Saloondrian 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.