Saloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
A Looming Danger by Michael Kuroda
We didn't always fear the deep. In fact, it was only recently we even learned a reason to. Almost overnight, the city of Barrelmouth militarized into a fortress. The wooden buildings were reinforced with heavy stones, the docks welded with massive spikes of iron, the watchtowers armed and the windows facing the sea covered in metal bars. The dockworkers became our frontline soldiers in a war we never meant to enter, a now necessary force to ward away the darkness below.
A darkness summoned from our own greed. Barrelmouth was once no different than any other small town hugging the northern hills. Its position was economical, controlling the heart of the river. In times long past it was the trade hub for all of eastern Saloondria. But times change, and Crater River became less important, as dams were dug and reservoirs filled. The east inevitably fell out of favor. The seaside towns became the new heart of Saloondria, as the ocean was mapped and civilization advanced. And while it went unsaid, the added distance from the Plague Lands did much to ease the minds of civilians.
Barrelmouth fell into disrepair. Investors, bankers, traders not dependent on the commerce of the hills, these people left the already shrinking city in droves. All those that remained were the small businesses, the loggers and the hunters, and any of those loyal to the land over their own prospects. For years this became the spirit of the city, and the people changed, or rather hardened. Sturdy, protective, but loyal to each other and with strong collective memories of what Barrelmouth once was, perhaps one day still could be.
As luck would have it, an opportunity appeared to them in short time, but it came at a terrible cost. The first airships, from the empires beyond the mountains, beyond the Plague Lands, they found Barrelmouth first. They docked their fleets, they made courteous contact with the townsfolk, and they asked to be refueled. With mana.
Saloondria had no method of mana consumption before this first contact. No breweries, no refineries, nothing beyond mana springs and mana pools that some powerful sages and warlocks made use of from time to time. Some native cultures had coming of age ceremonies where young boys and girls would bathe in the mana for as long as their bodies could take it, but too many stories of dead children left out to the buzzards melting in the desert warded off the civilized from making unnecessary contact with the dangerous substance.
But with time, all things must evolve. The invaders, some would refer to them, came to revolutionize Barrelmouth, and the people embraced it. For as a twist of fate, the largest mana reserve in all of Saloondria just happens to rest just beneath the mouth of Crater River, entirely within the borders of our dying port. Saloondria’s first and only true mana well was constructed as an offering to its new friends in the ships. An alliance was formed, and the townsfolk learned a new trade, that of magic.
Curses are magic too, and stronger often than any simulated curse spawned from mana source. And curses have plagued these lands since long before the Lands became Plagued. This is due to the method by which powerful magics are wrought. A gifted child may develop tendencies as early as the age of four or five, and these may guide the life toward the mystic arts. Teachers of the old arts still roam the deserts, walk among us looking no different than any other person, unless they so desire it. There is a great respect to these individuals in Saloondria, for they are our last connection with our magnificent past. And while they may be responsible almost solely for the atrocities of our histories, it must also be asserted that they were equally responsible for the protections and heroics that inevitably warded off the worst of those dark events.
Mana is magic in liquid form. The settlers from across the mountains say that it is older even than the mountains, if such a thing is possible, that it has been naturally distilling beneath the crust for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. They say it is where we get our magic from. Others disagree, say that it is the remnants of great magical wars fought long past, the liquified remains of powerful entities, monsters and wizards and demons and worse. Whatever it is, it has become the sole export of Barrelmouth, the mana capital of Saloondria.
And with that change, the people flocked back. Most notably, prospectors, miners, and architects of the newly created mana retrieval industry. Huge machines, drills, pumps, mills, all manner of technologies jumpstarted the construction of the city. For each building that rose one more story into the skyline, a tunnel went ten stories deeper. What is now one of the largest cities in all of Saloondria at a bird’s eye glance, is without the shadow of a doubt the largest empire in the eyes of the worms and the moles.
Deeper. Deeper and deeper we dug. Into the wells of the mana stores beneath our now thriving metropolis. The deeper we dug the richer we became. Our alliances of necessity became alliances of dependency. Everyone needed us. For all the mana in Saloondria, buried beneath the ground, we control almost half of it, with no seeming end to our supply. Our only limiting factors were how deep we can dig, and how fast we could pump.
That was, until she awoke. An ancient god, having soaked in eternity from the endless mana spring. A beast of epic proportions that no man has witnessed in whole and survived. Too many arms, too many mouths, too many eyes to ever count them all, and an insatiable hunger more infinite than the pools she resides within. It is she who has taught us to fear the deep.
Some say the mana has no end because she is its source, that we must protect her or it will dry. Others reject this, say she is the final barrier between us and infinite riches. But those claiming the latter never seem to volunteer to dig. And so we dig until we find her, and then we seal that entrance and start again elsewhere. So far this has not upset her as far as we are able to tell, but our elders grow restless as her attacks become more frequent and violent. The city itself could collapse, it is hypothesized, if her strength and size are large enough, which none alive can know for sure. The only thing that is certain is that until such an event comes to pass, we will dig deeper and deeper, until we can dig no more, no matter what we find.