The Wolves of Rome

4th Journal Entry of Dr. P. Westcroft, Practicing Metaphysicist

Journal of Dr. P. Westcroft
March 19th, 2030

My next area of interest regarding the study of magic and its effects on the mundane required both a magical and historical expert. Thanks to my previous connections, I managed to get in touch with the esteemed historian and registered magus, Ettore Cavallo, and he was kind enough to offer me an interview, of which I have recorded a rough transcript below. The topic of our discussion was the idea of “Archetypes” and how they can affect monsters, spirits, and even living people. It was an idea on which little has been scientifically recorded, but one in which I also have a great interest and I was eager to learn more.

Ettore: Thank you for the invitation, Doctor Westcroft. I was quite interested in your request. I’ve heard quite a bit about your research.

Me: Oh? Quite surprising, I tend not to advertise.

E: Abi shared it with me. It was quite interesting, I’m surprised you haven’t published more.

M: I have what might be called “eccentricities”, but that’s a touch beyond the point. I am glad Professor White let you know, and she told me you were quite knowledgeable about these so-called “Archetypes”. Am I correct in my thinking?

E: Yes, I’d say I am the…third most knowledgeable person on that subject in the city, and probably the easiest to talk to. Miss Sable can be rather reticent.

M: So I’ve heard, and I’m glad you agreed. Now, in as layman of terms as you can, what is an Archetype in the context of the spiritual world?

E: An Archetype is shorthand for when a spirit, any kind of spirit, starts adhering to certain traits common with others of similar disposition. This can occur with monsters, natural spirits, human spirits, and it has even been observed in living people.

M: Can you give me some examples?

E: Certainly. An easy example would be the Cacodemons that plagued the city a few years ago. By their nature they could take any shape, but when they grew more powerful they tended to take on aspects of ancient monsters: manticores and chimeras and whatnot. They were adapting to specific monstrous archetypes.

M: Why not something new?

E: Because older monster archetypes have more power. We’ve been telling legends about them for centuries, if not longer. They are naturally more prone to taking on forms resilient in human memory. Dragons are much the same way.

M: Dragons, really?

E: I’m not an expert, and I don’t mean the more powerful things we call ‘dragons’ like Primordials, but more earthly dragons tend to fall within their narrative archetypes. Western European dragons tend to hoard gold, have six limbs, breathe fire, etcetera.

M: I see…so would this be a side-effect of your so-called “Cavallo-White Effect”?

E: Potentially. The Cavallo-White Effect recursively alters history, but this has been observed before in spirits and monsters. It’s only after the Days of Revelation that it started occurring in people, as far as we know.

M: Could you tell me more about spirit archetypes?

E: Ah yes, of course. Mages summon all manner of spirits to do work for us, and sometimes we need spirits of specific qualities, like a warrior to fight for us. These spirits, in order to better last in the world, tend to take the shape of people who fit that archetype.

M: But they’re not actually that person?

E: No, merely a shadow of it, their memories altered by modern perception. I once summoned a spirit to act as a boat pilot on a mission to Crete and it decided to take the form of Aeneas…that was quite time.

M: I see…thank you. Now I would like to get to the last part of the subject.

E: Which is?

M: Archetypes as observed in living humans.

E: Ah, of course. That is also the trickiest one to explain, and it’s difficult to observe objectively. There’s no measure or gene for it. It just seems to strike certain people and they start to fill specific roles.

M: What do you mean when you say “Roles”?

E: The best way to explain it is like character archetypes in stories.

M: Some examples? If you’d be so kind.

E: Sure. The ones I’ve identified…archmages. There are plenty of powerful mages but some just go far and beyond what used to be considered the very limits of possibility.

M: Care to name names?

E: I’d really rather not in this case…

M: As you like.

E: After that…I’m not positive but I’m convinced there are a few walking saints, and not only Christian ones. I’ve heard reports of Eastern Buddhist living saints as well, though I’m still not sure if that’s an archetype. Then there’s the Dragonslayers…

M: “Dragonslayers”?

E: Yes, those ones actually aren’t too difficult to spot. Some people seem to be born with a real instinctual talent for killing dragons.

M: Go on.

E: I’ve spoken to a few, and from what I gather they have instincts no one else possesses naturally, a sort of sixth sense for the best ways to kill a dragon and the reflexes to do it.

M: Can only dragonslayers kill dragons?

E: Oh no, anyone with enough training, skill, or even simple luck could do it, but Dragonslayers are born with an advantage. It’s not a skill they train but something natural and utterly unique to them. They were also one of the first archetypes to be identified.

M: Really? How?

E: Well people with a preternatural habit towards dragon slaying tend to stand out, you know? It’s not exactly something a normal person has a knack for. It’s how we found out about Archetypes, because we saw similar examples in history.

M: Such as?

E: Saint George, Sigurd, Saint Martha, John Lambton. All of them are quite possibly ancient dragonslayers.

M: Is it genetic? Inheritable? Could a dragon-slaying trait be bred?

E: None of the archetypes that I know of are hereditary. They seem to happen at random…or perhaps more aptly, they tend to happen where and when they’re needed.

M: What do you mean?

E: Well, if a town is menaced by a dragon long enough, dragonslayers tend to crop up in the area to repel them. If there’s a group of mages in close proximity, an archmage tends to rise in their ranks to lead them. If there’s a place particularly prolific with some kind of sin or blasphemy, a saint will eventually roll into town…all of this is generally speaking, of course. It’s a phenomenon almost impossible to predict.

M: Fascinating…truly. Could you hazard a number for the living archetypes in Rome?

E: Very few, though I don’t like making hard guesses since it’s such a vague and abstract concept. Many people might fall into lighter, less obvious and more subtle archetypes we don’t even know and live their lives like that, pushing the narrative of the world steadily on.

M: So you think these archetypes fill a role of some kind?

E: Almost certainly. With the world the way it is, it’s all but necessary. We can’t survive in a world with dragons without Dragonslayers. It’s an age of miracles, so of course saints walk among us. However, you have to consider we can’t simply write them off as a phenomenon. These are people. People born with advantages and in specific circumstances, but people with their own skill, decisions, and emotions. A Dragonslayer is still brave for facing a dragon head on in battle, after all.

M: Would you say any archetype is more important than the others?

E: [At this point Ettore considers the question at length before responding.] There is one…though it’s really hard to say if it’s an archetype. I believe it is, but examples are very few and far between, maybe a half dozen on the entire planet.

M: And what would that be?

E: If I had to come up with a word…because it’s not like these archetypes come with labels…I would probably say “Hero”.

M: That’s very vague.

E: Now you see the dilemma. How do you define something like that?

M: That was going to be my next question for you.

E: Well, roughly as I can tell, if it even exists at all, the Hero Archetype exists in people who have a…knack for performing amazing deeds. I mean…there are plenty of everyday heroes, your soldiers and firemen and teachers and whatnot…but the people who kill the monster, retrieve the relic, win the girl and bring peace to the nation…those are what might fit under the “Hero” archetype.

M: So while a Dragonslayer might be your Saint Georges or your Sigurds…

E: A hero is your Hercules, your Jasons, your Cu Chulains, and on and on…the person tasked with doing the impossible.

M: That sounds like it could be quite a burden…though if they’re all but destined to win…

E: On the contrary. Like I said Archetypes have a knack for things but nothing is guaranteed. If what I’ve heard is true, the lairs of monsters are littered with the bones of heroes. Hero Archetypes aren’t just born, they need to survive.

M: That’s a rather grim thought.

E: Agreed, but the upside is that those heroes who do survive do amazing things.

M: Are you entirely sure the Hero Archetype is real? It could just be those lucky, bold, and brave enough to do things that seem impossible.

E: Well it’s a tricky thing. It’s why I wasn’t entirely sure to bring it up in the first place. It’s definitely less obvious than, say, a Dragonslayer. In all honesty I could be misguided, but I believe I’m at least half right.

M: Oh?

E: if the last seven years have shown us anything, it’s that the Archetype might not exist, but heroes definitely do.

M: A sentiment we can both agree on then. Thank you, Mister Cavallo, it has been quite enlightening.

E: Thank you, Doctor Westcroft.

M: My pleasure, do give Abigail my regards.

 

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The Wolves of Rome

3rd Journal Entry of Dr. P. Westcroft, Practicing Metaphysicist

Journal of Dr. P. Westcroft
March 15th, 2030

Continuing my research into matters of magic and its understanding has caused me to seek the advice of another expert in the field. The current area of my interest is in the propagation and sustainment of magical bloodlines. Much has been said on the matter of bloodlines and I wished to make more of it clear for those who might be curious. The subject of magic and its origins is very much the stuff of mystery to the modern layman despite its impact on their daily life. Part of this, I have reason to believe, is deliberate obfuscation on the part of magical society, but it is also simply a lack of practical knowledge. With its unmasked presence now a fact of life, even the non-magically capable should know basic facts of magical nature and understanding.

My previous expert, Abigail White, has politely declined to continue as she believes her knowledge on the subject may be insufficient for my needs, due to being a first-generation mage like many others in the city. As a result, she has recommended to me another established mage, Mister Renard Aestling, a Senior Professor of Alchemy at the Mage’s Academy and lifetime practicing mage.

[After greetings, Professor Aestling is seated across from me. He is joined by his bodyguard and attendant who I have reason to suspect is a Homunculus]

Me: Thank you again for agreeing to speak with me, Professor Aestling.

Renard: No trouble at all, I’ve heard about your work from Abi and I’m quite intrigued, so when you asked me to come down I thought ‘why not?’.

M: [Gestures to Homunculus] And this is your…assistant?

R: Elisa, yes. She thought she might be able to offer some words of her own, so she offered to come by. She’s not usually my bodyguard anymore, but old habits die hard I suppose.

M: I see, thank you for joining us, Elisa.

Elisa: My pleasure, Doctor.

M: Westcroft is fine.

R: So you want to know about bloodlines, yes?

M: That’s correct. What light can you shed on the matter? Assume I know almost nothing.

R: Well it’s pretty simple in summation. The older the magical bloodline, the stronger it becomes.

M: And why is that?

R: Heh, you can always figure out who are the smart ones by who asks that question, most just blindly accept it. As for why… well for one magical talent can be inherited directly. A mage is almost infinitely more likely to have magically-capable children than a non-mage.

M: So it’s partially genetic?

R: You’d think that but genes have nothing to do with it. There’s no “Magic gene” that marks a mage as different from a non-mage. The ability to perform magic is a function of the soul, and to a limited extent, it is present in every last human being.

M: I cannot say I’ve ever performed magic.

R: Oh you probably have, but that’s because people tend to think of magic as shooting fireballs or making rabbits disappear.

M: You’re saying it’s something else?

R: You ever met someone you always saw as being really lucky? Always draws good cards, always seems to find money on the ground, dice always come up sevens? I’m sure you do, everyone does.

M: Yes, I can think of a few.

R: Now you know why. It’s not luck.

M: Fascinating.

R: Of course that’s just humans. Most animals aren’t magic unless they become spirits, and Elisa here is a homunculus and has zero magical potential. Though she can still kill a man in five seconds if need be.

E: With all due respect, sir, I can do it in three.

R: My mistake.

M: We’re getting off point, Professor Aestling.

R: Right, right, now magic is inherited as I said. However, because it’s not genetic it has a certain…Lamarckian effect.

[Inserted note: Noted early Biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed that acquired traits could be inherited (i.e. the offspring of an athlete would be naturally athletic). Though instrumental in laying foundations of Pre-Darwinian evolutionary theory, this subset of Lamarckian theory was proven to be biologically false]

M: Do go on.

R: Well, simply stated, much of the research and advancement done in a single Mage’s lifetime can be inherited by their offspring. Not so much the knowledge, but a new technique or spell invented before the child’s conception will come quite naturally to the offspring in a matter of weeks, whereas it took years of study to discover. This is why most Mages prefer to make their discoveries relatively early in their career, then focus their efforts on either theory or perfecting their craft after having children.

M: So children of mages are born with an inherent advantage over their predecessors?

R: Precisely. And as the generations go on, the potential power expands almost exponentially.

M: So all mages are now the most powerful their line has ever been.

R: That’s where it gets a bit tricky. See, technique and capability is inherited, raw power is not.

M: Could you expand on that?

R: Well, every mage has their limit. Some spells take more out of you than others. And sometimes all the technique and finesse in the world isn’t enough if you don’t have the fuel to back it up.

M: Is this ‘raw power’ random?

R: For the most part yes. However it tends to follow trends in how magic the rest of the world is. Fifteen years ago the average mage was paltry. By the look of things, mages are more powerful now than they have been in centuries, the most powerful since the last time the world was like this.

M: Which was when, precisely?

R: Classical antiquity.

M: This certainly is quite a leap then.

R: Virtually unprecedented.

M: Now, I’ve heard certain bloodlines are more significant, divine bloodlines in particular. Can you elaborate?

R: Ah yes, well, that’s only natural. A divine bloodline means that mage has a god or powerful spirit somewhere in their family tree.

M: I can imagine that would be quite the boost in power then.

R: You’d be surprised really. Once the generations start piling on, that divine blood gets pretty thin. It doesn’t always give a direct advantage to Western Thaumaturgy, but it tends to bestow unique abilities even to the non-magically capable. Generally with divine blood, you want to take it on a case-by-case basis.

M: I see. Now Professor Aestling, how old is your line?

R: Not terribly old. Four centuries. Which means, to the more pretentious, we’re still a ‘young’ line.

M: That hardly sounds young at all.

R: Well to them, you’re nobody unless you hit seven.

M: I struggle to imagine what they think of all the first generation magic-users today…

R: Well, thankfully, most of them are dead. The  mage with the oldest bloodline in the city is Catarina. Her family, the Addobrandinis, are over nine hundred years old.

M: I see. So would you say those with a long family bloodline have an inherent advantage over the younger generations?

R: Absolutely, and it’s not just inheriting techniques. If you’re from a long line, you have centuries of research notes and tutelage to back up what you can do. Any new first-generation mage needs to start almost from scratch. It’s why we started the academy, but a professor can only do so much when not even the student is fully aware of their potential.

M: Could you give me an example?

R: I have a perfect one right here. Elisa is the apotheosis of homunculus design that has been meticulously advanced over the course of three centuries. She’s what you would call a very advanced model. Most of our first-generation alchemists can’t even create homunculi that are capable of thought let alone something as advanced as Elisa.

M: Ah, so Elisa, would you say you have your own family line in a way?

E: It could be seen that way, yes. I am the result of over eight hundred completed designs, if you include the designs that were scrapped in various stages, that number reaches several thousand, each one improving on the flaws on the previous generation.

M: You’ve both spoken of advancement. Is there an ultimate goal for Magecraft?

R: Western Thaumaturgy is a science. The goal is complete understanding. Though obviously that’s a bit ambitious for one line, so we specialize. If I had to pick a prominent one then I’d say the Aestling line is interested in creating an immortal Homunculus. That might prove useful for expanding human lifetime in the long run.

M: How long is your lifespan, Elisa? If you don’t mind me asking.

E: Well I’m seventeen now, and while I expect I’ll die by violence before then I hope to live to two hundred. 

M: That’s quite impressive!

R: It’s still a long way from eternity.

M: Still this has been quite enlightening for me, and I hope it will be for others as well. Thank you.

R: My pleasure.

 

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The Wolves of Rome

Chapter 9

March 19th, 2023
Giovanni had never seen this many people gathered in the Capitoline meeting chambers before. A dozen and a half people could be seated relatively comfortably, but now over thirty people, representatives and elected leaders, had been crammed into the room, most of them surrounding the large table where the established leaders were seated. The chatter was incessant, creating a constant wave of noise that washed back and forth across the room as people prepared their statements and discussed the purpose of the meeting.

There had been several requests to use several of the larger gathering rooms in the Vatican as a civil congregation, but Giovanni had turned them down on principle. The Vatican was for the offices of the church which, while depleted, still had reasonable numbers.

“Ahem.” Capitolina’s growled call for attention quickly silenced the room. She was a diplomatic wolf but could easily be roused to an impatient anger if things moved slowly and most of the people congregated remembered the last time she had barked for silence. None of them were eager to provoke her ire so soon after.

“We called everyone here today for a very specific reason.” She said, her voice as ever retaining its strong and imperious tone, calling the attention of all who heard her. “From the beginning my fellow wolves and I have stated that we were organizing these relief efforts only so long as was necessary and that once the people of Rome were back on their feet we would give the city back to them.”

Giovanni nodded. He had been quick to agree to the decision, as they all had. Capitolina had a strong sense of belief in the Roman government (if perhaps a biased preference for an Empire); Kebechet was a goddess (so she claimed) and unfit to rule on mortal soil; Giovanni had always believed in humans for human rule, knowing his place in the hierarchy of beings; and Angel had expressed indifference as she always did.

“We believe that time has come.” Capitolina said. “Between refugees, wanderers, and sheltered survivors, the latest census points to a population of over four hundred people. Given the number of elected representatives, it’s obvious that the people are recovered enough to govern themselves.”
There was a murmur of assent and approval among the gathered ranks as well as a few heart cheers.

“That said.” Capitolina’s voice cut shore the ebbing murmur. “Organizing a system of government is not one day’s work, and we hope to continue working alongside you on a provisional basis. Before even that, however, there are certain things you must know.”

Giovanni took a deep breath. How this information went over could change the course of the coming government.

“The cause of the Days of Revelations is known.” Instantaneously, there was an uproar. All the usual and expected questions came: “What is it?” “How do you know? “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” “Why weren’t we forewarned?”

Capitolina frowned, letting the people voice their complaints in an almost incomprehensible tide of words and questions before clearing her throat again, silencing the room.

“To answer a few of your questions,” She said, not letting impatience leak into her voice. “We have known for some time, but we only knew well after the events started, too late to stop it or to make any real difference. We kept it from you because there is little to be done with such information and the people’s focus needed to be on survival first and foremost. Now that we’ve reached a measure of sustainability, we can start thinking of the future. As for the cause…I will let Angel explain.”

There was a hushed murmur and even Giovanni glanced at Capitolina in surprise. It was a rarity for Angel to ever speak at meetings, as she seemed content to remain Capitolina’s shadow. But when called upon, the black-haired and winged wolf rose to her feet, all eyes on her, her face an expressionless mask.

“Many of you are familiar with the kinds of spirits that have come to populate your world again.” Angel’s voice was monotone, stark and unfeeling. “Spirits of the land, gods, and monsters. There is, however, another variety of spirit that remains few in number but immense in power. They are older than this world, predating its creation, and until the past year they were trapped in their god-made prisons with relatively little upset. We call these beings ‘Primordials’ for lack of a better term. In ancient times they were described as monsters and dragons, but in reality they are far more than any simple marauding beast. They are the chaos of unmade creation incarnate, anathema to structured reality.”

The room had fallen into hushed silence, all ears on Angel’s quiet and unflinching voice.
“The first to be freed from its prison is known as Nidhoggr. It is said to be a serpent or dragon that gnawed at the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrassil. It is the greatest of all Norse dragons, even above the serpent Jormungandr. Its prison was broken on Samhain last year, its bonds shattered by a renegade goddess the dragon had ensnared. It is said that Nidhoggr would be the harbinger of Ragnarok, the end of the world, and while those events have not come to pass, the release of Nidhoggr unleashed fresh chaos into the world that aided the resurrection and release of other Primordials in a cascading effect.”

Angel’s unblinking deadpan delivery did little to calm the unnerved crowd. No doubt they were remembering that night months ago, when the world seemed to end all around them. Angel’s words were dredging up buried memories. They had all experienced, and buried as best they could, dreams of a being of enormous power and unspeakable evil ripping free of its chains, a predator set loose on a world full of prey.

“The next to awaken was the Primordial known as Typhon, trapped beneath Mount Aetna by the god Zeus. After him, an eternal eclipse over Egypt heralded not only the return of the Primordial Apep, but also his devouring of the sun god Amun-Ra. It is these three Primordials who directly threaten Rome’s continued existence, Nidhoggr above all others. The Dragon of Yggdrassil is a being of death and shadow. Its very breath corrupts the world and re-animates the dead into the abominations that have stalked the continent. These skeletons and zombies are Nidhoggr’s foot soldiers. So long as it remains, the tide of the dead will continue. Typhon meanwhile makes most travel through the Mediteranean impossible. The water is thick with sea monsters at his beck and call and leaves us land-locked and isolated. Apep is the more distant threat, but it is his presence that has led the Egyptian Pantheon into exile and forced the shuttering of Duat, their afterlife.”

There was a long silence when she finished speaking, as if they expected to hear more, perhaps a “But” or “In spite of” to remove the edge and hopelessness from her words.

“What can be done about it?” One brave soul near the back of the room asked, though they all knew the answer that was coming.

“Nothing.” Angel said simply. “All of the Primordials are based hundreds of miles away, with hordes of monsters well beyond the power of those we have encountered between us and them. Even if we could reach them by some miracle, Primordials cannot be killed, and thus far no method has been found for resealing them in their former prisons.”

A dark silence settled on the room, and it did not take the keen senses of a wolf to feel the growing despair in the air. Knowing what had caused the Days of Revelation had not brought them the comfort they had hoped for. There was no solution, and though many of them had accepted it, they now knew without a doubt that the past was not to return.

“The reason we’ve brought this to your attention,” Capitolina’s strong voice broke the silence. “Is because it will be the duty of the new government to decide how best to move forward. We have survived, now we must thrive in a world that is for all intents and purposes ruled by the Primordials. With that said, I am opening the floor to debate. Today we decide the future of Rome and I will open with my own suggestion. With Rome in a crippled state and no allies to rely upon, the people should have a figure to rally around. I suggest a reinstatement of the title of Imperator, an overseer with final word and authority.”

If Angel’s words had silenced the waves then Capitolina’s brought the flood. Giovanni sighed at the sudden uproar that her words brought.

“What I believe the angry mob is trying to say, Capitolina.” The smooth voice of Albion Nassar cut through the rabble and brought a level of silence to the room. “Is that we were willing to stand by and let you reinstate the archaic title of Pontifex Maximus because we agreed that someone needed to be in charge of all the Faiths, new and old, to keep the peace.”

Giovanni frowned. He had been against the title being reinstated, as while it was not technically an official title of His Holiness, it had been associated with him for centuries. But he had bowed to the decision because Nora’s position was more important than squabbling over particulars.

“However,” Lord Nassar continued. “Electing a single person to have unlimited control over the Sanctuary might end in disaster. There are plenty of interest groups who would feel cheated by having a single ruler.”

“I understand that.” Capitolina said, her flattened ears giving away her irritation, though her voice remained calm. “However, Rome is still on new legs, it can easily fall or be crippled. To lead this city out of its infancy requires a strong and efficient hand. I have seen republics strangle themselves in bureaucracy and debate while the city and country starved in need. It could cripple Rome at its peak and it can kill this tiny sanctuary.”

“A fair point.” Nassar nodded, his calm smile doing little to dissuade Capitolina’s distaste. “But it still begs the question of who this potential Emperor would be, as well as selling the idea to the crowd. Without widespread support, any new Emperor could divide the sanctuary into two or three.”

Giovanni sat back in his chair, hands clasped over his lap as he listened to the debate open up. People quickly began to divide into camps, some in support of an Empire, as Capitolina was. The modern man, Giovanni observed, was generally not in favor of dictatorship. A mere glance at recent history, he felt, could explain why.

Despite his early statements, Albion Nassar seemed content to sit out much of the debate once it had started in earnest, merely speaking up here in there to prod the speaker in a certain direction. Giovanni could tell what he was doing. The two of them were the same in many ways. They would let the decision fall where it might so long as their interests were protected. Giovanni’s interests were selfless, the continued support, representation, and respect of the Vatican and a semi-independent entity. Lord Nassar, however, clearly had ulterior motives. He was certainly in favor of the same ideas given to mages, but there was something more to it. He had ambition and a will for power. Giovanni knew Nassar was a snake, but it was up to the people to decide how much power he would take for himself.

The debate raged for hours, and Giovanni rarely spoke save for the odd occasion where someone would throw forward something ridiculous or particularly blasphemous. The gathered crowd meant there was plenty of eccentricity and incompatible beliefs among the more clear-headed and pragmatic, and one after another they needed to be turned down. They had all known that this meeting was to be a slog, but they sat through it regardless. It was more than a debate and they all knew it. In that room, at that time, the future would be decided. The Roman Sanctury had ended its temporary existence. With fewer than five hundred people and a tentative new government, the city was Rome once more.

 

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The Wolves of Rome

Mages of Rome

March 14th, 2023
It had taken three days to clear the reservation of the large meeting room on the third floor of the Capitoline Museum. It had taken two days to successfully contact every competent mage in Rome and another day to get them to agree to gather here. All in all it had taken nearly a week to lay the foundations for this meeting. Now, if all went as planned, it would take only an hour for Lord Albion Nassar’s plan to come together.

There were not many mages left in Rome but that wasn’t surprising. Mages were a rare breed even before the Days of Revelation. They tended to found in smaller and more rural places, where privacy and seclusion could be better assured. This rural isolation fit nicely with the technophobic habit that most mages held. Albion Nassar, however, was not most mages. He enjoyed the bustle of an urban city, the level of power that could be gained behind a veil of anonymity, and the luxury he could build for himself. Money was more powerful over the minds of the mundane masses than almost any enchantment. Now, however, money was worth the paper it was printed on and nothing more. What people wanted now was safety. It was that desire for safety, that need, which would allow him to rise to the top of this little sanctuary.

“They’re approaching the meeting room now, Master.” The smooth silky voice of Suty came to his ear as she appeared behind his chair. Suty was a minor daemon, useful for simple tasks and sending messages while being bound entirely to his will.

“Well done, Suty.” He said, and she offered a broad toothy smile in return.

As the other mages of Rome were led in he eyed them up one by one. He had a talent for observation, but it did not take much to determine that Rome’s magical community was in a sorry state.

“Announcing the young Miss Aldobrandini.” Suty said as his recently-made apprentice entered the room first.

Catarina was an interesting specimen. She had a good deal of enthusiasm and an idealistic streak. The former was useful if irritating, but the latter would have to be pressed out of her. In truth she was far more useful as a pawn then an apprentice. Her talent was limited and her application amateurish on top of a poor understanding of general theory. What was significant about her was her bloodline, which was so old and so renowned it might have been liquid gold pumping through her veins for the amount it was worth. The arrangement and joining of bloodlines and families was practically a sport among established magi families. Magically-gifted blood was too precious to be wasted on the common rabble, and as her mentor Albion was ideally placed to arrange for her suitor.

Catarina greeted him formally with a bow, the sun in her eyes and a smile on her face, ever eager to please. Albion gestured to the seat to his right and she was quick to take it. Though she was smiling, Albion could still sense the disappointment and anxiety in her. Her summoning spell the week before had failed rather anticlimactically. He had taken her on, but he would be watching her progress closely.

“Is Hildegard coming?” Catarina asked.

“No” Albion said plainly “Miss Jazheil might know magecraft…but she lacks a proper education. Being a combat mage can only get you so far and she’s forsaken any claims to the title of ‘Magus’.”

“Ah…” Albion could see she was crestfallen but he stood by his words. He had met a few Jazheils in his time. Hildegard was the last of them but they were insane to a man. Rogue monster hunters with a taste for violence, a relic from a bygone era.

“Anything I can get you, Miss Aldobrandini?” Suty almost slithered over to her. “Anything to eat or drink?” Judging by Suty’s posture, it was clear that’s not all she was offering. Albion knew that Suty enjoyed teasing and tormenting his apprentice. It was some of the only sport the daemon was allowed, so he allowed it to keep her from being overly temperamental.

“Ah…no thank you, Suty.” Catarina kept her eyes straight forward, doing her best to ignore the daemon.

“Awww…well as you wish. Announcing Mister Ettore Cavallo!” She scuttled back behind Albion as the next mage entered.

Ettore Cavallo was largely an amateur in terms of practical ability, but he was a veritable genius when it came to theory and research. Albion had met Ettore on several occasions before the Days of Revelation, usually in the depths of a library. He was…harmless, Albion decided. He was rarely a distinct part of the magus community, but with so few of their number remaining every mage counted.

Ettore nodded his head and gave a light, casual wave before taking a seat separate from the pair of them. “Glad I could make it.” He said “Though I wish your familiar could have told me more. I’m not entirely sure what this is about.”

“I will explain in full when the others have arrived.” Albion reassured him. “I believe there should only be two more.”

“Only five?” Ettore asked. “In all of Rome?”

“Hardly surprising.” Albion waved the question off. “Though I have reason to suspect that number will soon increase. As I said, wait and all will be made clear.”

Ettore nodded in silence, fingers drumming nervously on the table.
Foolish. Albion thought to himself He really is poor at guarding himself. He’s not cut out to be a legitimate magus.
He frowned. He didn’t like associating himself openly with lesser mages and apprentices, but these were desperate times for everyone.

“Announcing Miss Abigail White!” Suty called as a blonde-haired woman appearing to be in her late twenties entered the room. She was trimly dressed in a button-down shirt and pencil skirt, her hair done up in a knot behind her head. She hid green eyes behind a pair of thick glasses.

Abigail White was so far the only anomaly in his plans. He had not expected Catarina to be alive but he always factored in the Aldobrandinis just to be safe. Catarina was simple to manipulate but her father had been a force to be reckoned with. Albion sincerely hoped he was indeed dead. Regarding Abigail, however, he had never heard of the White family, and his attempts to uncover a second identity beneath this woman had been fruitless. She seemed to be what she claimed, a first-generation magus of unusual power, which made her either a liar or something altogether more important.

“Good afternoon.” Abigail nodded to them as she entered before taking a seat beside Ettore, who was quick to scoot his chair to the side to make room for her.

“Afternoon.” Albion said plainly as the others offered their greetings. “Should be just one more now.”

He kept his eyes on the door. The last mage was the most dangerous factor in this little plan of his.
“Announcing Mister Renard Aestling…er and guest.” Suty blinked as not one but two figures entered the room soon after Abigail.

Renard Aestling was an unusual man even at first glance. Albion was unsure if he was born with albinism or if his colorless hair and pale skin was the result of some magical test gone wrong. He was young, hardly more than thirty, though he walked with a pronounced limp that Albion had long suspected was fake, leaning on a cane at all times. His face was long with a square set jaw and cold eyes that tended to intimidate those lower in the ranks, only adding to his reputation as an outcast and a troublemaker. Much like Albion, Renard rarely got along well with the rest of magical society, thought it did little to engender any mutual sympathy.

Walking just behind Renard was a prime example of his skill and craft. While a decent mage in his own right, Renard’s true skill lay in alchemy, specifically the production of human-like homunculi. These artificial people, living artifacts animated by magic, were rarely any smarter than a toddler, but Renard’s skill was legendary to those who knew of it, and Albion suspected the homunculus acting as his attendant could outwit Suty. This homunculus appeared female and, whether as a byproduct or some leftover vanity, looked in many ways like Renard himself. She had pale skin and white hair over unsettlingly red eyes. She was similarly dressed in a fine suit and openly carried a sword at her hip, a bodyguard as much as an attendant.

“Evening all.” Renard smiled wryly as he limped his way into the room and into his chair, leaning his cane on the table as his homunculus took its place behind him. “So Nassar’s got a plan it seems. Though I doubt he deigned to tell any of you before you came, am I right?”

Ettore and Abigail nodded, Catarina remained silent, likely trying to remain on his good side.
“Should have figured.” Renard turned to Albion. “Then let’s hear it.”

“Very well.” Albion rose to his feet, ignoring Renard’s mocking tone. “Then let us consider this our first meeting as representatives of the mages of Rome.”

“We hardly need to be representatives.” Renard said. “We are all the mages in Rome.”

“A condition I have reason to suspect will change.” Albion said.

“And why’s that? Mages don’t just happen overnight” Albion had known Renard would be the one to turn an announcement into a debate. He just had to endure it. Division could destroy them and he was above petty spite.

“If you will allow me to continue I would be happy to explain.” Albion reined in the venom in his voice. “We are all perfectly aware of the changes occurring in the world, the return of gods and monsters to our fair planet was predicted by mages before anyone else. However, this presents new opportunities for all of us.”

Albion held his hands behind his back as he began to walk a circle around the small table where the five mages and two familiars had gathered, noting the restrained hostility in the homunculus’ eyes.

“For if there are more monsters and more magic in the air…why would there not be more mages?”

“The modern mage families did not spring from nothing, they were born as first generation mages. And we have every reason to suspect they will start be born again.”

“Ambitious, Albion.” Renard quipped, dripping with sarcasm. “We just have to wait five generations and then we might thirty or so mages.”

“Th-that might not necessarily be true.” It was Abigail who spoke next, peering at them from behind her glasses, hands folded in front of her to disguise their nervous twitching.

“Do elaborate, Miss…?” Renard looked her over from across the table.

“White. Abigail White. And I have been researching an…unusual phenomenon. It seems these changes that have been occurring since the Days of Revelation might be affecting more than just the present.”

“Do you have an example, Miss White?” Albion asked, largely as a formality to the others. He had already interrogated her on her theory.

“Just…small evidence for now regarding the populations of the various pagan groups.”

“What about them?” Renard shrugged, but Ettore was listening with close interest.

“They’ve been interviewed and…a disproportionate number of them claim to have been following those beliefs even before the Days of Revelations. Not all of them are converts, and the pagan population of Rome has never been this high of a percentage of the population.”

“Could it be a sample bias?” Ettore asked “The Pagan gods could be protecting their devout minority so that their numbers appear to rise as the population goes down.”

“Possibly. I admit I need more evidence and research.”

“Still, it is compelling.” Albion finished her statement before it could drag too long. “And if proven true we could see an influx of mage families that are new…yet all evidence points to them having existed all along.”

“Master, that’s…confusing.” Catarina scratched her head.

“Think of it as editing a book.” Albion said, patting Catarina on the head. “We see time as linear, one event after another, effect following cause. Yet the forces that shape the world, the underlying metaphysics of reality beyond even the gods, have no such limitations. Changes do not need to be made in the present, the past can be edited as well, just as easily as you could turn back the page and edit a previous chapter. Being mages, we’re more sensitive and might be able to track these changes where the more mundane populace might simply accept it.”

“Ah…I think I understand now.” Catarina nodded.

“Good. Then I think it would be best if we looked into it. Miss White, Mister Cavallo, I want you to make this the primary object of your research. What duties are you serving at present?”

“I’m doing research on behalf of the Council and the Vatican.” Ettore said “I might be able to find an hour each day to put into it.

“I work in the hospital rehabilitation program.” Abigail spoke next. “There are a lot of wounded civilians, including children, so I’m helping where I can with magic.”

Albion nodded. Abigail had a rare breed of magic, the power to heal, a skill that marked her as an anomaly as sure as her seemingly barren background. Observation of her had been one of the reasons he had called this meeting. She claimed to be researching the possible appearance of new mage families, but failed to suspect as Albion did that she was the first of such mages, forced inelegantly into existence almost as if to justify the changes in the world. He wanted to keep a close eye on her.

“Hold on just a moment.” Renard tapped his cane repeatedly on the tile floor to get their attention. “Now, who is it exactly that gave you power to order us to do much of anything?”

“If you’re smart, all of you.” Albion said stiffly. “This brings me to the second reason I brought you all here. We are mages and our secret is out. Everyone in Rome is aware of our existence, and we need to start making the most of that.”

“Meaining?” Renard asked.

“Meaning representation, meaning politics, meaning getting the respect we deserve as some of the foremost guardians and scholars of this city.”

Renard frowned. “So you want us to represent mages as a whole…who don’t exist yet by the way…while you…”

“Represent the five of us and our interests.” Albion nodded “Once a proper system of government has been established.”

Renard kept his face stony but didn’t speak. Albion could almost see the gears turning in his head. The best way to appeal to mages was to appeal to their desire for solitude. Mages relish one thing above all else and that’s their research. Magical research was the primary currency of mage interactions and that led to their cutthroat politics and mutual distrust. Albion merely had to promise to protect their interests and so long as they were satisfied that he delivered, they wouldn’t pull themselves from their research to throw themselves into the political lion’s den. Renard hated politics and would never willingly play the game, even to spite Albion. Ettore lacked the stomach for it, and was self-conscious enough to know it. Abigail’s charity would handicap her, her desire to help those immediately in need keeping her from any higher office. Cat was obviously too young and too inexperienced to lead them in magic or politics. The choice was logical and all of them knew it.

“Fine.” Renard was, surprisingly, the first to speak. “So long as you’re representing us and not you, then I suppose having a viper in politics on our side is better than having nothing at all.”

“I’m sure Lord Albion is more than capable.” Ettore nodded. “And representation could help us all. We certainly don’t have any at the moment.”

“Agreed.” Abigail said “And it would give us all more time for research rather than having to deal with the council’s decisions individually.”

“Then I propose the formation of a guild.” Albion said, smiling as they all came around. “There are already a few unofficial organizations representing the craftsmen and the Rangers. This shall be ours, a Mage’s Guild.”

“Five people is hardly a guild.” Renard snorted.

“True” Albion nodded “But it will not be five for long.”

 

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The Wolves of Rome

2nd Journal Entry of Dr. P. Westcroft, Practicing Metaphysicist

Journal of Dr. P. Westcroft

March 5th, 2030

Today has been most exhilarating! Several days ago I requested an interview with a practicing member of the Roman Mage’s Guild so as to better educate my forthcoming description of common magical systems. Not only was my request accepted, but I was scheduled an interview with Professor Abigail White! Our interview was today, and so engaging I decided to record the transcript in lieu of my own butchered interpretations.

[Exchanges of greeting and conversational pleasantries. Quite enjoyable for me but less useful for public knowledge]

Me: Professor White, it is an absolute pleasure to have you here. I am already well acquainted with your work on the cross-temporal meta-contamination that bears your name.

White: Yes, the Cavallo-White Effect. I’m surprised you’ve studied it thoroughly; it doesn’t get much traction outside of theory papers.

M: Metaphysical theory is something of my specialty, Professor White, but I’m afraid that must wait for another time.

W: You requested a sort of introduction to magic? That’s what I was told.

M: Indeed. I am writing notes for posterity and I unfortunately lack a solid grounding in magical theory, as I do not possess the gift.

W: Well I would be happy to give what I can.

M: Excellent. Could you provide me with an…overview, as broad as you can please, to ground us somewhere.

W: Hmmmm…well worth keeping in mind is I’m only an experienced practitioner in Western Thaumaturgy. I have researched Greek Pyromancy, Runic Spellcraft, Chinese Necromancy, and Persian Summoning Magic to a limited extent as well though.

M: Western Thaumaturgy is the most common form of magic in Rome, yes?

W: Yes. At least eighty percent of Guild members are practitioners.

M: Then let us start there.

W: Excellent. Well, to get down to basics, Western Thaumaturgy uses inborn power to evoke external phenomenon. This inner power manifests as aether, or mana, a sort of metaphysical substance that permeates a mage’s body.

M: I’ve been told all humans have some capacity of mana.

W: Indeed they do! Especially after the Days of Revelation. However, the number of those with the potential necessary to perform thaumaturgy is quite low.

M: Can you quote numbers?

W: I can! Census records tell us that before the Days of Revelation magic-capable humans accounted for approximately .001% of the European population.

M: And today?

W: Today it is nearly 1% and rising each year. It is quite exciting! I used these numbers in the earlier papers on the Cavallo-White Effect.

M: And it is the duty of the Mage’s Guild to educate the growing number of magic-capable citizens.

W: One of the Guild’s functions, yes.

M: Very good, very good. Now, I wanted to move to the actual training of magic. How is a spell performed in Western Thaumaturgy?

W: Ah, of course let’s get back on track. Well, the fundamental method is to induce a brief trance-like state upon the mind, silencing the conscious ever so briefly to tap into the unconscious where mana can be manipulated. Most mages due this by using a string of words.

M: Incantations.

W: Just so. The phrase itself is meaningless so long as it puts you in the proper state of mind, though most use words related to the spells function to make it simpler.

M: And these incantations can change?

W: Yes. With practice and repetition entering the trance becomes easier. Experienced mages, combat-capable mages in particular, can enter trances that last a tenth of a second and require only one word of incantation, or no word at all.

M: Very interesting. Now, many still believe that there were, in fact, no mages before the Days of Revelation.

W: Untrue. Though quite few in number, mages have maintained a presence in human society throughout history.

M: Why the secrecy?

W: The relationship between magical and non-magical society can be…quite strained. We’ve seen plenty enough evidence of that in Sicily over the past few years, not to mention the Guild’s history here.

M: Very good points, though why lift the veil in that case?

W: Mages were ahead of the curve during the Spirit Year. We saw what was happening for what it was and began preparing. I can say that, at least in Western Europe, the move towards exposure was a controversial one on many fronts. But all you need is a minority going public to drag the rest along with them.

M: Did you support the movement?

W: Absolutely. The entire world was at risk, particularly when the first monsters started appearing. Guns didn’t work on them, a great deal of technology had stopped working and infrastructure collapsed within months. Magic could replace most of this, it would have been inhuman to keep our talents from aiding our fellow man, regardless of the consequences.

M: Was Lord Albion a supporter?

W: No comment.

M: Of course, of course. Now, does western thaumaturgy tie into divine magic at all? How does that work.

W: Not in the least, many non-mages are divinely inspired. For that, I suggest speaking to Kebechet or visiting the Shrine Complex. I’m afraid my understanding is a bit limited there.

M: Of course. Well I’m afraid our time is about up, though I would love to do this again regarding other magic systems.

W: Of course, though you might be better informed tracking down a real practitioner.

M: Of course, of course. Give your husband my regards.

[Interview ends]

 

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The Wolves of Rome

1st Journal Entry of Dr. P. Westcroft, Practicing Metaphysicist

Journal of Dr. P. Westcroft
February 28th, 2030

It has been brought to my attention that a breakdown of events leading to our “New Age” may be useful for posterity. Given the state of human memory, and the state of the world today, I am willing to believe this is true. I will attempt to explain the facts as best as I can recall them. It is my hope that others may learn from what has happened.

A starting point is difficult to describe. The year was 2022, but the exact day and month are difficult to pin down. It is known as the Spirit Year as the number of occult, paranormal, and supernatural phenomenon multiplied far beyond the then-explainable norm. Reports of specters and spirits, inexplicable disappearances of stars in the sky, and a rising neopagan movement have blurred the line between coincidence and evidence. 

All of these took a turn for the worse, however, when the harvests in the most fertile nations began to fail, shortly followed by a virulent epidemic which ran a terrible course across the globe. The world was being pushed to its limits, but it was surviving. That was the status quo until October 23rd 2023.

One week before Samhain (All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween, the day has many names), the lights went out. Electrical appliances simultaneously ceased to function worldwide, an effect that would last nearly a month. Predictably, rioting and looting ensued. In the chaos, many noticed but few recorded the terrible nightmares all mankind was sharing, indescribable dreams of hellish noise and apocalyptic visions. Scientists, myself included, were without explanation. Three days later, when the riots and looting were well underway and the militaries of the world had been mobilized, the next terrible sign came. The stars vanished from the sky for four days, and the moon turned a shade of red only describable as the precise color of human blood.

There was a tenseness in the air, as the world waited for what was to come next. Most of us believed, rightly so, that the world was ending. We only wished to know how.

On October 31st, the doors between worlds flew open and the Primordials were unleashed.
Forty-eight hours of darkness followed. The world’s governments, spent on maintaining order and unable to communicate, were overwhelmed by hordes of nightmares. Looters and rioters found themselves ambushed in darkened streets by monsters from myth and legend.

This time frame, from the first reported Nightmare to the fall of the old world, is known today as the Days of Revelation.

Cities emptied themselves as people fled for the countryside, but there they found a changed world. The earth had reclaimed the fallow fields. Primeval forests were spreading in their ancient grounds, and they were filled with monsters and spirits irritated by these new trespassers, if not outright hostile.

It was, in many ways, the end of the world, and the full consequences of what had happened are not fully understood. Most believed it was the end of mankind, and that possibility had, for a time, been very real. We would survive, however. Humans are notoriously hard to eradicate. We would need to adapt to the new world we now openly shared with spirits, monsters, and gods, but for this, we would need help.

 

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