of humans with divine heritage (Godkin).

1167-1256ADF: The Mythic Age. The New Gods walk the Earth openly, performing great arts of wonder for their human worshippers, aiding and punishing the human race as they choose. Foundation of the Great College, eventually leading to the codification of Theological (faith-based) magic and Inherent (personnel) magic. The New Gods rule vast human territories. Objects of Power – containing fragments of godly essence – are created, seemingly at random.

1257-2301ADF:The Fading. For reasons unknown, the New Gods start withdrawing to their realm and having less to do with humanity. A handful of the Gods continue to interfere, but ‘Acts of God’ are far less common. Many Objects of Power slip into history and vanish. The Grand Circle asserts governing power over human magicians. As wars break out in the wake of the Gods departing the Earth, the Grand Circle starts attempting to moderate the violence, eventually creating the Empire of Reason to unite Earth.

2302ADF: The Great Cataclysm. In an attempt to seize the power of one of the New Gods, a team of Grand Circle magicians accidentally awaken – for microseconds – one of the Old Gods. The outburst of magical fury destroys the Great College and the core of the Empire of reason, creating the Chaos Fields; a region infested with wild and uncontrollable magic – and Horrors.

2302-2703ADF: The Archaic Age. The Empire of Reason falls apart in the wake of the Great Cataclysm. Much of the world returns to barbarity, ruled by tyrant kings intent on establishing their rule. The Grand Circle having been destroyed, a number of smaller magical groups are established scattered over the world. Magical learning effectively fragments, forcing magicians to rediscover old arts all over again.

2704-2759ADF: Empire Rising. The New God Vasilios, the Holy Tyrant, the Lord of Order, sends a series of visions to a young swineherd in one of the small kingdoms, eventually using him as a tool to re-establish a single orderly empire. Foundation of the Aquilian Ecclesia (Empire of Aquilium), which becomes a great power with alarming speed.

2760ADF: King Randolph I establishes the Dynasty of Gold, ruling the northern state of Irina. Foundation of Heartbeat, a city located in the Craggy Pass. Irina’s merchants rapidly develop the Islands into a thriving civilisation. A number of magicians establish a coven in Heartbeat.

2812-22ADF: The Great Rebellion. Inspired by a madman with visions of Pax (The Lord of Chaos and Disorder), the northern city-states – led by Heartbeat – rebel against Irina and successfully establish their independence. In the wake of military defeat, the Barons of Silver and Bronze force King Randolph III to accept that the Great Lords of Irina have the military power (when combined) to topple his throne. The Monarch isn’t exactly a figurehead, but without the consent of the Great Nobles, he cannot rule effectively.

2824ADF: The Republic. Heartbeat becomes governed by a semi-republican system. The Great Houses effectively share the position of elected Prince among themselves, but they cannot govern without the tacit permission of the wealthier middle classes. The northern cities unite as the Seven Sisters, establishment of the Trading Empire. Gunpowder enters general use, despite widespread opposition.

2945-56ADF: The Imperial Schism. Civil war breaks out in the Empire of Aquilium over precisely how the Empire should order itself. War won by the extremely orthodox side, establishing a theocratic state. Great Mandates published; the Imperator becomes the master of a strictly hierarchical system. Worship of Pax banned throughout the Empire. The Children of God find themselves turned into slaves by the Imperator. Science and learning suffers badly in the Empire, resulting in a ‘brain flight’ to the Seven Sisters and other neighbouring kingdoms.

2957-3145ADF: Expansion. The Empire starts to expand, exporting its theocratic systems alongside its holy warriors. Conquest of most nearby border states, with the exception of Glass Island, which is protected by a combination of treacherous waters and rumours of a deadly Object of Power. Development of military technology expands rapidly, early steam engines produced for the Empire. First primitive hot air balloons and airships developed.

3146ADF: Now. Seeking a match for his daughter who will not shatter the Kingdom, the King of Irina betroths his daughter to the Imperator. The Barons don’t like this and plot to kill her, knowing that it will shatter the Kingdom. In Heartbeat, the Prince of the city desperately attempts to prepare for the coming war against the Empire. And a sneak thief and an untested magician might be all that stands between the world and a final plunge into chaos…

The Gods of ‘Godkin’

17 Nov

[Partly developed by Alexis Harding]

The Gods

The exact origin of the Gods (Old and New) is lost somewhere in the time of legends. What can be said with reasonable certainty is that the Gods are mostly embodiments of concepts, which shapes them as they shape humanity. By now, most of the Gods have retreated to a higher plane, only interfering with humanity through dreams, visions and occasional intervention. Worship of Gods exists throughout the world, with several places dedicated to more than one God. According to legend, to speak the true name of a God is to draw his or her attention. Citizens will rarely swear by a particular God’s name unless desperately trying to convince their audience of their sincerity.

It is impossible to provide a precise list of Gods, but the following are the most important as of the present time.

Vasilios, also known as the Holy Tyrant and the Lord of Order, is the embodiment of reason, hierarchy and naked dominance. Everything must be in order, from the highest to the lowest, with rebellion and disobedience being sins against Him. When depicted by humans, he takes the form of a gigantic figure, glowing from within with a golden light, bearing a sword and a rod of iron, clad in flowing golden armour. His servants, the Leaders of Men, ape his form – they are winged, powerful giants of men in baroque gold armour, bearing swords that burn with gold fire. The Leaders of Men have the capability to control men’s minds with their words, projecting an aura of awe and terror that forces all nearby to submit in a mixture of awe and fear and adoration. Vasilios is generally regarded as the foremost among the Gods, although various sects oppose his position. He especially hates Pax, the god of rebellion.

According to legend, he once had an encounter with the Goddess Entyzla that ended badly for Vasilios. This explains the strictly patriarchal nature of religions founded around Vasilios, with women expected to know their place and stick to it. However, Vasilios fears The Crone and will generally avoid her gaze.

Pax, also known as the Discordance or the Huddled Mass, is the exact opposite of Vasilios. He is the embodiment of chaos and rebellion against order – any order. As one may expect, he is the patron of rebels and rebellions, of guerrillas and malcontents, of everybody who dislikes the well-established order. He takes gleeful joy at subverting and destroying the hierarchies that Vasilios creates, joy at tearing apart societies in revolutions, happiness in the executions of leaders. His divine servants are the Voices of Discord, immaterial spirits that drive men to upset and destroy established order, leading revolutions and civil wars. Taken to the extreme, Pax is just as dangerous as Vasilios, but he is also far less socially acceptable. Pax is never depicted by humans. No one wants to attract his attention.

Promache is fundamentally a planner. Vasilios’ divine consort in a thousand mythologies, she is a goddess of artifice – whether that artifice is physical, as in the creation of a weapon, or insubstantial, as in a stratagem or conspiracy. Her servants are the insubstantial Kyklopes, great forgers, manipulators of magic, and supreme planners. They inspire the creation of things great and terrible, and are known to make their presence known before major events begin. Her voice is feared, for she rarely if ever speaks, except to make great pronouncements or to set something grand into motion.

Belisarion is war. He is all of its facets, from the law of the jungle in which all struggle against all to the murder, from the great battles that decide the fate of nations to the petty skirmishes of gangs in the depths of great cities. He likes to take the form of a rider on a red horse, clad in bronze armour and bearing a great sword. He is life struggling against itself, from the microbial level up; he is the savage engine of war that daily claims thousands of lives. Warriors pray to him for success in battle, murder-cults venerate him as a god of killing, and he is worshipped in a thousand other ways every single day.

Null is one of the most feared of the gods. He is despair, he is terror, he is the ultimate realisation that all life leads inevitably to death. He is entropy, and he is the chill of the void. He is commonly depicted as a pale-skinned figure covered in a black shroud and bearing a great scythe of flowing darkness, for that is what his Advocates are. But in a manner unlike most of the other gods, Null particularly chooses to manifest himself in dreams and visions as a formless, empty darkness contained within black robes, his eyes glaring a sickly green. His divine servants are the Advocates, great figures that seem to impossibly float above the ground, pale skin clad in black robes, hooded like the Grim Reaper in so many legends, bearing scythes capable of cutting soul from body without causing physical harm, and with the power to unleash an entopic wind that reduces all flesh to dust.

Null is angered by the thought that a dead soul might be capable of returning to life, and thus hates the undead, those who reanimate corpses and all those charlatans that claim to be capable of true resurrection. He also loathes the idea of something not dying at its appointed (by himself) time, and thus sometimes will, in a rare show of mercy, allow a soul that dies too early to return to its body. However, this has a flip side – he loathes those who extend their lives unnaturally, such as the Stygioi that rule the Corpse-Kingdom of Erebus. However, he knows that eventually even they will pass, and thus, while he is greatly feared by them, rarely moves against them.

Entyzla is lust, the ultimate culmination of the animal instinct that seeks pleasure and avoids pain. But she is also a thousand other things as well. Drugs, music, anything that induces pleasure is in her domain. She most often appears in dreams and visions as a form tailored to the viewer’s desires – otherwise, what would be the fun? Her servants are similar, and have no names, either in the collective or singular sense – they are pleasure and lust and addiction incarnate.

The Crone is the embodiment of womanhood. According to legend, she is born every morning as a maiden, becomes a mother in the afternoon and grows into a wise old crone at night, before beginning the great cycle again. The Crone is the mistress of feminine magic, from the evil eye to out and out witchcraft, and she often acts to assist women who have been brutalised by men. Cults dedicated to The Crone are often banned, although they are feared as well. The Crone is rarely depicted by humans, but when she is she appears as a wise old woman, but with sharp dark eyes and a manipulative smile. She takes delight in manipulating sinners to their doom and her plots and schemes are greatly feared, even by her peers among the Gods. Her true name is never spoken aloud.

Malice is the one God who can justly be called evil, insofar as the term has any meaning to the Gods. Unlike Pax, Malice’s prime goal is to increase suffering among the human race and he will do whatever he can to ensure that suffering grows ever worse. He is the God of murderers, rapists, sinners and corrupted armies. His greatest joy is slowly warping cults venerating the other Gods into nightmarish horrors.


16 Nov

Chapter One

“Captain Larson,” Admiral Bainbridge said. “Please, be seated.”

“Thank you, sir,” Philip Larson said. “I would prefer to stand.”

“As you wish,” Bainbridge said. He folded a copy of a report – a paper copy, in a world where almost everything was done electronically – in front of him, and then looked up. His grey eyes met Philip’s blue eyes, a mocking reminder that Bainbridge had spent nearly seventy years in the Royal Avalon Navy. He’d commanded starships back before the Commonwealth had grown to encompass over twenty stars and planets. “The Board of Inquiry has returned its verdict on your conduct.”

He waited. Philip said nothing. In truth, he felt nothing. He’d known what would happen before he’d walked into the Admiral’s office. Rumour flew through the RAN far faster than travel in hyperspace. And Admiral Morrison was a dangerous enemy. His political friends and supporters wouldn’t allow his career to be blighted by a mere Captain, no matter that the mere Captain had saved lives and quite possibly Morrison’s reputation. There was no point in railing at the universe for being unfair – the universe was not fair; it simply was – but if there was any justice, he would have an opportunity to challenge Morrison to a duel.

“The Board finds you guilty of disobeying orders while under fire,” Bainbridge said. His every word rang through Philip’s head. He’d wanted to believe that it would never come to this, his career going down in flames. But Morrison would never have accepted that a mere Captain had saved his gold-braided ass. “Your defence, while respectable, did not satisfy them that you were justified in your actions. They did find you not guilty of predetermined mutiny, which would have put you in front of a firing squad.”

Philip’s lips twitched. Outside wartime, military justice was subject to civilian courts. The RAN could hardly afford to explain why they were court-martialling someone for saving a ship and its crew, not when the Assembly was already looking askance at the RAN’s budget for the next five years. In exchange for his life, Philip would be expected to leave the RAN quietly, without causing a fuss that would splatter muck on the Navy’s good name. It had already been put to him, privately. Leave quietly and we won’t be forced to put you on trial before the entire Commonwealth.

Bainbridge looked down, almost as if the elderly Admiral was ashamed to meet his gaze. “However, the Board found enough evidence to dismiss you from the service,” he said, quietly. “You will be dismissed from the Royal Avalon Navy today, unless you wish to appeal. The Board will hear your further defence if…”

Philip held up a hand. “I understand, sir,” he said. “I will not contest the dismissal.”

Was it relief, or shame, in the Admiral’s eyes? “You will be escorted out of the station and into civilian sections, then,” the Admiral said. “Under the circumstances, your travel and lodging will be handled by the RAN. It’s the least we can do.”

“Thank you, sir,” Philip said. The hell of it was that he was grateful. He’d had his food and lodging supplied by the Navy for so long that he felt adrift at even the promise of a return to civilian life. “I’m sure I will make something of my life.”

Admiral Bainbridge stood up and held out a hand. “I’ll be sorry to see you go, Philip,” he said. He sounded sincere; Philip was past caring. “You deserved better from the Navy…”

Philip felt a tidal wave of anger and resentment building up inside him. “The Navy is content to allow a well-connected imbecile to maintain a position that will ensure that he will get a lot of people killed because it would be politically inconvenient to plant his ass in front of a firing squad,” he said, sharply. “Exactly how do you expect to maintain the loyalty of your officers and men when everyone knows that advancement in the Navy is determined by birth, not by ability?”

“War is coming,” Admiral Bainbridge said, calmly. “You know that as well as I do; war is coming and the Navy has to be ready for it. We cannot allow a political dogfight, not now. I’m sorry about what happened and I will do what I can to make up for it, but I cannot change it.”

Philip stared at him for a long moment, balling his fists together as if he was on the verge of throwing a punch at the Admiral, and then turned and marched out of his office without saluting. Outside, a pair of Marines were waiting for him, his escort back into civilian life. Philip glared at them and then walked past, forcing the Marines to move sharply to keep up with him. It was easy to imagine that everyone he passed knew about his shame, that they were either commiserating with him or silently mocking him for not standing up to himself.

Twenty minutes after leaving the Admiral’s office, he was a civilian again.


“Captain Larson?”

Philip opened one eye and glared at the speaker. It was a feminine voice, one that seemed out of place in the Spacer’s Hive. But then, the Hive was the lowest of bars in the lowest part of the orbital station, haven to those who sought to drink away their sorrows. He rubbed his head as he slowly stood upright, cursing the growing headache. Just how much had he drunk over the past few hours?

“Yeah,” he grunted, finally. “Who wants to know?”

“You can call me Tanya,” the woman said. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for the last couple of hours.”

“I’m sorry to be so hard to find,” Philip said. He looked around the empty bar. “How long have I been here?”

“You got here forty minutes after you left the Navy Section,” Tanya said, with icy precision. “You ordered several bottles of Algerian Whiskey and proceeded to drink them, one after the other. A pair of half-drunken Marines objected to your rather tuneless singing and you proceeded to wipe the floor with him, while bellowing your outrage at how they could presume to dislike your version of a popular song. The bartender decided to leave you here to sleep it off. You’re lucky the Shore Patrol doesn’t come in here or you’d be spending the night in the brig.”

Philip shrugged. The Shore Patrol was made up of men who wanted to keep breathing and avoid violence, something that would have left them inclined not to go anywhere near the lower class of drinking establishments. The Spacer’s Hive had a fight almost every night; it was one of the reasons he’d picked for his drinking session. He didn’t normally drink, but it was a special occasion. He’d be lucky if he ever saw space again.

“Too bad,” he said, finally. Now he was awake, he was beginning to be aware of his body’s aches and pains. The two Marines had obviously handed out quite a beating. “What can I do for you?”

Tanya smiled. “I’d like to offer you a job,” she said. Philip stared at her. “What would you say to command of a pair of destroyers on anti-piracy patrol?”

For the first time, Philip took a good look at his companion. She was tall, with a youthful face and long white hair that ran down almost to her rear. It struck him that she had to be older than she looked, with the use of rejuvenation treatments to keep her figure and appearance, yet she seemed to have an air of naivety. She was quite attractive, he decided, but that could be part of her presentation. If she was serious about offering him a job, she would do everything she could to attract him. It hardly mattered. He liked her on sight.

“I’d say I need a sober-up,” Philip said. Tanya passed him an injector tab without comment. Philip checked it, pressed it against his neck and pushed the button, wincing as he felt the drug being injected into his bloodstream. Sober-ups were renowned for acting quickly, but they tended to have unpleasant side effects. Rumour had it that the manufacturers put them in deliberately in the hopes of convincing heavy drinkers to avoid using the tabs to keep themselves sober after a night on the town. “And probably a shower as well.”

Tanya smiled for the first time. “That may have to wait,” she said. “I took the precaution of bribing the bartender to leave us alone, but I don’t think the gratuity will run to a shower.”

“Probably not,” Philip agreed. He felt his hands shiver as the effects of the drug took hold, but ignored it. It was one of the milder side effects. “You mentioned something about a job?”

“I represent Asher Dale,” Tanya said. “You probably won’t have heard of it.”

Philip shook his head. He knew every planet in the Commonwealth – even Cadiz, which was technically not part of the Commonwealth – and a handful of outside worlds, but he’d never even heard of Asher Dale. It couldn’t be very important, certainly not important enough to attract the RAN’s attention. But if it was buying or building starships, it had to be important to someone

“Asher Dales has only been settled for forty years,” Tanya explained. “It was discovered fifty years ago along the Rim by a survey flight and settlement rights were purchased by the Dale Foundation. In life, Asher Dale was a great believer in the independent farmer and his foundation was intended to settle a world where farmers could be farmers, without the ill effects of civilisation. What little industry the system would develop would be owned by the state, rather than corporations, ensuring that business entities couldn’t develop the power they had back on Old Earth.”

“Or here,” Philip guessed. Avalon’s interstellar corporations controlled a reasonable percentage of the planet’s economy. Their controlling families were the system’s aristocracy. “It all sounds reasonable, but…”

“It may not work out in practice,” Tanya agreed. Philip nodded. Years ago, a group of Communists had founded a planet run according to the strict rules of Communism, which they’d called Marx. The experiment had ended in civil war, before they’d finally worked out a formula for stability, if not for progress. “We’re hoping to find out if it can work, but others are…impeding our development.”

Philip lifted an eyebrow. “Pirates?”

“Or people hired by outside powers,” Tanya said. “There were some legal shenanigans over settlement rights, ones that threatened to draw in other interstellar powers. They may be backing the pirate attacks.”

“I see,” Philip said. Back when the UN had been the only authority that operated on an interstellar scale, it had been easy to prove claim-jumping and to enforce the decision of the interstellar courts. But the Breakaway Wars had shattered the power of the UN and there was now a power vacuum, without any single authority capable of imposing its will on the rest. An outright attempt at claim-jumping might draw the wrath of the other powers, but it would be perfectly possible for someone to weasel their way into settlement rights by forcing other interested parties to withdraw. “And you can’t ask the Commonwealth for protection?”

“The Commonwealth wasn’t interested in assisting us unless we applied for membership,” Tanya admitted. “And our…government is reluctant to place control of our external relationships in other hands. Besides, the RAN is somewhat overstretched at the moment.”

Philip nodded, thoughtfully. Everyone knew that war with the Theocracy was looming; everyone, it seemed, apart from a few politicians in and out of uniform. The frontier was being ravaged by pirate attacks that were almost certainly being encouraged by the Theocracy, even if they weren’t being carried out by Theocracy warships. And the RAN, which was responsible for defending the Commonwealth’s shipping, needed to deploy more light units into the region, cutting down the forces that could be spared for other duties.

“So you want a Navy of your own,” Philip said, thoughtfully. “Do you have any idea of how much that would cost?”

“We’re looking to purchase two destroyers from the Commonwealth,” Tanya said. “The Falcone Corporation is prepared to sell us two ships and a limited number of supporting components, but we’re short of experienced personnel capable of manning and commanding a starship or two. My brief is to hire experienced personnel who would be interested in working for us, rather than remaining with the RAN.”

Philip quirked an eyebrow at her. “You do realise that I’ve just been dishonourably discharged from the Navy?”

“I do,” Tanya said. She hesitated, as if she was wondering just how much she could tell him. “I managed to get access to your service record. You were a good officer; you earned command as soon as you reached the necessary grade. And you spent two years in command of a destroyer similar to the ships we intend to purchase. You’re very likely the best we could hope to get.”

“True,” Philip agreed. He grinned at her expression. Unless he was very much mistaken – and he intended to check before he signed anything – Tanya’s space-faring experience was limited to civilian vessels, rather than warships. It was quite possible that Asher Dales was biting off much more than they could chew, but he knew that settler-types tended to be tough and reluctant to surrender to anyone. They would do whatever it took to crew and operate the ships. “And do you intend to hire me to help you choose the vessels as well?”

“If you accept the position,” Tanya said. Philip smiled. The vessels would be under his command, giving him a certain incentive to ensure that he chose carefully. He had no illusions about the state of the destroyers, even if they had been used by the Falcone Corporation; they wouldn’t have been allowed out of the Commonwealth if they were top-of-the-line models with the latest technology installed. On the other hand, many of the earlier types could be upgraded at a reasonable cost. “My…ah, my superiors have placed the matter into my hands.”

Philip studied her for a long moment. If she was telling the truth, it would be his only opportunity to return to command of a vessel in space. The RAN would be unlikely to permit him to reapply, at least until the war began. He could look for work in the commercial sector, but his experience would only be valuable if he joined a mercenary group and he had the dedicated military officer’s contempt for mercenaries. The thought made him smile. If he accepted the position, what else would he be, but a mercenary? At least he would be fighting for a better cause than the biggest wallet in the system.

“It sounds like fun,” he said, finally. “What do I do to accept the position?”

“Well, for a start we get out of this dingy bar,” Tanya said. “You have a shower, get changed and examine my documents. If you are willing to sign on, we can go see the ships this afternoon and then you can advise me on recruiting a crew and supplies…”

Philip nodded as he pulled himself to his feet. “Very well,” he said. He’d been booked into temporary accommodation along the station’s ring. It wasn’t much, but at least it had a shower. “Let’s get out of this dingy bar.”


Half an hour later, after a shower, a shave and a change of clothes, Philip felt a great deal more human. His apartment wasn’t really much more than a single room with attached washroom, but Tanya had already taken over the table and spread out her documents for him to inspect. He tried to ignore her presence as he skimmed through them, noting that they seemed to have been written by someone with little patience for legal niceties. If he accepted the position, he was obliged to help chose the starships and command them for at least five years, barring serious injury or breech of contract. The pay wasn’t equal to a RAN Commodore – which would be the closest counterpart to his position – but there was a promise of fifty square miles of land on Asher Dale. If he wanted to retire, or sell the land to other developers, he would be assured of a nest egg for life.

He studied the final document, thinking hard. It had been fairly easy to look up the RAN’s database on Asher Dale – his access still worked, surprisingly – and there had been little to attract the kind of development the planet needed, even though they didn’t want it. Pirate attacks in the sector had been going up, forcing insurance rates to rise ever higher, while there was no incentive for any of the galactic powers to mount regular patrols of the region. No wonder that they were looking into finding a handful of ships of their own.

On the other hand, there was something odd about the whole deal. Asher Dales might have more money than the average onlooker would realise, but paying for ships and regular maintenance – and crews – would be hideously expensive. It made him wonder if Naval Intelligence or one of the other intelligence agencies had a hand in it somewhere, clearing permission to export warships out of the Commonwealth. Who knew what good it might do to have influence with Asher Dale in the future? The projected rate of human expansion might make the planet very important in the next few hundred years.

But it was his only chance to return to space. And he had to admit that he was excited about it, almost as excited as he’d been the day he first set foot on his first command. It would be one hell of a challenge; buying the ships, finding the right crewmen and heading out to safeguard a planet against outside attack. It was a good cause.

“Very well,” he said. “Where do I sign?”

“Here,” Tanya said, passing him one of the sheets of paper. “And now can we go investigate the ships?”

“In a minute,” Philip said. “I have to make a call first.”

The Royal Sorceress–Snippet One

15 Nov

Chapter One

“Are you paying attention to me?”

Lady Gwendolyn Crichton looked up at her tutor, deliberately allowing a languid expression to cross her face. Henry Morrison was the latest of the tutors her mother had selected for her, a pimply-faced youth who had won a scholarship to Oxford – a scholarship that had paid for lessons and lodging, but very little else. His desperation to make ends meet – and to afford to match the lifestyle of his richer contemporaries – had ensured that he’d accepted the position without asking too many questions. He was the seventeenth tutor Gwen had endured since coming into her powers and, if she had anything to say about it, he wouldn’t be the last.

“I am listening carefully,” she assured him, in the airy voice that irritated her father and drove her mother into fits of rage. Poor Morrison was no match for her. “Pray, continue. I am agog.”

Morrison gave her a long look and then turned back to his book. Gwen sighed inwardly. It was a shame he wasn’t more handsome, or she would have flirted with him in the certain knowledge that it would have impelled her mother to dismiss him at once. But there were some things she couldn’t bring herself to do, even if the rewards seemed likely to be vast. She would just have to find another way of convincing her mother to find another tutor. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all.

“As we covered yesterday,” Morrison said, “the American rebels made a serious tactical error when they allowed their ragtag army to be cornered near New York. They were unaware of the Talkers assigned to General Howe’s army, which allowed him to coordinate his activities on a scale the Americans could not begin to comprehend. The traitor Washington’s army was trapped and forced to surrender, bringing the period of outright warfare in the Americas to an end.”

Gwen smiled and pretended to listen. There was only one subject she wanted to study and Morrison, whatever his other qualities, was not permitted to teach it. Indeed, as far as she could tell, he had no magic whatsoever. He certainly didn’t know much about the history of magic, or how it had flourished since the legendary Professor Cavendish had first codified its principles and put it to work in the service of George III. Women, as a general rule, were not expected to study magic, let alone apply it. As the eldest daughter of Lord Rudolph, Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Gwen’s course had been set a long time before she’d grown into maturity. She would learn how to be a respectable aristocratic housewife, marry a man her parents chose for her and bear his children. No one had anticipated that Gwen would develop magic, or that the rumours surrounding her would make it impossible to find a proper suitor. At seventeen years old, she knew that she should already be married.

She ran a hand through her long golden hair, her lips thinning into a frown. She didn’t want a husband, or a family; she wanted to learn about magic. But it was not a career path for a respectable young woman, or so she had been told. There was no way that her parents would allow her to set out on her own path. They wanted her to serve them by marrying someone who could help her father’s career, or – failing that – to die an old maid. Gwen couldn’t expect anything better from life, magic or no magic. For a highly intelligent young woman, it promised to be a fate worse than death.

Morrison cleared his throat again. “Please pay attention to me, Lady Gwen,” he said. “I still have to cover the aftermath of the rebellion in the colonies.”

“I am paying attention to you,” Gwen said. She gave him a smile that should have chilled his blood. “You’re very…interesting to watch.”

“I just said that you had a leg growing out of your chest,” Morrison said, with some irritation.

“I thought you were being metaphorical,” Gwen said. Her smile widened, to the point where Morrison looked away, unable to meet her gaze. There was a reason Gwen hadn’t been allowed to go to school, even the expensive finishing schools that turned young ladies brains into mush. Her father knew better than to turn her loose on other young ladies, or tutors who couldn’t devote all of their time to her. “It was an interesting parable to the case of the Americans…”

“It was not,” Morrison said, hotly. He was only a year or two older than her, but he was already schooled in not allowing his betters to irritate him. It was just a shame that he hadn’t met anyone like Gwen before. “You’re not paying attention to me.”

Gwen sighed inwardly and drew on her powers. Her skin seemed to glow with bright light, before flames appeared around her, illuminating her body. Morrison stumbled backwards in shock, one hand reaching for the decanter of water before he caught himself. To someone utterly unfamiliar with magic, it would have looked if Gwen had spontaneously burst into flames. The heat would scorch the chair, the table and Morrison himself if he got too close.

He stared at her for a long moment, and then almost ran out of the door. Gwen watched him go, slowly pulling the magic back inside herself. It wasn’t his fault, she told herself, even though part of her felt a guilty thrill at how she’d scared him half to death. He was just her mother’s tool in the endless battle to turn Gwen into a proper young lady, one who could make her mother proud. But a life spent as the wife and helpmeet of a suitably aristocratic young man was Gwen’s worst nightmare.

She pulled herself to her feet and headed over to the desk. Morrison had left his books behind him and she opened one of them at random. At least he hadn’t been that bad a history teacher. History was also not a subject for young ladies, but her mother had reluctantly agreed to allow her to study it in exchange for an hour’s practice with the harp every day. Music was the thing in High Society these days and a young woman who could play was assured of finding a husband, or so Lady Mary believed. Gwen doubted that anyone could play the harp well enough for a prospective husband to overlook Gwen’s other failings.

The book was written in dull tones, somehow sucking the excitement out of the Anglo-Spanish War of 1799, yet Gwen was midway through a description of the Battle of Cuba when the door burst open and Lady Mary stormed into the room. Gwen’s mother had the same blonde hair as her daughter, but where Gwen was slim her mother was alarmingly fat and energetic. Lady Mary had always said that she’d married beneath herself, even if Lord Rudolph had been an up and coming politician in government. The Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs wasn’t exactly a powerless post.

“Gwen,” her mother snapped. “What did you do to poor Henry?”

Gwen sighed inwardly. Her mother always bought out the worst in her. “I was bored, mother,” she said, sardonically. “His lessons were driving me insane.”

“And you will drive me insane,” her mother snapped back at her. “How do you think you will get a good husband if you keep doing…that?”

“Most of the men you have introduced me to are cads of the first order,” Gwen said, imitating the tone her brother had used during his teenage years. Like most aristocratic men, he’d spent them gambling, drinking and whoring – although Gwen wasn’t supposed to know about the whoring. At least her brother knew better than to try to lord it over her, no matter what the Church said about the duties of a sister to a brother. “I would sooner marry a muckraker than any of those weak-chinned vagabonds with titles.”

Her mother purpled. “And you’d be lucky if you married anyone,” she said, tartly. “It is not right, in a respectable society, for a woman to practice magic.”

Gwen’s eyes flashed and she felt the familiar pain behind her eyes, the sense that her magic was flaring up and demanding an outlet. She clamped down on it hard. Her father might be able to tolerate her scaring the staff, but losing control and harming – or killing – her mother would be disastrous. His reputation would be utterly destroyed. If she’d had proper training, perhaps it would be easier to control her magic. Young male magicians didn’t burn down houses by accident; they learned how to do it on purpose.

“I have no wish, my darling mother, to marry anyone,” she said, flatly. “You may as well stop trying to shove me into the arms of any passing nobleman. I will not marry him.”

Lady Mary glared down at her daughter. “You seem to be unaware of your place in society,” she said. “You were born into great wealth and power. Your position means…”

“That I have to do what I am told,” Gwen said, dryly. Her mother had said the same thing almost every day, ever since the day Gwen’s magic had first flared to life. She’d been nine years old at the time, verging on womanhood. Her life had turned upside down that day and would never be the same again. “You would prefer me to be like Lady Cecelia?”

“She does do honour to her parents,” Lady Mary pointed out.

“Cecelia is the most boring person in the world,” Gwen said. “All she talks about are horses and men, mainly the horses. Her parents have bought her over a hundred horses and a small staff to take care of them. And she can talk about nothing else!”

Her mother scowled. “It is more womanlike to care about horses than…”

There was a knock on the door and Lady Mary stopped in mid-sentence. The door opened, revealing a maid, one of the younger ones. Like most of the servants in Crichton House, she had nowhere else to go. Gwen’s reputation drove away servants who found employment elsewhere – but then, what could one expect from the lower classes? They expected her to wear black and cackle to herself while drowning eggshells in a caldron, or having midnight orgies with the devil and his servants. In some ways, Gwen envied the servants. They might face Lady Mary’s temper or the back of her hand, if they displeased her, but at least they weren’t suffocated under her towering ambitions.

“Begging your pardon, Lady Mary, Lady Gwen, but Lord Randolph requests the pleasure of Lady Mary’s company in his study,” the maid said. She was short, with curly brown hair and eyes that refused to look up from the ground. Gwen terrified her. “He said it was urgent.”

“You’ve probably upset Henry so much he’s given in his notice,” Lady Mary said. Her voice could have cut through glass. “Go see what your father wants, child. I’ll start looking for a new tutor.”

Gwen nodded and left the room, heading down the long corridor to her father’s side of the house. She rarely entered his study; if only because he flew into a rage at the slightest hint that anyone had tampered with his papers. Gwen had spent many happy hours in the library as a child, but now that she wanted more advanced books to read – particularly books on magic – her father had refused to buy them for her. And, as a woman, she wasn’t allowed any resources of her own. Whatever she inherited from her parents would go to her husband.

She stopped outside her father’s door and hesitated. Her father was a gentle man, outside his work, but she knew that he was growing increasingly exasperated with her. God alone knew what he would say; he might even decide to marry her off to someone, with or without her consent. Or perhaps he would do worse, if there was anything worse. Shaking her head, she lifted her hand and knocked twice on the hard wooden door. A moment later, her father’s voice bellowed for her to come in.

Her father’s study was a cosy room with a roaring fire, several shelves of books and a number of comfortable chairs. He wasn’t alone, she realised in shock, as she recognised Lord Mycroft, one of her father’s peers at work. He was an immensely fat man with sharp, intelligent eyes, wearing a suit that had to be specially made for him. Beside him, another man sat, wearing a black cape that covered his suit and holding a top hat in one hand. He looked up at her as Gwen hastily bobbled a curtsey to the men and his blue eyes seemed to peer right into her very soul. His pinched face and greying hair suggested that he was old enough to be her grandfather; for a moment, Gwen wondered if she was about to be introduced to her new husband. The thought was absurd, she told herself firmly. Her father wouldn’t have invited Lord Mycroft to anything that wasn’t strictly government-related. It was strange enough seeing him outside his normal routine of office, his club and home.

Lord Randolph was as thin as his wife was fat, a hard-worker who had made himself rich and earned a peerage through careful speculation in the British shipping industry. Her father had pioneered the use of airships to connect Britain with Europe, Russia and even the Ottoman Empire, a trade that had brought the British Empire closer together. Lady Mary had the blood to ensure that her son rose to the very highest levels of society. It had been a match made in heaven.

“Gwen,” her father said. He didn’t seem annoyed with her, which suggested that Morrison hadn’t managed to complain to her father or hand in his notice. Perhaps he was just having a cup of tea with the cook. Tea was good to settle one’s nerves. “You know Lord Mycroft, of course” – Gwen nodded – “and this is Master Thomas, the Royal Sorcerer.”

Gwen stared at him. She had had no formal training in magic, and she’d had to learn by herself, but even she had heard of the Royal Sorcerer. The post belonged to the strongest magician of unimpeachable loyalty to the Crown and the British Empire. Only two magicians had ever held the post, if she recalled correctly. They’d both been men, of course.

“Charmed,” Master Thomas said. He took Gwen’s hand – Gwen fancied there was a tingle of magic as his hand touched hers – and raised it to his lips, kissing the air just above her bare skin. “I have wanted to meet you for quite some time.”

“Thank you, sir,” Gwen stumbled. She rarely met anyone who had impressed her on first glance, even King George IV. The Royal Sorcerer had wanted to meet her? He could have visited at any time and Lady Mary would have been more than happy to play chaperone. “The pleasure is mine.”

Lord Mycroft cleared his throat loudly. “The Empire has something of a problem, Lady Gwen,” he said. His voice was sharp, as penetrating as his blue eyes. Lord Mycroft was a genius, a man who had made his own place in government. He had no discernable vices, or indeed any interests at all outside making the government run smoothly. “Our monopoly on magic has slipped over the past two decades.”

Gwen nodded, without speaking. The French and Spanish had originally persecuted the magicians who had appeared within their borders, even though magic had given the British Empire some of its most stunning victories. It was too much to hope that the Kings and Emperors of Europe – or Russia, or the Ottomans – would not eventually accept and even condone magic practiced in their name. Britain might have ruled a vast empire, but magicians seemed to appear almost at random. A slip in the magical monopoly would be disastrous. At the very least, any war with the French or Spanish would be fought on even terms.

“It was originally hoped that a new Master Magician would appear who could take Master Thomas’s place when he retired,” Lord Mycroft continued. “At first, we had high hopes for one young magician who entered the service of the Crown, but matters came to a bad end. Finding people with the required…qualifications is not easy, and of course not all of them are suitable for the most sensitive post in the country. Master Thomas has convinced us that we must look outside the traditional boundaries for recruitment.”

“Lady Gwen,” Master Thomas said. “We first became aware of your magic during that…unfortunate incident when you were barely nine years old. Your parents were contacted by the Royal College and asked to keep an eye on any further development of magical potential. It was seriously considered to offer you a chance to train with us, but various other events prevented us from making a formal offer until now.”

His sharp eyes met hers. “I need an apprentice,” he said, flatly. “Would you be interested in serving your country as the next Royal Sorcerer?”

“Royal Sorceress,” Lord Mycroft corrected.

“I…” Gwen broke off, astonished. She hadn’t dared hope that they would make an offer of training, let alone offer her a post in government. If she succeeded Master Thomas, she would be the most powerful woman in Britain since Elizabeth I. And there had been people who had whispered that Queen Elizabeth had been a witch, although they hadn’t dared whisper it very loudly. “I would be honoured.”

Automatically, she glanced over at her father. Lord Rudolph wouldn’t like the idea, she was sure, but if Lord Mycroft was involved then the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, would have a hand in it somewhere. If he refused to allow Gwen to apprentice herself to the Royal Sorcerer, his career would hit a brick wall and he knew it. Lady Mary would not be charmed with the idea of her daughter leaving home as an apprentice, rather than a wife, but what could she do?

“I have provisionally granted my consent,” her father said. His voice was under tight control, but Gwen was sure that she detected a hint of…concern. Lady Mary was not going to like it, not even slightly. On the other hand, Gwen would be mixing with blue-blooded aristocratic magicians. She might find a much better match among their set. “Should you refuse, of course…?”

Gwen smiled. Her father loved her, despite everything. He hadn’t even taken a cane or his belt to her when she sent tutor after tutor fleeing in horror. And he wouldn’t have allowed Lady Mary to marry her off to a man she detested.

“I won’t lie to you, Lady Gwen,” Master Thomas said, quietly. “The position is difficult and very dangerous. You will be pressed to the limit; you’ll have to learn magic quicker than anyone else your age. We wouldn’t offer you the chance to learn if we didn’t think that you were capable of it, but we will understand if you reject the offer.”

Gwen didn’t hesitate. “I would be honoured,” she said. It was everything she had ever dared to dream of, when she allowed herself to consider a life without her social obligations. “Thank you, sir, thank you.”

She found herself dancing out of the room, leaving the adults behind to talk through the details of her apprenticeship. Her mother was waiting outside, looking angry enough to curdle milk. Perhaps she had some way of listening to her father’s meetings, or perhaps she had merely heard from the Butler who had come to visit.

Gwen jumped in before her mother could say anything. “Guess what, mother,” she said. “I’m going to be the Royal Sorceress!”

Her mother fainted dead away.

The World of the Royal Sorceress

12 Nov

The World of the Royal Sorceress

Magic and its Institutions

During the same winter that saw General Wolfe’s capture of Quebec (and his own fall in the battle) Professor Kaufman, a Prussian émigré living in England, finally managed to develop proof of the existence of magic. Kaufman, who had been interested in the supernatural from childhood, eventually deduced that magicians developed specific talents, rather than general-purpose magic, talents that accounted for most of the garbled legends about witchcraft and magic. He was fortunate enough to be able to present the proof to Pitt the Elder, who permitted the funding of a government-sponsored research institute into magic and how it could be made to serve the British Crown. Lord Bute, who became Prime Minister in the wake of Pitt’s fall from glory, continued to fund the school. By then, it had shown remarkable results.

The first magicians to enter service with the British Crown were mainly Seers and Talkers. They proved to be enough to allow the unification of the British Empire to a degree unimaginable to anyone prior to the discovery of magic. Where it had once taken months to get a message from Britain to North America, or to the expanding Empire in India, it now took seconds. This proved to be a decisive advantage when relations between Britain and the American colonists deteriorated down into civil war, with forces flooding in from Britain to suppress the rebellious Americans. Able to coordinate their forces on a scale the Americans simply could not match, the British Army was able to cut off and trap General Washington’s army at New York. Although the Continental Congress continued to issue bulletins and struggle to raise military forces throughout the remainder of the year, they proved to be unsuccessful in maintaining the war. A combination of localised amnesty for all, but the most implicated Americans – and British willingness to look the other way on expansion into the American interior – eventually succeeded in ending the revolution.

By then, a number of other talents had become manifest within the magical population, creating a series of problems for the British Government. Worse, the French and Russian governments (which had not believed the reports at first) had started their own programs to develop magical forces – despite heavy opposition from the Church, which regarded magic as a sign of demonic influence. The British Government eventually passed the Magical Power Act, which provided the foundation for laws designed to control and regulate magicians. Specifically, the Act insisted that all magicians register with the government and provided for them to serve the Crown in times of trouble. Magicians with magical powers too dangerous to be trusted – necromancy, mainly – were summarily sentenced to execution.

Having designed the law, the British Government created an institution to enforce its dictates. The Royal Sorcerers Corps served as the principle magical arm of the British Government. It was headed by the Royal Sorcerer. In order to study magic and perhaps refine it, there was the Royal College of Sorcery. All young magicians were supposed to attend the College, although that did not prove possible. In particular, magicians from lower class backgrounds were often forbidden to use their powers altogether, or executed by the Corps. Although it was never officially acknowledged, the Corps also effectively kidnapped magical children from the lower classes and arranged for them to be fostered with parents from more respectable backgrounds.

Outside the official institutions, there is a thriving underground of magicians who tend to avoid official notice as much as possible. Some of them, allied with the criminal or rebel element, cause considerable problems for the Royal Sorcerers Corps.

Magic is a talent – you either have it or you don’t. Magic is energy and a person’s capability to use magic often depends on how much energy they have at their disposal. This tends to mean that richer magicians tend to be better at magic than poorer magicians – and some poor magicians with very low-energy talents tend not to realise that they’re using magic. Magic talents are subdivided into a number of categories.

Infusers generate magic which they can then infuse into objects. This allows them to create magical artefacts (including some that can duplicate the powers of other magicians), weapons and potions that help heal the sick. Infuser magic requires careful training and development to ensure that the talent is not wasted.

Blazers manipulate magical energy directly, allowing them to throw fireballs, summon lightning and other such talents. Their magic comes easily once they realise that they can use it, but it tends to be very energy-intensive and Blazers run out of power quickly. They are often hired as shock troopers in armies.

Charmers can manipulate minds, depending on the target’s strength of will. Even a weak Charmer is capable of subtle manipulation, while a strong Charmer can literally take control of an entire army, or enslave a person beyond hope of salvation. Charm is a very subtle magic, with Charmers sometimes unaware of their own nature and never realising that they’re using magic to get their way. Infusers can create Devices that provide some protection against Charm. Oddly, a weaker (and unknowing) Charmer can manipulate even when denied access to their powers.

Changers can manipulate the structure of matter itself. They can create gold from lead, given enough talent and skill, although only the most capable of Changers can create something that won’t rapidly decay (owing to instability, something that is recognised, but not understood). More dangerously, Changers can literally transfigure a person into an animal, something often used as punishment in some parts of the world.

Talkers can talk telepathically to other Talkers instantly, no matter where they are in the world. The more skilled Talkers can ensure that a conversation remains private; weaker ones know that their messages might be overheard by another Talker. A very strong Talker can transmit to a non-magician or even read minds. Talents of such power are very rare and tend to keep their abilities to themselves.

Seers are capable of remote viewing; they can watch almost any location on the planet and spy on its occupants. Weaker Seers tend to become voyeurs; the stronger ones tend to get tapped as spies for the aristocracy or commercial interests. Infusers can create locations that cannot be Seen, but this has obvious limitations.

Movers can manipulate objects with the power of their minds. The more powerful ones can actually fly (more like levitation), allowing them to reach hidden locations or escape enemies.

Weres can transform from human form to animal form (a werewolf would become a wolf, not any other animal). Weres pay for their powers through often taking on the savage nature of their alternate form, sometimes losing control and lashing out at anyone close enough to be considered a threat.

Sensors can touch an object or person, receiving an intuitive flash of awareness – or, more rarely, a glimpse of their possible future or futures. A flash of a person’s future can be misleading, or simply doesn’t come to pass because of a warning from the Sensor. Sensors are rare; most of them go mad before they learn how to control their powers. Those that survive tend to work as counter-intelligence operatives as it is very hard to lie to a Sensor.

Necromancers have power over the dead. Some can raise ghosts to answer questions, others can create zombies. Necromancy is the most dangerous power as some of the walking dead can escape their master and start attacking innocent civilians, creating a nest of zombies that pose a threat to the entire world. Some countries have laws permitting necromancers to be executed on sight, although several states prefer to use necromancers as intelligence operatives.

Finally, Masters. Masters share all of the Talents to some degree, but they tend to lack the fine control of single-talented magicians. Masters are rare; officially, the Royal Sorcerer always has to be a Master. Their ability to combine the different talents makes them the most dangerous class of magician.