Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Communication, Magical Regulation and Censorship Part 3

Howdies! If you are just coming across this this is the third part of a three part series; Part 1 and Part 2 have bits of fiction related to the third bit and have more on this subject, so feel free to check those out first. If you aren’t interested in the fiction, skip down to the asterisks. Enjoy!

Waves

Wjoo stood in the darkness of the cave, feeling the cool, ocean water lick over her feet. As cold as it was, it was still hot as summer to the woman from Frid. Sweat dripped down her pale skin, a sensation she had rarely felt back in her homeland. It was too hot here. And so wet. But the water had been what had drawn her there. She had used a shard of water and seen its path, where it had been and followed it from Frid to a river, to the unfortunate belly of a fish, to a patch of ocean, to a quiet home of sleeping, red haired people, to a pink sandy beach and then here. Hitha of Miz. Miz was full of magic. She could tell it from the drop of water that had passed through here so many Whale Risings ago.

Magic was why she came here. Not to use it but because they understood it and could use it. Other lands were fierce but only in body. Some regions were closer but too weak. It would take the Arm and the Mind to take on the Beren. She saw the Spires, the energy crackling between them. There were people here who could draw energy and bend it, coax it with their will. A country of intelligent, happy people, a homogenous people. Their dark skin and hair like qiviut was fascinating to her, as well as their way of using magic. They were equally taken by her strange appearance. White skin, white hair, ice blue eyes. In Frid she had blended in with both the land and the people, practiced the customs. But here she stuck out.

There were foreigners in Miz to be sure. They came in on boats of all sizes and shapes, glorious things with sails in colors she had never seen. But none looked like her. And it was too hot to walk around anyway. The sun hurt her eyes and clawed at her skin. So she stayed in the dim cave, lit by lamps and lantern fish. It was cooler here and the sea rushed in and out, giving her plenty of water to focus on and examine. Her Fridian garments were far too hot for this climate so she had stashed them away on a rock shelf and wore an airy skirt and vest. Poe had said it made her look like a cloud spirit, or a skinny marble statue of the goddess but only when Wjoo piled her hair on top of her head. Poe. Wjoo shook her head and smiled, kneeling down before the tide pool.

Wjoo looked up, hearing the smack of oars against the water, the interruption of the water’s wishes being carved out by wood and the weight of the person in the boat. The Fridian woman dipped her fingers into the water and felt the displacement of the craft, saw the reflection of the people in the boat on the shimmering surface. Poe and Irizia. Both of them were students at the Spires. Poe was still a General Studies student but Irizia was a mage woman. Wjoo had mistaken her for a powerful shaman but her blunder had been to her benefit. Irizia was a student and young and open to the ideas that Wjoo had presented her with in the conjuring room water dripping across the floor and down Wjoo’s legs from the overturned couldron. When Irizia had revealed to her the Spire Elders views on giving martial aid to foreign powers Wjoo was even more relieved she hadn’t consulted them first.

She heard the splash of a body stepping into the water, heard the grunts of Poe pulling the small boat into the cave, away from prying eyes and searching magic. She saw his face peer around the mouth of the cave, dark brown eyes bright within his hood. “Hallo, Madame Wjoo” he said. His words echoed in the cave, stretching back within the earth. The young man pulled at the boat, pulling and huffing while the mage woman remained within the craft, silent.

“Hello, young Poe,” Wjoo said, with a bow of her head. Her words were accented. Even with the study and the spell she had cast her mastery of the Mizian tongue was not perfect. She would ask Irizia if she could cast the spell again. She was better at holding her breath and keeping calm while Wjoo sent the ball of enspelled water into her throat, holding it there, drawing it over her lips. Poe had turned blue. He was still young. Irizia was tutoring him in the ways of magic and Wjoo was able to watch and compare. Mizian tutelage required meditation and reading, as well as a teacher. Irizia was firm but fair. Wjoo had been sealed in an ice cave for her training. It was a very different approach. Poe tied the boat up and smiled, finally pulling off his hood. He was bald, as was expected.

Irizia did not look as happy as the young man. She pulled back her hood and stepped out with bare feet. Her long knotted hair fell to her shoulders, shells and stones signifying things that Wjoo was learning. “We have a problem,” she said. She never bothered with formality.

“What is the issue?” Wjoo asked, folding her hands.

“The police force has jumped on this much more strongly than we’d anticipated,” Irizia said. “They shut down Grocer Street till the next day of rest and they’re cracking down on foreigners. My cousin says the research she and her superior are performing is helping them in their search of the perpetrators. What’s more, the Spokes is reporting it was some kind of prank.”

“Luckily, it’s not just The Spokes and the Spires that make up Hitha,” Poe said, his face still bright. “People are whispering about it, curious. I heard the students-”

“What have I told you about hearing, Poe?” Irizia said.

“I only did it at school, to see what the students were saying,” Poe said. “A police officer came in and spoke to every class. I was lucky more students from my form were absent that day. Which…by the way…?” Poe to Wjoo hopefully, a trace of nervousness in his eyes. “You said you would grow my hair back? I…I can’t go to school bald.”

“Right,” Wjoo said. She sat on a rock and pointed to the ground with two fingers, indicating he should sit before her. Poe rubbed his hands together and sat before her obediently, crosslegged on the hard ground. “This will feel strange.”

“That reminds me, I brought food,” he said, pointing to the boat. Irizia narrowed her eyes at Poe before she went and grabbed the pack from the boat.

“The Mademoiselle Aritzia of the Nightblooming Rose spoke publicly regarding the illusion,” Irizia said. She set the bundle on another rock and started to take out the packs and tins of food. “Many of the clientele of the Rose are foreigners. Her mother is a foreigner, a refugee from Qamer and says if we can help them we should. Power held in hand must be allowed to flow, lest it destroy the holder, she said.”

“Her father was of the Third Spire,” Poe said. “And her grandfather made it to the Fourth.”

Wjoo dipped her hand into the pool of water, cupping it so that it collected in the palm of her hand. She sent the instructions from her mind down through her throat and shoulder and arm and wrist and hand, out through the pores and into the water, transforming it. Then she let out a breath as she let it drop onto Poe’s bare scalp, the water dropping and collecting on his scalp like a sheer, shimmering cap.

“We need to get more than the courtesans and students on our side,” Irizia said, putting the last tin on the shelf. “They don’t command the navy. The Mademoiselle is a good start. I’m surprised we influenced someone that important this quickly.”

“There are more students and regular people than there are people in the Spire.” Poe said. He winced, Wjoo heard him. It hurt, the procedure but she could see the hair wiggling and growing, curling out of his scalp. “The people from the illusion were normal people, just like us. That was the point of showing that. Sympathy. Those are real people!”

Yes, real people. Her people. Wjoo gulped at the lump that formed in her throat, cold and hard. Not just anyone. She still remembered her pact-brother, collecting her tears as they watched from the snow bank, the Beren driving her people along the hardpack, whipping them. Her sister was that woman, beaten with the cruel whip. Her nephew’s cries haunted her. Wjoo had wanted to fight back, to leap over the pile of snow and tear into them. But the Beren knew their magic. They had learned to block it, cancel it out somehow. At first it had been shocking, then frustrating, then deadly. And then the magic users had been forced to do the last thing they wanted to do: hide. They were being captured, singled out and killed terribly. Wjoo was chosen to leave and seek help. Wjoo was the best at travelling through the water’s path. Wijee had collected her tears and put them in the small vial. They had all given them her tears, their grief. They were her fuel for her spells.

“Ouch!” Poe squeaked. Wjoo looked down at the young man’s head. She had tugged and pulled more than a handswidth of hair with one tug of her emotions. He rubbed his head with his hands, looking back at her. He was wincing. “Are you okay, Madame?”

“I’m fine,” she lied. She looked to Irizia, already anticipating the look she would give her. Irizia was strong and she wanted to help but she was very logical. Wjoo noticed the young wizard disregarded the same trait as weakness in others, especially in her female cousin but Wjoo knew better than to point it out. “Poe is right. We must win the hearts of your people for my people. Did you not say the power of the Spires is in the gaze of the one who looks upon them?”

Irizia’s mouth practically disappeared on her face as she pressed her lips together. For a moment the only sounds in the cave were the waves crashing and the gulls. But Irizia nodded.

“It is the truth,” the mage woman said. She avoided Wjoo’s gaze. “But neither I or Poe can be involved this time. We should trade off regularly, so avoid suspicion and cut back on interaction in public.” Irizia looked to Poe. “We should get Sardisi and Chesh this time.”

“Sardisi is part-foreign,” Poe pointed out. His hair was grown. It surrounded his head like a dark cloud but it didn’t dampen his bright smile and hopeful face. “It could help but it could lead to more regulations for foreigners, or turn Mizians against them. Sardisi is not a good choice. I think…Iza.”

“My cousin?!” Irizia laughed out loud, throwing her head back. The beads in her hair clacked with her movement and she laughed again. “Poe, my cousin is a police officer! She will never help us.”

“But she is your cousin.” Poe looked to Wjoo, excitement making him gesture with his hands more. “Madame could make something that will go off at a certain time or when it’s in a certain location. The police will be in the public eye from now on, asking questions and regulating. And if she suspects, well…she won’t put her cousin, who is boarding her and sponsoring her for the Spires in jail.”

“I could do it,” Wjoo said. “I could make a spell that would go off at a certain time.” It didn’t work with a timer per se but they didn’t need to know exactly how it would get done. “Just…bring me something that you know she carries all the time. I will draw the spell.”

Irizia narrowed her dark brown eyes. She put her hands behind her back. Wjoo knew the mage woman stood to lose much if they were found out. But Wjoo had already lost so much and stood to gain back what the people in Miz already had. Freedom. Her family back.

“Please.”

Wjoo and Irizia both looked at Poe, eyebrows raised. The young man looked so earnest. So different from her people in appearence but she had seen the look in his eyes on many a young person, a person who believed in something. Maybe he believed more than her. Wjoo was so tired. It was possible.

Irizia just nodded. Poe and Wjoo gave a sigh of relief. Wjoo found tears springing to her eyes, not from sadness this time. She just felt so…drained. The thought made her laugh. A sorceress of water, feeling drained. Wjoo brought a white hand to her forehead and laughed. She would rest when she was back in the cold, frigid lands of her people, safe. They would fill her up with joy. But for now, there was work to do. Something like hope played on her smile and in her eyes as she dipped her hand into the pool of water and let the water drip through her fingers. The pool shimmered as the tiny circles grew and spread across the surface of the pool, their energy rising and reflecting back in the cool water.

***************************************************************************

If there is something, it will be misused. The fork that is SUPPOSED to be for eating pasta, look! It fits in this person’s eye! Or this electrical outlet! It can also be used for jewelry or melted down to make something new or bent into an interesting shape. Most anything that has been invented has been done so with some kind of intention and once it exists, the intentions of people who interact with said object can change it, depending on the scope of their imaginations, their resources and their access to incendiaries.

In the first article the topic of magic and energy was brought up. Waves of energy moving through matter, affecting life, transmitting information. The second article dealt more with the regulation of magic, what happens when this type of energy is a part of your world and what people might want to do to make sure things don’t go crazy.

But the fact of the matter is that rules are not absolutes. They are constructs. People make them to keep the peace, to make sure everybody gets enough, to make sure people don’t act out their stupider urges, to make sure that some people get more, to make sure that these people are kept down, all in the name of law. The laws of governance are not the same as the laws of energy and nature. If there is fire, it’s going to burn. A law will try to coax people to not make fires so that things don’t get burned. But you can’t say, Hey, Fireball. There’s a rule about this. So…don’t burn me to death, okay? Good luck with that.

Magic, energy, data. Once generated, these things are going to play out to the end. There is no appealing to it. It is not emotional, it can’t be bribed with money or threatened with violence.

Basically: You Can’t Stop The Signal. Even if you counterspell, that energy has to go somewhere.

Reasons to stop energy, magic and information to get around is touched on above. Someone or a group of people do not want something to get out because it may destroy or create something they don’t wish to be destroyed or created. Many religions have stories where a deity spoke and something was destroyed or created and to a lesser extent, mortals have the same power. The whisper in the dark destroys a family, the shout on the church steps sends the steeple tumbling down, words of love start a dynasty, the idea creates mechanical wonders. It might take a bit more time but the power is there.

How does one stop a signal? Well, on the technical level you can disrupt it by sending another wave at it, cancelling it out with a wave of the same frequency and modulation. But if the thing that sends the signal is still there, guess what? It can still send out the signal. So you’ve got to destroy the thing that sends the signal. Okay. Well, that thing got the information from somewhere. Gotta track that down and destroy that. All of it. Well hey, you know what, that thing that held the info didn’t randomly generate it. Someone entered it. So they could technically generate the information again, plug it in, etc. So you have to find the individual that generated the info and hope that they didn’t tell anyone. Etc.And when you plug in the human constructs of morality, loyalty, honor,secrecy, sacrifice and self-preservation…boy howdy. It’s going to take you a while.

Maybe even a whole campaign?

As long as people want to get information out there, they are going to figure out a way to do it. It might not be the most accessible, or the most aesthetically pleasing. A magic spell that’s the equivalent of a photocopied and stapled ‘zine might make the finest wizard cringe with its execution but if it gets the message out to people, it doesn’t matter the package. Laws of nations clash with human sympathy and empathy. Rules for groups of people seem to loose their gravity when we see individual suffering, joy, fear and when we personally experience things that don’t seem…right.

In many RPG settings there are races that seem to be able to exercise logic more than emotion, either because of their culture, their social status that seems to put them above the tide of the swell or they are more long lived and they understand the upswing in emotion can’t ride out forever. Energy rises and falls, waves go in and out. However, just knowing that doesn’t mean you can’t be swept up into the waves.

And well, collective memory is a very long, long thing.

For GMs
How is information transmitted from region to region? Country to Country? Person to Person?
What objects/pieces of equipment are used to relay information?
Who has access to what kinds of communication? Royalty? Clergy? Politicians?
Who knows how to work these devices? Who designs them, maintains them, cleans them?
What are the communication needs of the region? Are they met? How do they get around any deficit?
Is their open communication between countries regarding new forms of technology?
What kind of channels do regions keep open to talk to one another? What is the range?
What is the ‘Off Switch’ on the communication? What would cause a black out? Is there a ‘work around?’
Can the communication be traced? What can ‘block’ the communication or magic? Natural substances? Other spells?

Plot Hooks
-A special material is said to be useful in identifying magic users/magic items. The PCs are sent to investigate and perform a survey on the land the substance is found in. Who sponsors the investigation? Who doesn’t want this to be found and what lengths will they go to in order to stop the PCs?
-Strange illusions relaying a message for help/top secret information has been showing up in populated areas of the kingdom. The PCs must investigate the causes of the illusions. Who is causing them? Why are they doing it? How much does the local government know about the whole matter (oh snap, sound familiar?)?
-A fireball cast by a novice magic user doesn’t dissipate but instead takes off in a straight path, everburning and rolling through the countryside. What the hell is going on?
-The PCs must infiltrate an enemy nation and try to figure out how the capitol is relaying information to their armies in the field. Once they find out, they must try to disrupt signal/transfer of the message
-Strange symbols are being found carved/painted in seemingly random locations in a city/country/etc. Who is putting the symbols up? What are they trying to do? Cast a spell? Communicate? Coordinate? Get into the subconscious of the populations?
-The PCs are tasked with eradicating a certain piece of information. It requires them to destroy certain items as well as kill certain people. Do (any of) the PCs know the information, thereby putting them on the hit list?

For PCs
-How do you communicate with people you need to get in touch with?
-Besides adventuring, do you have any technical/mechanical/magical knowledge that can allow you to service various items?
-Do you have codewords that you use to relay bits of info/identify other people? Special items?
-Who in the party handles the communication (delivers the letters, works the radio, etc)?
-If you are a magic user, do you add a personal ‘signature’ to your spells that would let other people know that you were the caster? Do you know other people’s ‘signatures?’

 

What say you? For more information on these subjects, check out Radio Jamming on Wikipedia, the Association of Old Crows and Culture Jamming as well as…I mean, I could list a zillion things. I also want to say thanks to my Spouse who helped me understand some of the more technical aspects of signal generation and disruption.

 

 

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