<![CDATA[House Fish Balloon - HFB Tales Archive]]>Thu, 02 May 2024 11:22:56 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Ep 12 // A New Lead]]>Thu, 01 Sep 2022 11:11:03 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/ep-12-a-new-lead
I’d been in bad spots before, so this was nothing new. You could argue that I’d put myself in this situation, but to that I say I have plenty of experience there as well. No, this one I put the blame on me and me alone. Well, the city-dwellers might put some blame on Standard Mana, and normally I’d disagree with them, bunch of anarchists that don’t believe you should have to work for a coin. In this case they may have a bit of a point. The company did build this encampment in the frigid north, too far from civilization for us to escape without their leave, but they give us more food and medicine than we rightfully deserve. I mean, what do we do all day? Drill mana out of the ground? Hardly a job worth much more than bare necessities. It’d be nice if they supplied us with blankets, though… or fresh vegetables, fruit… but no. Luxuries should be paid for with money you earn, not begged off those who had the tenacity to earn their way themselves. Bunch of city-dwelling anarchists putting socialist fantasies in my head just when I get a little hungry and cold. Long live Standard Mana, that’s what I say. My choices are my own, and I’m thankful they’d offer someone like me a job in the first place.

~The final page of the journal of a Standard Mana contractor at the Primeria Bay Company Town, written the day before the plant’s demise.

            “A bit of him will remain within us always.”

            I didn’t expect to be greeted with such dead stares at the remark. The man was a corpse, after all. Don’t be offended on his behalf. For context, the ash lining the cabinets, the walls, the desk, the very ash that I’d held in my hand and blown into the air, the ash we breathed and coughed before finding the shadow, well… that ash was the corpse.

            “That’s cold, Inspector.”

            “It is cold, but that’s got nothing to do with him.”

            We were at the Standard Mana Company Town located on the northernmost curve of Primeria Bay, that body of water which prevents idle Saloondrians from walking into the clutches of our neutral neighbor, the island nation of Primeria. Though, to correct myself, at this time of year it may well be possible to cross the water in certain areas because of the ice.

            The corpse, as I’ve called it, was little more than a shadow painted on the wall behind the desk. The foreman had been blasted with such an extreme spell that his skin, flesh, all but blackened bones had been vaporized and now caked the walls in eerie gray. I lifted one of the charred fingers and it came off in my hand, not so much snapped as melted off of the hand and wrist it had formerly belonged. I squeezed it and the finger shed like charcoal, which it well might have been closer to than bone.

            “This Connor’s doing?” one of the deputies asked.

            “No,” I asserted. “Not unless he got a very serious upgrade.”

            Connor was the one we’d been tracking. A renegade, fueled by revenge. We hadn’t known why this Standard Mana outpost was his next destination, but history had told us it couldn’t be anything good. One of these days we would bring him to justice. But now, witnessing this… perhaps his intentions here were not so far aligned with ours after all. Connor Copperhead was an angry, vengeful spirit, but so far as I have been able to tell, not evil. This prey he tracks may well be of greater interest to us.

            “And quite the upgrade it would be,” a gruff voice echoed from the hallway behind us.
            The deputies materialized their weapons from their trickdraw gloves. I sensed their fear, and shared it, I must admit.

            “Please, no guns, I’m unarmed,” the figure said, stepping into the flickering light of the room. “Well, singularly armed.”

            “Hands in the air!” one of the deputies cried out sheepishly.
            “Pensive,” Connor complimented him. “And there they remain, unless your captain has a moment to hear me out?"

            “He’s gearing to kill us all,” another deputy yelled. “His arm can shoot fire!”
            “It can’t do that,” Connor sighed.
            “He’s a vigilante, Captain,” the deputy reminded desperately.
            “Only because the law refuses to do what it must,” Connor retorted.
            “We can’t trust him,” I agreed. “But we can’t refuse an anonymous tip, either, if one presents itself.”

            “Your captain is wise. If she’s the future of your department, vigilantism may go out of fashion. I won’t get my hopes up, though.”

            “The tip, Connor. And be gone.”

            “Star Gazer Knights.”

            The room was quiet now. The deputies had run out of quips, it seemed.

            “There’s no such—”

            “Drop the act, Captain, and investigate your clues. I can’t say how they’ve returned, or yet what they’re capable of, but the stench of this place is unforgivablely their doing. You haven’t had a look around yet, have you? Started with the foreman’s office, of course. Lapdogs go straight to the heels of their masters. I’ve my own beef with Standard Mana, but I’ve no quarrel with the sad fools who work these wells. Take a look around for yourselves. There are no corpses, you hear me? There are no corpses. They’ve stolen their flesh. I may be a monster in your eyes, in all of your eyes. But what do monsters fear, I ask you this? What do monsters fear enough that they climb their way back into the light to warn their hunters? The Star Gazer Knights, Captain. The Start Gazer Knights.”

            Not one of us dared speak. If the cult was climbing out of the shadows, and if it was capable of this, if what Connor said was true of the other thousand inhabitants of this mana well… There were no words worth speaking.

            Rumor can not be trusted at face value, but it can be dissected for clues. The rumor on the Knights had been growing in the last few months. Armored civilians in Hatbrim, Barrelmouth, making futile attacks on government buildings, large company offices, mana refineries. At first, these attacks seemed random, the acts of crazy individuals. But gossipers gossip, and conspiracists began to draw their connections. Because while none of the attacks were particularly successful, they had one important thing in common. The attacks were done with magic, but not commoner magic, manaless magic, old magic. The kind of magic that brings floodgates down. The kind of magic that sows Plague.

            And one name began to surface. The Star Gazer Knights. We laughed. Power had not been drawn from the moon and stars for some dozen generations. And now, a ragtag cult of armored fanatics… it had been difficult to take the rumors more seriously than the joke they were most likely to be. That was before the attack.

            Standard Mana, the most powerful company in Saloondria, this fact can not be denied, whose company office in Barrelmouth is less penetrable than Hatbrim Keep, a right fortress overlooking the Barrelmouth undercity… ransacked as if it were a farmer’s hut. The first son of the Dragon Baron stolen under the guard of fifty battlemages, dismembered and returned the following day to the smoldering remains of the Baron’s company mansion…

            “I can tell you one more thing,” Connor said eventually, “because I got here as the barracks was still burning their last. I managed to get the information you’ll be too late to find. Their eyes are set on another company sympathizer. The Star Gazer Knights are coming to Trickdraw Junction.”

            We must have looked a motley crew. Clueless investigators, and the man outside the law, the man we investigated, staring blankly at one another, completely silent as the snow began to fall outside. There would be no arrests this morning. There would be a silent ride back to where we had come, as fast as we could manage. To warn of the coming of a thing that could not be prevented. But until that time, we would silently stare at one another in this room, contemplating the absurdity, the fantasy, the morality of it all. I knew what the sheriff would say, but he always strayed toward law over justice. A good man, but just that. I knew what he would demand of us. That we bring the renegade in, no matter the cost. That we disregard his lies, his fairytales, his deceptions. I did not look forward to facing the sheriff.

            “A single man doing what he believes is necessary to preserve a bit of the good in this world, or a cult of sociopaths remaking the world into their own image.”

            I’m not sure if it was Connor who said that before he disappeared into the morning snowfall, or if I had, to justify what I was going to do next. To justify what I had already done.
<![CDATA[Ep 11// The Battle for Trickdraw Junction (Finale Part 1)]]>Wed, 06 Jul 2022 14:13:59 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/the-battle-for-trickdraw-junctionSaloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Amidst the Chaos by Licheng Mai
On the day the temple rises from the earth, let the Key guide you into the catacombs.

The light was climbing over the hills of Trickdraw Junction, trickling down into the town as a middle-aged wizard stood in the street outside his potion shop and sipped his morning tea. Felix loved to start the day with tea, starting the day with tea meant he was not starting it with famine, murder, earthquakes, or demons. Such was the life of Felix R. Brewell the Prophetic, who would rather have been anything but Prophetic, but did as the universe commanded of him.

The townsfolk were beginning to stir. The shops around him were opening up, one by one. Earlier risers getting a head start on their daily errands. Felix was content to watch them, and to sip his tea. He turned to the east, enjoying the dark mountain landscape before the sunlight would inevitably scorch the cool earth to render it hot and miserable. Something glinted, flashing brightly far away. Felix instinctively raised a hand to his eye. When he lowered it, the mountain had transformed. Two glowing eyes had taken the place of the flash, glowing like embers.

Before Felix could register what had happened, his store exploded behind him. Physically, catastrophically, the west side of his entire building ceased to exist in a magnificent puff of purple smoke engulfing the alleyway.

“For the sake of the Plague,” he exclaimed, spinning to witness the destruction, his tea spilling out of his tiny mug onto the dusty road beneath his feet.
A shadow of deeper purple moved within the magenta fog. A figure, rummaging with precision and expertise. A moment later, it was gone. The fog began to fade. The crime was already completed.

“No, no, no!” Felix’s teacup fell to the ground, forgotten. “Not again, not already.”

He threw his hands up angrily, demanding an answer from the sky.

“Is it because of the tea?”

“Mr. Brewell, sir, are you all right?” A neighbor materialized behind him, one of the sons of someone he had never bothered to make conversation with.

“Yes, yes, fine. Get out of here while you can.”

Felix pushed him aside and entered what remained of his potion shop. The west side wall was indeed missing, but the other three remained largely intact. Felix shrugged. He could make do with that.

“What happened?” The younger man exclaimed, as if not yet noticing until that very moment the fresh destruction of his establishment.

“Stay out of the way,” Felix commanded, pulling bottles from behind the now heavily damaged bar.

“Your potion shop, Mr. Brewell, your poor shop.”

Felix didn’t grace this with a response, just lifted a large scrying bowl up onto the table and uncorking a new bottle of bright blue mana.

“Are you going to fix the hole?”

“I’m going to drink,” Felix hissed, and did so, deeply from the pure mana. He hated days that started like this.

“There must be some way to fix this, some spell you have. You’re a powerful wizard, right?”

“Do I look like a carpenter? I’m a prophet.”

“What are you going to do, then?”


Felix dumped the remaining third of the bottle into the scrying bowl. He waved a hand and disturbing images began floating to the surface. Ships riding on green mist, lighting exploding from the cannons of the Junction, a red figure emerging from the east, a wizard riding a pegasus into the jaws of a demon, glowing ember eyes.

Felix splashed the water angrily.

“What was that?” the local asked, warier than he had been.

“Stuff I already knew. Why me? Why me?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Brewell.”

“You shouldn’t be here,” Felix said. “None of you should be. Pack your belongings. Leave this town. Immediately. Tell everyone.”

The light in the room dimmed as a figure entered the doorway.

“You’re late,” Felix grumbled, not even looking up.

“I was guided here by the stars,” a woman’s voice said. “I have traveled for many days without rest. We have a prophecy in our culture. On this day, it comes true.”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay,” Felix said, standing. “What, you need ammo? Strength potion?”

“I need the Key.”

“Right, yeah, well, you’re too late for that.” He gestured to the hole in the wall. “They took it.”

“Who?” the witch demanded, stepping further into the shop. She was dressed in the customary robes of the coven, a flowing red dress with roses in her hair. The mask. The polished skull of the first foe she had slain. She fit the prophecy exactly.

“Some thief. He didn’t steal it for himself. You come here speaking of prophecy, you know nothing.”

“Our sacred texts—”

“Sacred texts, great. Thousands of years old, right? Give me a break. You, boy. If you’re not going to leave, make yourself useful. Hand me my hat.”

The local man did as he was told. The witch was not so easily persuaded. Felix turned to find himself facing the barrel of a gun. A floating boomstick, inches from his left eye.

“Speak sense, wizard. The fate of the world hangs in the balance. Tell me what you know.”

“I’ll do you one better.”

Felix spat into the scrying pool to reactivate it. The pegasus came again into focus.

“Who is that rider?” the witch asked.

“Me,” Felix said, disappointed. “That’s my mount. And my hat. Unless…”

His eyes lit up with excitement, and he splashed the image away.

“What’d you do that for?” the witch nearly choked from surprise and frustration.

Felix waved her off. “I know how it ends.”

“How does it end?” the young man asked.

“Trickdraw Junction is destroyed, the Temple eats all of its inhabitants, then it uproots the foundation of the court house, dragging it away to the Plague Lands, symbolizing yadayada, and wow we learn our lesson and whatever and who cares.”

“The prophecy foretold,” the witch said, bewildered.

“Trickdraw Junction is destroyed?” the local demanded in disbelief.

“I told you to leave.” Felix shrugged. “But now you can’t. Can you ride?”

“Yes,” the local said.

“Good. Witch, follow me. You, put on my hat.”

​While the prophet prepared, the Junction watched on in horror as the mountain stood and approached, its ember eyes illuminating the face of a demon, or dragon, or golem of collossal size.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep their attention, from behind the mountain, riding on the rays of light from the morning sun, an armada, thirty ships strong. Following the beast like it was their sheppard, which if the prophecies could be believed, it was.

All cultures throughout Saloondria utilize the art of prophecy, by different means. Scrying pools, simple dishes to be filled mana, are these days readily available in any general store, though the use of them is still recommended only to well trained sooths. Nothing can craft greater distress than a broken or incomplete prophecy.

Trickdraw Junction is unique in the world of Saloondria. A crossroads between the good and the bad, the pure and the corrupted, the future and the past. Local prophecies created both by the native coven traditions and the more civilized sorceries alike produce the same story again and again. When the temple rises from the earth, he who holds the Key will unlock its power.

So as the creature decended, the smallfolk had a good idea of what was to come, but it must be noted: not an exact one.

For the art of prophecy is less knowing the future and more preparing for it. Small things can be influenced with proper knowledge and technique. It is true thay once a thing is known, it shall come to pass. But if a thing is predicted, the outcome can be manipulated, to the extent of the sorcerer, witch, or sayer who brought forth that piece of sooth.

Which is why when the thieves, wizards, cowboys, and knights do battle with the impending doom, a certain drunken storekeep may yet have a word in the final say.


To be continued in Part 2.

This story acts as finale to Volume 1 of Saloondrian Short Stories. In addition to here on this blog, the narrative will be captured as a game and as a chapter in the first Saloondria book. Learn more

<![CDATA[EP 10 // Villains by Name, Saviors by Virtue]]>Wed, 22 Jun 2022 06:47:28 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/villains-by-name-saviors-by-virtueSaloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Thieves Guild by Licheng Mai
The dusk of an empire is a fawn on the edge of a wood, listening, silently watching, hoping, but not committing. The hunters have left, the meadow is clear. The trampled branches, the desecrated groves and the loved ones that you will never see again, the signs of these struggles are all that remain. You want to emerge, to go back to what it once was. To recreate what those you’ve lost would have wanted. And yet… The air is thick and the fog is unceasing. Perhaps the hunters have not left these woods, or worse, perhaps they have, and yet still you are hunted. Other evils, confined to the deeper brushes and the higher branches, will return to fill the predatory void. The forest can never go back, but you fear that thing which you cannot utter. Perhaps it was better that way, when you were hunted by the men with the guns pointed at you. The evils you understood.
The Saloondrian Empire fell in forty-eight hours. The work of ten million souls over two dozen lifetimes, perhaps more, gone with the conviction of a madman in a wave of water. In the dawn that followed, the citizens, those that remained, were wary. Wary that they were actually free of the evil that had held them, some not even comprehending the evil they had survived until days, weeks, or years later when they reflected on it with the help of their kin. To think it could come to this, so quickly, they thought, so abrupt that they didn’t know it had happened until it was over. Because Saloondria was a sprawling empire of lords and merchants and farmers, many of whom had never seen the city of Hatbrim, before or after the flood, who only heard their township was under new management by a grapevine of bureaucracy. Who never felt they had a choice in who hunted them.

Because it had always been this way. Before the lands were Plagued, they were still cursed. A curse is not of magic, but of desire. The desire of one, long gone or still hovering, one who would have his way over others. Power over others in a material form, imbued into those objects or places or people which will carry the will of that individual for all time, or until another more powerful will surpasses that desire. Curses are not inherently evil, but very rarely are they entirely good.

It was a different world back then, though, this cannot be denied. Before the emergence of the Plagued Lands and the airships traveled from beyond to conquer us, the Saloondrian Empire was sick. A cult of powerful dark sorcerers, if they could be called such things, who worshiped the stars and the night… Bands of wandering pirates, the beginnings of those that now reap riches from the Plagued Lands, pillaging villages and the farms of lowly peasants instead of ruins not yet made… And rogue knights, if they can be called knights, men and women who would use their armor for the oppression of those that they swore to protect, under the pretense of divine right bestowed by a careless faraway Duke parading as an emperor.
Black Market by Licheng Mai
A great Thieves Guild rose to prominence in the alleys and the crevices of Hatbrim. With the negligence of the imperial guard, the black markets flourished, and caught the attention of Saloondrian necromancers, warlocks, and eventually, battlemages, those government sorcerers with nothing better to do than make a name for themselves in the undercity. And make a name for themselves these mages did. The Thieves Guild evolved. Implemented all manners of magics, with seemingly, and perhaps genuinely, good intentions. It was the Guild, not the imperial guard, not the Duke, the Guild who rebuilt the undercity into a place of shared knowledge and flourishing innovation.

It was the Thieves Guild of Hatbrim whose rogues began experimenting with the strange glowing substance called mana. Before the airships, before the miners of Barrelmouth had crafted their picks. A substance long assumed poisonous and explosive and dangerous, because it was. It is. But more importantly it was powerful. And in the Duke’s empire, power, however you could get it, was worth any cost you may endure.

Some perished, it must be noted. A great battlemage in the Dobetterandbetter clan was lost and investigations were made, but the Guild persisted. It had to. Because no longer was it just the Thieves Guild of Hatbrim, but the representative of the people, the spirit of desire and the will of the forgotten. In more ways than one, it was a curse.

And that’s exactly why an underground skirmish, which would evolve into a war of sorts, bubbled to life in the undercity. Because as the now called Magicians Guild’s power waxed, the implied power of a certain cult of dark sorcerers waned. And naturally, this was not to be permitted.

They were called the Stargazer Knights, and with good reason. Instead of drawing power from the living, or the elements, or the dead, these sorcerers looked to the heavens, and took power from those million suns that which populate the night sky. Somehow, and it is still debated as to their exact methods, these cultists harnessed the power of the stars, in a manner never reproduced by any sage outside of those within the cult.

The raids bean unprovoked, to hear it told from the members of the now Magicians Guild. Raids in the darkest part of night, when the moon had set but the sun had not yet risen, when only the stars may guide our actions. Raids on the underground Hatbrim mana markets, the only places in these times where sorcerers could obtain the substance to their newfound addiction. Renowned necromancers were made targets of as well, with little explanation left on their corpses beyond crude stars carved into their skin, and the removal of their hearts. This of course was to prevent their resurrections, as without a heart, a soul can never find its way.

The attacks were most prominent on major celestial events, it was realized within the first few months. And while predictable, it was found that little could be done. The winter solstice of that first year, the Magician’s Guild prepared an ambush composed of two dozen powerful mages, intending to make a mockery of the Stargazer Knights on the eve of their special holiday. Instead, within minutes of the expected raid on a prominent market, the defenders were forced to retreat and to scatter, leaving the vendors to be slaughtered by the wrath of the angry Stargazers at the peak of their power.

That massacre was not the last. Over the subsequent months and years, skirmishes were won and lost between the two factions of magic-users in the capital of Saloondria. While the bureaucrats crafted names and titles instead of infrastructure and progress, the citizens warred over the revolution that was to come. Not the political strife that would wash away their city a decade later, but the magical one that would wash away their very way of life in the century to come. Because try as the cult of Stargazers did, nothing could stop the mana, or the growing reliance on it. Great sorcerers were once few and far between, in times long past, but now anyone could become one, regardless of background or training. It took work, of course, but it was not the same. Many say the craft of true magic, that which comes from within rather than without, may have been lost entirely in those years before the revolution.

Maybe, maybe not. You believe what you want to believe. The world is changing. It always will, it always must. Because the world is made of dust and people, and those two things are more alike than most are willing to admit. Nothing lasts forever. Except, of course, for the stars.​​

Introducing Thieves Guild
Similarly to the magically innovative and inventive Thieves Guild of Hatbrim, the Thieves Guild card allows you to sacrifice extra resources in exchange for more powerful, explosive turns.

In the context of Trickdraw, that translates to the ability to discard a card from your hand to play an extra card, once per turn.

But you better hope you find a way to refuel, or risk starting your turn with an empty hand.

Introducing Black Market
The thieves of Hatbrim have learned to make the most of what they have. Sometimes they also make the most of what others have.

Most of these stolen goods can be found on the Black Market, a great place to trade what you have for what you need.

In the game of Trickdraw, Black Market allows you to discard a card from your hand to draw an extra card, once per turn. Helping you quickly assemble the pieces to victory.
<![CDATA[EP 9 // One Cowboy's Death is Another Wizard's Treasure]]>Wed, 22 Jun 2022 06:07:44 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/one-cowboys-death-is-another-wizards-treasure
Saloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Oh, I wouldn’t touch that if I were you. They say it’s cursed. They say anyone who gazes upon it will soon melt and perish. I’m just messing with you. In reality there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s very valuable, only… well, that gem in the center there was taken from the Geomancer’s Library. I’m sure you’ve heard about that place. Anyone who goes there starts feeling funny, their flesh falls off, and then they die. They say it’s got to do with the rocks on display there.
The Amulet by Michael Kuroda
And this here’s one of them! Beautifully mounted in a necromantic staff. Look at the craftsmanship. Once owned by a powerful necromancer before he himself was consumed by the curse of the staff. Legend says one of his apprentices reanimated him after he died, using this very staff, but the bones no longer understood themselves to be bones, in a manner no zombified corpse had ever acted before, not even able to hold themselves together long enough to classify as an animated skeleton. Now personally? I just think the apprentice was a quack. Got along great while the master was alive, maybe, but a worthless sorcerer upon his passing. I mean, even I can cast a decent reanimation spell. Sure, I’m using modern mana techniques, but it’s hardly difficult. I digress. Apologies.
Now this beauty? This one you can touch. No one’s arguing that. Completely original Coven Windchestor. That’s a bit of terminology I came up with because as far as I know they don’t have a name. I mean what would you call them, boomsticks? I got this one on my last trip south, to the Plague Lands border. A whole band of wandering savage witches down there. I traded up for this bad girl. Gave them a couple funny looking statuettes I couldn’t find a use for. Heck of a deal if you ask me.
The Broomstick by Michael Kuroda
I estimate this baby’s got twenty-four pegasuspower, that’d be close to a hundred horsepower ground. She’s imbued with basic hover, but class four or five at least. Fast and sturdy enough to raid unsuspecting civilian wagons, that’s what the savages use them for. I’m not political myself. I’d let you take her for a spin if she weren’t so dear to me, but she’s the prize of the litter, without a doubt.
The Key by Licheng Mai
And then finally, the newest addition to my collection. This key. It’s a big one, but lighter than it looks. Been here in Trickdraw Junction far longer than my family, and we go back a handful of generations at this point. I got it through a bit of bargaining, but short story is I’m now its official keeper. There’s always been a keykeeper here in the Junction, and the title holds quite a bit of honor. I’ve made somewhat of a name for myself through this collector’s business, so it’s only natural the artifact would find its way to me eventually.

What does it open? Well, nobody knows. There are rumors that a chest has been located in the Plague Lands, but I haven’t had time to make a trip to the site. It wouldn’t be the first time the people of Trickdraw Junction have been disappointed. Every few years some rumor or other about the purpose of this key gets our hopes up needlessly. I for one am content to possess the key alone. I mean, after so many years, who’s to say whatever had been locked with it wasn’t broken into and stolen years ago? I almost hope the treasure is never found. Leaves us with a bit of character and mystery. Makes us feel important. Out here in the boonies, it’s easy to feel small. This key gives us folk in Trickdraw Junction a bit of pride, that maybe our little town has a part yet to play in the wider world of Saloondria.

Introducing The Key.
Our first card reveal for Trickdraw on the blog and its one that offers instant victory??

So many questions! What does this key unlock? Who created such a powerful artifact? And what's that red stuff all over the key and its alter?

Hopefully these answers come soon. Learn more about Trickdraw, coming July 1.
<![CDATA[EP 8 // Becoming the Hunted]]>Thu, 09 Jun 2022 07:08:20 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/becoming-the-huntedSaloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
The Mysterious Beast of the Plagued Lands by Michael Kuroda
​We had been the ones who stalked. The ones feared by the bandits of the wastes. When our green sails peaked over the horizon, they knew to scatter. Because the fleet of Admiral Vanessa Dredge was not plundered. Was not pillaged. Was not stalked. Admiral Dredge was the one who stalked. No one dared to enter our airspace. Any campfires were long burnt out before our arrival. Those that were not, well…

We have a reputation for violence. This, I do not believe is entirely fair. The Admiral, she has a way of doing things, sure, but violence is never necessary. Violence is a path chosen by those foolish enough to disobey. In these cases, rarer than they were at first, mind you, yes, it becomes bloody, for the short time that it lasts. Admiral Dredge’s justice is swift, and she takes no pleasure in your eradication.
In recent weeks, her temper has grown short. Because in recent weeks, well, we are stalked. Our scout reports would suggest we are not alone. Many lesser fleets, merchant ships, any ground dwellers we have been in contact with, they add to the rumors the same as we. A rolling mist, twenty stories high, carrying with it an unfathomable darkness. And contained within that darkness, somewhere, a thing which stalks. A creature, or a ship, or something yet undescribed. Something gigantic, which floats as a whale would in the water, buoyant in the mist, at home in the fog.

And it’s hungry. The Plague Lands are littered with ruins, and if these ruins are corpses, then the wastes left behind the trail of fog are fossils, buried again beneath a film of dew and mud. Our ships are equipped with advanced devices to detect the magical pulses emanating from cursed artifacts buried beneath the sands. Upon our return to any area consumed by the thing’s domain, all traces of any meaningful object have gone to nothing. The fog itself pulses like nothing we have ever found hidden beneath the ground, emanating a magical aura five, ten times more powerful than what could be achieved by a talented sorcerer.

And it stalks us. Large portions of what should be our territory have been lost to it, some of our captains refusing orders if they would bring them closer to a recent sighting. And the Admiral is angry. She wants the creature’s head, but none are brave enough to take the contract. A quarter million gold pieces, she has offered, but the bounty hunters are wary. Jagmar laughed at her when she called upon him. The Knucklering ignored her beacon. Even the Rolling Barrel, the largest scavenger guild with a reputation for morally questionable hits, produced no champion, and the Admiral grew angrier.

Some of us among the crew have started calling it the Bullet, not for its speed, but for its shape. I haven’t seen it myself, which I am grateful for, but some claim that within the fog they see its eyes, glowing red like lanterns, attached to a black metallic cylinder that resembles that which is fired from a gun. An ironic sense of humor its creator must have had, to make a magical beast into such a form.  In a land where guns have little use if not imbued by or formed from magic. Or perhaps it is cyclical in that way, that gunslingers of old should fear the mystic, and the mystic should fear the Bullet.

I myself do not fear it so much as marvel at it. There is so much to fear in this harsh landscape, so many monsters and sorcerers that wish us ill. I am grateful to the position that I have managed for myself, and the safety it offers me. And I think it just that even those untouched by the horrors below should have reason not to meddle in them. That even here, safe in the clouds, our merchant lords and admirals should fear a thing without a form, a Bullet which stalks them.

I may change my mind when there comes a point where the Admiral’s anger turns to me, but for now I simply marvel at it. Marvel at all great beasts and empires which I live to experience from my vantage point among the stars. The characters at play that squabble and destroy and build and conquer. And I, their giddy one-person audience, content to watch and to enjoy.

<![CDATA[EP 7 // Flood, Massacre, the Fall of an Empire]]>Mon, 30 May 2022 06:33:24 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/flood-massacre-the-fall-of-an-empireSaloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
The Final Decree by Michael Kuroda
The common salmon continues to swim long after it is dead. The body, so absorbed with its simple task of traveling up the river, works toward this task fruitlessly, and the brain simply cannot keep up. The oldest salmon, the big ones that make it up the rapids past the bears and the raccoons to reach the tranquil ponds high up in the mountains, beyond the reach of civilization… it is said that these salmon continue to swim even there, their decaying faces pressed up against the cold stone of the mountain, swimming, swimming, pressing their snouts into the rock as their tails swish back and forth. Back and forth. Until their long dead bodies finally run out of energy and sink to the bottom where they are consumed by their own offspring, who will one day make the journey downriver to the sea, before climbing back up again to meet the same fate as their parents.

A flag flies proudly above the walls of Hatbrim, a massive flag whose blue and orange and pink can be seen a dozen miles off, flapping violently but crisply in the ocean breeze. The common river salmon on a background of ocean blue. An appropriate mascot for the corpse of an empire, whose own actions led to its catastrophic decline, as it continues to swim, a dead and rotting brain carried along by the unthinking body to no destination at all. The old Saloondrian Empire, once controlling swathes of land from the tip of the hat to the barrel of the gun, as far as an eagle could see across all the forests and the wastes of Saloondria, reduced to a barnacle clinging to a rock on a monster-infested lake of its own creation.
But as with most graveyards in Saloondria, and indeed perhaps the world, it was not always this way. In the salmon’s youth, the Saloondrian Empire was a force to be reckoned with. Ten thousand knights and fifty thousand squires composed their army, the largest in the written histories of this land. Townships, cities, feudal estates and commoner guilds flourished together. Wealth was fluid, and names could be made in battle, finance, or even art. Great architects constructed ancient wonders, the nation-built roads, aqueducts, they drained what is now Hatbrim Bay and held back the sea with seawalls the size of dragon lairs.

It is estimated that the flourishing city of Hatbrim approached a population of half a million at the height of its empire, a city that would dwarf the largest in the modern world. So many people that just by sheer chance you would create such art and wealth that the world today could never dream of. To think this was lost with the actions of so few… Not just the people, but the body of work they collectively would create, the value they had and would add to our world… there has been no greater tragedy.

The fall began with semantics, with hubris and with pride. The greatest knights, those who had won their riches through the conquest of the outer cities and the savage countries, they were old and their children were pampered. They changed their names in search of greater and greater wealth and prestige, because in the old Saloondrian Empire, and indeed in Hatbrim still today, there is more in a name than in an action, more in a name than a place or a person. So the powerful families, the Millers, the Stones, the Honeypots, the Beavertons, and the Swordcrafts, they changed. It was no longer enough to have provided with empire with a trade, a commodity, no. Your family had to be better off than that if you wanted anything out of it. Better off than was possible to be.

So they became the Verywells, the Doingreats. The Betters and the Bests and the Richs and the Greaterwealths. The more ridiculous and absurd, the better off you were, because to them, these were not absurd, they were progress. Time passed and the names evolved. Some Verywells broke off and became Verywellindeeds, the richer among the Greaterwealths became the Greatestwealths. Families married, spawned the Doingbests, the Betteriches, and on and on it went until there was no memory of the value or the reason behind why these families were wealthy to begin with. They were simply swimming for the sake of swimming, because the river was wide and the world was contained within it.

The laws grew harsher. For falsely accusing a well standing person of standing less well than their name would imply, the punishment was lifetime imprisonment. For slandering a name while safely living inside governmentally funded prison walls, the punishment was death. Naturally, this did not sit well with the commoners, those who could not afford to change their name frequently enough to climb the social ladder and escape their caste. Disgruntled became unhappy which became upset and then finally restless. Revolution was brewing in the heart of Hatbrim.

As if such a thing could dampen the mood of someone who called himself Superverydoingwell, or Doingbettereveryday, names of which became more common by the day in the final hours of the old Saloondrian Empire. These people had no hope of saving the corpse of their nation before it slammed face-first into the cold stone wall at the end of the river. No, it would be a simple family who salvaged what remains today. The Verywells. The remnants of the peak of knightship, those who had achieved a rightful name and not taken more than was afforded to them.

Because of course, when the revolution did begin, the Verywells were not targets. Nor were the Betters, not even the Doingbests. In fact, in droves these families joined the cause, took up arms along the Smiths and the Dockmoors and the Bakers and the Swordcrafts. Now, historians disagree on the exact moral reasoning behind this. They surely desired revolution alongside the common folk, but was it for justice? Or was it because their names were too weak to evolve, that they had missed their chance to grow their wealth further and were upset at themselves more than their so-called oppressors? This remains unknown.

Now the people were unhappy, and restless, this was true, but revolution was still a ways off in the time of the Wealthierandwealthiers and the Upbythebootstraps. It would be a foreign catalyst to start the war. Because hundreds of miles away, on the edge of the empire, a far more apocalyptic threat was oozing like tar out of a certain dark forest in a certain haunted town forgotten by the empire the day after its conquest, when it had been turned over to a local feudal lord.

Word came from the outskirts of a power brewing in the darkness, of a figure shrouded in prophecy. Knights were sent by local feudal lords by order of the Duke, to quell this mystic who dared threaten the autonomy of his Duchy, of his Empire. The knights were sent and forgotten, the reports lessened and became irrelevant, the Duke changed his name again, and the empire was at peace… on the night before the world ended, and the outskirt town was consumed by a spell of such power that had never before been seen, nor ever has been seen again, that which created the Plague Lands out of nothing and cut Saloondria off from the rest of the world.

Reports came then from all sides, of an expanding curse which decimated the borders of the empire. Land was being lost, claimed by the wilderness, by the ghosts and the beasts and the horrors without words to describe them. They were being consumed by time, reduced to ruins in a matter of hours, and if the spell could not be contained, perhaps soon the very heart of the empire, the city of Hatbrim, would be consumed along with the rest.

Wizards were summoned to the courts, and when none could explain the phenomenon, the Duke turned to sages and shamans and even warlocks. The battlemages, those knights which dealt in magic rather than with steel, were deployed to the encroaching warzone to hold off the monsters now entering freely into his lands.

Overnight the revolution began. Now that the battlemages had left the city, there was none that could stand against the numbers of enraged commoners. Because while the Duke had dealt with the ailments of the outskirts, he had ignored the disease taking over his own heart. With the support of the upper middle class, the Verywells at their head, the castles were bombarded from the lower city, with their own cannons stolen from the armory. The government knights clashed with the squires and too with those knights loyal to the commoner plight. Hundreds died the first night. Thousands would die in the following week before the battlemages returned.

The Duke was beyond anger. Upon their return, he ordered the battlemages blast the lower city with firebombs, to level the uprising before it could grow beyond the capital. But his anger was no longer equal to the power his name was meant to hold. Some refused, abandoning their names to leave the military and the government, others simply disobeyed. Some did as they were told, but the devastation was halfhearted, and catalyzed the revolution more than it quelled it. Hatbrim would have new leadership. The brain of the fish was already dead.

I sometimes wish the Duke had gotten what he wanted, that the revolution had been quelled, that the Duchy of Saloondria had lived on for a little while longer. It would have been preferrable to what actually happened. On the morning of the sixteenth day of the Revolution of Hatbrim, the people of the burning city awoke to the sounds of the fires being put out. Put out not by buckets of water or wagons of sand, but by a single wave, 40 feet tall, the ocean taking back the lower city after breaching the magical seawalls. A city of half a million people reduced to a handful of thousands, those lucky enough to be out of the lower city or contained within Hatbrim fortress’s walls.

The seawalls had been compromised by those last battlemages loyal to the Duke, but whose loyalty finally dissipated after witnessing the largest destruction of human lives Saloondria had ever seen. Upon committing their crime, they fled to the sea, or the forests, or perhaps far off to the Plague Lands themselves, the only place with an inherent level of evil approaching that of their own. With their departure, the Duke was finally alone, devoid of true power, but he didn’t yet know it. He ordered his remaining knights to round up the Verywells, the Doingbests and the Richs. He commanded their immediate public execution, and the people of the city were too devasted to vocalize the smallest outburst. Look around, they thought. Look at the sea, that now laps at the walls of our remaining city. Fifty feet of water between them and their cousins, their friends. Three hundred thousand dead or missing in a matter of minutes. What was three, four, five dozen more? A drop in an endless sea.

It was another noble of low standing who cared, who valued that drop. Sir Ivan Verywellindeed, who no longer found pride in his name, nor who had the energy to be amused by it. Dressed only in plain clothes, too disgusted to wear his noble garb, and a jagged dagger hidden among the folds. The execution began, but instead of fifty bodies of commoner heroes dumped into the river that day, there were only two. The pompous Duke who had genocided his own people, and the only man brave enough to say enough was enough. Ivan was cut down by the Duke’s royal guard, but not before he’d gotten in half a dozen cuts, crunched into and broken the brittle bones beneath the expensive fabric.

I can not say that Hatbrim is better, not even now, hundreds of years after the fall of the old empire. I can say that it is changed, though. The names remain, the children of the children of the murderers and of the murdered, names no longer evolving but solidified. Hatbrim itself still stands, proudly waving its salmon flag above the river beneath which thousands of homes, businesses, schools, libraries, stadiums, factories, markets… violently flapping against the ocean breeze. No, Hatbrim is worse. A barnacle clinging to the corpse of a whale, a whale that was one the pride of the land of Saloondria.

None alive today by natural means have personal stock in the tragedy. No one is left to blame those battlemages that took the seawalls down, that blindly followed the will of a madman for no reason other than to give value to their name. None blame that battlemage who cast the final spell, the one person really responsible, who nailed the coffin shut. No one is left to hate him. No one but himself. Forced to relive that greatest evil each time I smell the sea air, witness the crash of a wave, each time I hear a newborn baby cry, each time I wake, each time I fall asleep.

I’ve lived eight lifetimes since that day, extending my life purposefully, tormented by every single moment. It would be so much easier to die, to simply drown myself the way I drowned them. But they deserve better. So I will live each of their lifetimes, watched by three hundred thousand angry souls, and when the sun sets on that final day, once each has been properly grieved, only then will I allow myself to die. And until then, I will teach and reteach the world to hate me.

<![CDATA[EP 6 // The Shackles of Ignorance]]>Mon, 30 May 2022 06:20:03 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/the-shackles-of-ignoranceSaloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Hatbrim Council Meeting by Licheng Mai
So begins the partial transcription of the two thousand, four hundred, seventy-seventh congress of the Principality of Saloondria held in the council chambers of Hatbrim. Transcribed by Sir Michael of Kurodia.
HM (Headmaster) Johannes Killwhales: Order please. Settle into your seats. We have multiple points of discussion scheduled for this meeting. Grievances brought forth by Cantsee the Eyeless are up first. Councilman Cantsee, you have the floor.
CM (Council Member) Cantsee: Thank you, Headmaster. My grievances have until this moment been widely ignored by this chamber. I appreciate those among you who have fought for me to gain us this precious time upon the floor.
HM: Read out your grievances, please, Councilman.
CM Cantsee: I cannot, sir. I am blind.
HM: Of course, my apologies. Can an aide approach the stand and read out Councilman Cantsee’s grievances?
Aide: For too long have conspiracies been allowed to propagate this nation. Wild, unverifiable accounts of colossal, impossible machines. The dangers of such conspiracies are obvious. Should men be allowed to speak lies no different than they would truth, freely spreading them, our civilization would devolve into chaos. We have heard already of the horrors of Barrelmouth, of Trickdraw Junction and of the border cities, consuming and spreading these lies even as they infect and destroy their very ways of life, hurting the innocent for no reason apart from collective madness. I speak of course of the accounts of these so-called airships, ships that fly through the air as if it were water, propelled by wind, or sunlight, or whatever the newest claim may be. Ships as big as mansions, as big as castles, blocking out the sun as they pass over the Plague Lands in the east to do trade with us here in Saloondria. Let these lies propagate no longer, let they end here and let verifiable evidence dictate our decisions. Thank you.
HM: I am at somewhat a loss of words, Councilman. Are you suggesting airships do not exist?
CM Cantsee: I am suggesting we produce policy based off of verifiable sources, not hearsay and fantastical accounts of the childish.
HM: I think most members of this council would agree that the existence of airships has been verified. For most of us, by our own eyes.
CM Cantsee: I am not alone in the opposition. We believe our voice and our opinion on the matter is equal to yours for the sake of this discussion, even if at present we are of a minority. I myself have never verified the existence of these fantastical airships.
HM: With all due respect, Councilman, you are blind, as you yourself have stated.
CM Cantsee: I believe that is irrelevant both to the quality of my opinion, and to the importance of this issue that would continue to plague us if not for my intervention.
CM Seesalot: Permission to interject on behalf of those who disagree with the Councilman’s remarks.
HM: Permission granted to Councilwoman Seesalot Verywell. Approach the stand.
CM Seesalot: Thank you, Headmaster. I would pose a question to Councilman Cantsee. If your inability to see the airships has led you to believe they do not exist, should not this lead you to believe I do not exist, the council does not exist? After all, you cannot see us. Do horses exist? You cannot see horses.
CM Cantsee: Funding should be allocated toward such questions, on this point we are in agreement, Councilwoman. However, for the sake of starting the greater discussion, my compatriots and I have limited our denials to the more fantastical elements of the narrative, namely airships. Once disproven, we aim to discredit those spreading these lies and begin dismantling the societally accepted account of reality. Horses would fall into this category.
CM Seesalot: Your terminology is problematic, Councilman, in that it is not precise. You have used the word fantastical numerous times. What definition do you follow? Are not the beasts which inhabit our borderlands, the monsters resurrected in our swamps, the deep-sea crabs which terrorize our fisheries, are these not fantastical? Are not the Plague Lands fantastical, the very barrier between our nation and the outside world? Do you believe in those?
CM Cantsee: I do not, Councilwoman. And I am tired of pretending otherwise.
So ends the partial transcript. It is noted by stenographer Sir Michael of Kurodia that no further progress toward any council goals were made throughout the remainder of this meeting. It devolved into further chaos, wherein CM Cantsee was forcibly removed, but was later reported to have not believed he had exited the council chambers, as he did not witness the act. Instead, he continued his debate with local fishermen that evening and into the night, before dying of exhaustion the following morning. It was discovered in autopsy that he had not consumed a single drop of water over the course of his final week, presumably no longer believing such a thing existed.

<![CDATA[EP 5 // Death at the Hands of an Enemy Unseen]]>Mon, 30 May 2022 06:03:05 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/death-at-the-hands-of-an-enemy-unseenSaloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Unnamed Curse by Licheng Mai
I write this now in the case I do not return. The spell was far more powerful than I expected. The warnings are not enough, could never be enough to prevent the foolhardy from traveling here. If you are reading this now, know that it may already be too late, that you must retrace your steps immediately, exit this library, and never return. I have cast a strong spell of my own to ward off the greater effects of this cursed air in the surrounding area, but I assume it will not last until you find this book. I implore you. Turn back while there is a chance you still can.
You read now the diary of Ul-Darsist Gavin, renowned Saloondrian warlock. The magics I have mastered fall entirely within the ordained lifeblood pact boundaries outlined by the Sorcerers Guild. This is rare among warlocks, for better or worse, but has granted me the unique opportunity to be a certified consultant for Barrelmouth’s city counsel in its pursuits of utilizing the darker arts.

This tangent is irrelevant to my current predicament. I feel my mind wander like it has never before. Like it is no longer my own. I must write quickly before I can write no more.

I came to this library with a singular goal, to succeed where others have failed. To purge the curse, to free the stones and open up a forbidden sect of knowledge. I came to learn. And learn I have. That some secrets do not want to be uncovered. That some horrors are too terrible to describe, so we make up stories to cope with the fundamentals of the misery, to explain them in ways we can understand. I repeat this now, perhaps for the final time: do not go where I have gone. Do not do what I have done. The curse is far stronger, far eviler than we could ever have imagined. If it is let out of its prison, all of humanity is doomed.

The library is not of books, but of stones. Ancient, magical stones of geological power. A branch of magic not understood even in its fundamentals. Stones which cause sickness, disease, stones which by proximity can maim or even kill, can drive men mad. It is said in some ancient texts uncovered in the Plague Lands that geomancers once ruled an empire, an empire crafted without the aide of other magics. The timeframe for such an empire is not in line with our own. If such a place existed, it existed within the curse of the Plague Lands, was built and lost to time before any Saloondrian discovered it.

Whoever constructed this library knew of geomancy, or at least understood the contents of its halls. Rooms upon rooms sealed in hardened liquid stone, metal walls and faded warning signs. We on the outside thought we knew better than the warnings. There are only so many ways for me to write that we were, that we are, and forever will be wrong.

I remember it so vividly that it is as if it still happens now before me. I may not be long for this world, but I will relive this to the very end, I am certain of it. A man, stumbling from the ruins. I called out to him. He did not hear me. I approached to find no man, or at least, no human soul, just a husk, skin stitched to bone. At first, I assumed zombification, but no necromancer could do this. No necromancer could be so cruel.

He had turned to me then, and outstretched his hand. I reached out and took it, not understanding. And take it I did, hand from wrist, pulled off of him like squeezing a stick of butter. I still feel the flesh concealing and melting in my hand, the bones splintering like cubes of salt, crumbling to dust as I looked on in horror. The man, if he was that, seemed not to notice, his existential pain having long ago reached a point beyond which losing something as inconsequential as a limb could not add to his torment.

I stepped back and he fell forward, his balance apparently thrown off by the new distribution of his weight. I would like to say I buried him, for he deserved at least that, but there was nothing left to bury. The very instant his body hit the ground, it vanished, melting or vaporizing, I cannot be sure because it was too fast to tell. But he was no more, no more than a stain on the mosaic earth. I do not know exactly when his body became a corpse, but I fear it was many days or weeks prior to our meeting.

There is a myth that the library is safe to enter, a myth I had intended to investigate because it seemed at least based in truth. After all, there are no bodies. All across the Plague Lands, it is the corpses that indicate a local’s danger. It is the bones that tell us how much we should fear the guardians of that area, be they disease, demon, or beast. But the library has no bones. I repeat this. The library has no bones.

If this book remains, which I no longer can be certain it will, I must insist there has been no trick. Take it so others may read it, as far from here as you can. I know not the dimensions through which this curse holds influence. Perhaps nowhere is far enough. Perhaps we are already doomed.

I do not know what will be left of me. Already I feel my hands begin to shake. I can not move more than a few steps without taking rest. I have touched the stones. After learning nothing, I have felt them, held them, cursed myself to death. I will have no bones. None who enter here may keep them. The stones claim us in our entirety. I am crawling between pen strokes as close as I can to the entrance hall, that whoever finds this will have as much a chance as possible to escape. That you may keep your bones.

<![CDATA[EP 4 // Where Whales Fall, Vultures Follow]]>Wed, 25 May 2022 06:49:17 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/where-whales-fall-vultures-followSaloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Boon in the Plague Lands by Michael Kuroda
They fell out of the sky to an empty desert. No spectators watched their desires go up in flames. No crowds witnessed their wealth and pride vaporize upon the ground. Whatever dispute had led to their entanglement up in the air meant nothing to them now.

Before us stood two massive airships, one with its bow smashed straight through the hull of the other. Notably, they were smashed and half buried in the cracked earth of the Plague Lands, not floating far above as they were designed to be. Their sails were deflated, devoid of the magic that propels them. The mana-infused planks that composed the ships were missing their signature blue glow, the spells inactive now that the engines were destroyed. Millions of coin worth of vessels reduced to scraps and waste, forgotten by their owners safe in distant lands.
This would be the fourth haul job I’d worked. By far the largest score. Ships came down all the time, either by storms, attacks from bandits or beasts from below, or simply by flying too low and getting lost in the cursed air too close to the ground. For these lands are cursed, that much is certain. Cursed, untamed, sprawling and vast. And evil, I’ve no doubt of that. Accounts from those who travel by air, those who have seen the world beyond Saloondria, they claim the distance is short. One, two hundred miles at most to fly over the Plague Lands. From a certain height, you may nearly see both sides at once from somewhere in the middle.

But that’s only half of it. No man or woman has ever made it by foot out of Saloondria. Nor by steed, machine, or low flying vessel. By every account, the Plague Lands never end. Five, six, seven hundred miles, never seeing the same landmarks, knowing for certain you aren’t lost but remarkably clueless about where you are, a never-ending nightmare of beasts. This is the contradiction. The paradox. The Saloondrian curse. I’d never been in an airship, not one in the air. One day I’d maybe like to, or perhaps that would serve to ruin me. If the Plague Lands truly are only a hundred miles across, my boots would hardly be happy to learn it.

For our current haul, we’d traveled six days, nearly one hundred fifty miles, with an empty train of thirty wagons. It wouldn’t be enough to take what we wanted, but it would have to serve. No ship had ever been located twice. So we would take what we could, and the rest would belong to the desert.

I much preferred the desert. Sometimes ships would come down in the cursed forests, the swamps, or the volcanic marshes. Many of those we ignored, unless we were desperate for a haul. If a dragon or similar guardian chose to take argument with us while we were trapped in uncertain terrain, the whole caravan would have to be abandoned, and many of our crew would perish. I myself wore a protected hide of demonskin, likely to save me in such a situation. The indentured servants had no such wealth, so no such assurances. We chalked that up to the price of our trade.

Today there were no survivors found among the wreck. This news was brought to us by our initial scouts. Such was to be expected for a crash of this magnitude, what with such a violent origin. Many had probably died before the ships began to lose altitude, and for those who did survive the arial skirmish, the tumble would have been anything but smooth. These were flagships. Owned by merchant lords or princes, these types of ships flew far higher than simple trade vessels. Which incidentally meant they had farther to fall.

I can admire them from afar no longer. The first of our caravan have already reached the closest stern. If we are not quick to act, the best of their plunder will not be saved for us. I and my servants will fill my wagon to the brim, and our pockets and backpacks as well. Lord David will take his share, but the rest will be mine. This is all assuming of course we are not attacked on the long trek back to Barrelmouth, but those worries are for another day. Today is good. Today, we are rich.

<![CDATA[EP 3 // Trickdraw Junction, Where All Roads Meet]]>Wed, 18 May 2022 23:07:21 GMThttp://housefishballoon.com/tales/trickdraw-junction-where-all-roads-meetSaloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Trickdraw Junction by Michael Kuroda
Barrelmouth City Resident
"I never meant to be one of the cityfolk, and to hear them speak about me, which I know they do, behind my back, day and night, nothing good, mind you. Always bad. They hate me here. I’m still a big deal, a huge thorn in their sides, certainly. I supply my wisdom, and at a good price, far too good for these people. But no, I’m not one of them. Never meant to be. I’m from Trickdraw Junction, or the surrounding parts. Born and raised in the desert sands. Takes a real stock to live through such a thing. Not for the faint of heart. I should be charging for this. Good wisdom, this.

Trickdraw Junction’s overrun, now, of course. Long as I’ve been alive, long as my Daddy’s Daddy been alive, Trickdraw Junction’s been a heap and a half of nothing. It was once a grand outpost, many years before the invasion, before the savages overran it. An outpost worthy of an empire, with a tower that touched the sky. From the top of that tower, you could see all the way to Barrelmouth. And back then, you’d better believe anyone that could see that tower in the distance knew full well they were being watched, and looked after, so long as they were good.

​The savages never could have built such a tower, which is evidence to the fact that the gods themselves had a hand in its creation. Because before civilization, savages were all there were. And to our great misfortune, all that are left. Sure, they inhabit the Junction now, but it’s not their home, no more than this city is mine. We all belong elsewhere than where we are, unless of course we’re where we’re meant to be. It’s a right shame, the occupation, and if I had my way, we’d smoke them out.
But the gods have not forsaken us. With the invaders came new technologies, new magics. I was never one for magic, always been against the witchery one can do. Honest work can always and should always take the place of magic. Anything built with magic is cheating, far as I’m concerned. But I’ll admit the common spells available in this day and age, they’re useful insofar as they can help us take back what’s ours. And it’s not like the savages are likely to play fair in any fight. So it’s only expected that we’d need a few cheats of our own. For that reason, and that alone, I’m on board.

And luck smiles upon the true natives of Trickdraw Junction. Fortunes untold lie beneath the sands, if you’ve the body and mind to seek them out. And return we shall, in droves. Equipped with our shovels, our picks, and a few tricks up our sleeves because, and keep this on the down low, especially if this is the first you’ve heard of it, there’s more buried there than the others would have you believe. Riches, artifacts, gold beneath the ground, but more too, the likely reason the savages returned so coincidentally just before the invaders came here. They had information from their dark gods, this much I know. Because yes, there’s mana down there. A lot of it.

Funny how quickly they knew to hoard it. Funny how they’re always just one step ahead of the civilized. To anyone still blinded by their trickery, I ask you this: when was the last time honest, hardworking folk had something handed to us? What do we have that hasn’t been earned? They only have what they’ve stolen. So grab your shovels and your picks, and whatever mana-fueled trickery you can fit in your packs, because it’s about time we stole it back."
Myth of Trickdraw's Origins by Michael Kuroda
Trickdraw Junction Aboriginal
​Trickdraw Junction’s rich and ancient history has gone unappreciated by the prospectors, the businessmen, and the real estate moguls of these lands. They come looking for a quick buck, a valuable gemstone pried from what would otherwise be a far more valuable artifact, if it were not so desecrated by their greed. We, the natives of this land, were summoned to defend these artifacts and the lush history of these ruins, and just in time. Because without us, the surrounding lands of Trickdraw Junction would already have become the hellscape that is Barrelmouth.​

​We have powered our spells from the mana sources far longer than the invaders have powered their ships. Our relationship with the gods and the earth is rooted in magic. Like the invaders, we have our own sorcerers, those who draw magic from the ether rather than from mana, and, regrettably, we have warlocks too, those who draw magic from living sources. But for the rest of us, not so gifted or so greedy, we rely on mana to perform many of the daily aspects of life.

Telekinetic spells have been utilized by our shamans since the old empires to manipulate and transfer large quantities of stone and lumber. Ancient casters manipulated heat and cold magic to produce bronze and steel, which was welded into weapons, armor, and defenses such as gates. Necromancy, a field now shunned by those self-righteous ‘civilized’ types, was a magic we used to extend crop life and feed our populations during the harsher seasons. Without mana, none of our accomplishments would have been possible. The old empires, the castles, the Tower of Trickdraw, none of these things could have been constructed.

The invaders have conspired against us. They claim our interest in these natural wells goes no further than our hatred and our avarice. I will not deny our hate. I have seen our villages ransacked, our ancient texts all but decimated by those who would call us heathen. But to say that we have ever had any desire to profit from the mana wells we hold, this is slander. If we were to profit, first we must sell, and we have no intention of doing so. At long last, we have taken back what was rightfully ours in the backyard of Trickdraw Junction, an invader village that should never have been constructed over our ancient temples, tower, and keep.

We cannot stop their coming. This much we know, for we are too few. Many of these people are not invaders, however. They and their families have lived here decades, longer. Saloondria is their home as much as ours. These people I respect, if they will respect us in turn. And some newer, younger prospectors, looking out only for their own, bearing no ill will against us or our customs, I hold nothing against them either. I know I am not alone in these opinions. Some elders may disagree, desiring all non-native peoples removed from our lands, but as a rule those are a rarity. The future is compromise and a marriage of cultures, not a war.

With this in mind, I suggest to you, those who would enter Trickdraw Junction, while graciously accepting this opportunity to explain our perspective, only this: tread carefully. Be wary of those you step on to get to what you seek. The sands of Saloondria are deeper than they look, and you never know what monsters are hidden beneath the ground. The treasures you uncover may not outvalue the dangers you encounter along the way. I wish you luck on your ventures, prospectors, businesspeople, and wizards alike, but I solidify the warning. We are not afraid of gaining enemies and will only fight all the harder if we are cornered. I pray it will not come to such a thing, but I do not worry, not for our sake. For those against us if such a thing should come to pass, they are far more deserving of our prayers.