New installments every Sunday! (unless this becomes unsustainable)
Tin Soldier is a web serial by Wyvr (a fantastic author whom not many people know about). Wyvr’s other literary contributions of note are some gay dragon porn that you can probably find if you look for it and some funny mock labels for weird animal jerky that got read aloud on Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap.
Content here will be rated approximately PG-13, trying to keep it to one f-you! every fifty pages or so. In the name of artistic integrity, I reserve the right to a cluster f-bomb in appropriate situations. Sex and nudity exist but will be obliquely referred to. There will be violence, of course. The MPAA could give less than two craps about violence when they are rating things, but God forbid we should see so much as a female nipple. My unsolicited derision of censorship aside, one of the people in the house is a crossdresser who sings in a drag club, so there will be queer people hanging around. Adjust your moral outrage accordingly. (If you should go looking for the aforementioned gay dragon porn, none of the above restrictions apply. It is hosted in other places and it is gay dragon porn.)
The house was narrow, tall, and jagged. The roof was naked tarpaper, with only a few errant shingles left on in scabrous patches like some kind of disease… The house itself, and the battered fence that separated the yard from the street, was of mortared construction, with varied components. Red brick here, brown here, flagstone, brownstone, cobblestone. There was much evidence of damage and patching and very little paint. Some windows were broken and boarded, but most had been reglazed with lead and scrap glass and putty… A wooden sign affixed to the brick wall beside the front window offered rooms to let and a smaller sign beneath this rescinded the offer from people with dogs, or perhaps simply dogs alone.
The country is Marsellia, like France, the adjective is Marselline, like French. The capital is San Rosille. The bad part of town where the magic-users live is Strawberryfield. The address where our main characters reside is 217 Violena St., between Green Dragon Alley and Swan’s Neck. (Please do not take Milo home, he is allowed out.) The ambiance is vaguely European. There is a river (the Arlo) and a seaport.
Magic is real and merges seamlessly with technology and human beings. There are people walking around with inorganic material (and organic material that was not originally theirs) replacing their missing pieces. There are also people walking around who are the same color as Skittles and M&Ms — these are innate magic-users and they are regarded with suspicion. Fashion is approximately analogous to Edwardian times. Technology is a little more difficult to pin down, magic having given it a boost in some places and held it back in others. We have toasters and hotplates but no airplanes, rigid airships being sufficient with a little augmentation. Radios are common but telephones are rare. Hyacinth’s house is a bit of an anomaly. She had no gas or electric because they ripped out all the metal during the siege, and she won’t have appliances that take sacrifices. (It is possible to have a hotplate that eats mice. More useful than a pet snake!)
Marsellia is recovering after losing a war and becoming a subsidiary of a larger country. The Emperor is calling himself the Prime Minister now. (And if he ever finds his testicles again, the General will still be happy to serve him, even though she is technically retired.) San Rosille itself was subject to a years-long siege. They ate the zoo. They have one hippo remaining and a small dog (it’s a shih-tzu). (These are the jokes, folks!) The nicer bits of it have been fairly well-repaired, with electric street lights and new tech. Places like Strawberryfield are having to make do with a little less infrastructure and a little more ingenuity. There are gas lamps around Hyacinth’s house, and some places with no lamps at all. Most roads are cobbled, a few are paved. Sidewalks are rare. There is bus service, though it is a little more sparse in crummy neighborhoods. Buses, cars and horses have to share the streets, with horses still being a bit more prominent.
Mordecai poked at the white substance in the bowl with a finger. “No, that is sugar. You have actually made sugar. You have done a transmutation.” And now there wasn’t enough left for the cake, let alone frosting.
“Isn’t that what we’re trying to do?” Maggie said.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to do. That isn’t what I’m trying to do because I can’t do that!”
There are two types of magic-users, learned and innate. The learned ones look just like regular people, which is cause for a certain amount of paranoia, but they are generally considered safer than the innate ones. Innate magic-users come in rainbow-colored skin tones and have white hair. They are capable (to varying degrees, a rare few being unable to manage it at all *cough* Mordecai! *cough*) of calling the Invisibles and being ridden by them. Being ridden means losing all control over your body and ceding it to the Invisible you are dealing with. Invisibles are capable of great and terrible things. Learned magic users can also be capable of great and terrible things, but it takes a lot of study and practice and most of them haven’t bothered to learn that much. Innate users don’t need any practice, they just need to make a call — however some of them do pick up a trick or two from the beings they’ve hosted.
There are different types of magic that can be performed by magic-users of either kind. The force is the same in all cases, the application is just different, such as electricity being used to power a microwave or a sewing machine. A merger is convincing two things that they are the same thing — Hyacinth repairs people by merging them with metal. A substitution is changing something just enough so that it can be used in place of another thing — Mordecai can make salt taste sweet. A transmutation is changing one thing into a completely different thing — the General can turn into a giant, golden eagle. There are a lot of different applications of magic and a page which lists them comprehensively may be forthcoming.
Magic as applied to create a particular result is separated into different levels of complexity: charms, enchantments and spells. A charm is a fairly simple function that does not need to interact with anything else. Paper that sticks to the wall like a post-it is charmed. A fluttering fake butterfly that follows a dress is charmed. Charms to not stack, they do one thing and that’s all they do. Enchantments, on the other hand, can be constructed and applied to work together, either at the same time or in series. A suitcase which is both bigger on the inside and lighter than it should be is enchanted. A toaster which does not need to be plugged in in enchanted. A spell is a group of such functions — which may be enchantments, or further spells nested like matryoshka dolls — designed to produce an effect and usually activated by a word or gesture. It is analogous to a computer program, which can be as complicated as it needs to be, from “Hello, World” to World of Warcraft. Your basic flight spell would would have components to allow for positioning in three dimensions, simple physical control of this positioning, inertia and an allowance for the motion of the earth through space, all of which would be too complicated to specify from scratch every time. (This subtle use of vocabulary is subject to author error, try to bear with me.)
The components of a spell can also be activated by mechanical motion — for example, anchored to individual teeth in a gear and engaged in a series as a crank is turned. This allows for the ‘casting’ of very complicated spells with perfect precision by people who have no more magical training than the ability to turn cranks or push buttons, although a skilled magic-user must first program the gear. Mechanical items which run spells, enchantments and charms are often said to be ‘programmed,’ even though you can apply magic to an object that requires no gears or motion to activate. If it looks like it has gears in it, like the enchanted toaster above, most people will assume it’s running a program. Whether programmed or not, magic that is applied to an object can work in tandem with and be augmented by mechanics, electricity, and other technology, reliably and without interference. Provided you’re fairly intelligent about it and don’t accidentally kill yourself with either the magic or the electricity, of course.
Magic, tech, and the ability to call the Invisibles all got a real workout during the war. A lot of people died, many in horrible ways, because of a judicious application of magic. The fact that people capable of committing such atrocities are naturally-occurring and just wandering around freely is cause for much upset. Colored magic-users are especially obvious and get the brunt of the hatred. They might be denied housing, employment, or access to schools and hospitals because of perceived danger. Learned magic-users can hide their abilities and pass, but if they are caught doing anything too impressive in public, there will likely be social consequences. (“How DARE you!”)
Anti-magic is a fast-growing application of magic. Police are especially concerned about rogue magicians who could tear them in half with a gesture. A lot of cells and pretty much all the handcuffs have anti-magic charms on them. Current technology seems to limit the effect of anti-magic to individuals and small areas. A lot of effort is being spent making it more-effective and cheaper, mainly for law-enforcement.
“Oh,” he said fussily. “Oh. Oh, that is bizarre. What is that?” He brushed his hand against the right side of his face, then he touched his eye.
“No, don’t just take it out!” cried Maggie. She tried to stop him, but he already had a hold of it and he pulled until it came. He set it on the floor and he stood up. Maggie snatched it and rubbed it against the front of her dress. “Erik! You’ll scratch it!”
“I’m not Erik,” he replied. “And I’m not having that. You take care of it for him, baby-girl. Put it somewhere.”
“Huh?” she said.
“Are you old enough to buy cigarettes?” he asked her. “You don’t seem old enough to buy cigarettes.”
“I can buy cigarettes,” she said. “They don’t care.”
“Unfiltered menthols. And coffee. Pre-ground is all right, but don’t get instant. I’ll alter you into a stranger if you try to give me instant coffee, baby-girl. I don’t work for instant coffee.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
“Call me Auntie Enora.”
“Yes, Auntie Enora.”
The gods are testy and they meddle in the affairs of men. Some of them also have a fondness for liquor and cigarettes. The Invisibles (not all of them call themselves gods, some of them claim to be angels, or fairies, or even dead people) are capable of taking over the body of an innate magic-user, and will do so upon request — in return for various things they like and can’t usually have. These range from the ridiculous (a bowl of cereal) to the sublime (a night at the opera) and everything in between (sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll!). If you have need of a particular skill, you can probably find a god who will do it for you — if you’re willing to pay the price. Cereal isn’t so bad, but a three-day heroin bender can take a toll on the body, and the Invisibles don’t always mind about food or sleep or bathroom breaks.
Personalities range from honest and forthright to devious and derisive to utterly alien. Care must be taken when making deals as some may obey the letter of the agreement and not the spirit. Failure to come through on your end of the bargain can be met with all manner of retribution, from a class of being that is often capable of setting people on fire with a thought.
The chosen steeds of the gods have a wide range of capacity and capability. Duration of occupancy can range from a few minutes to a few weeks, with most bodies giving out after a few days maximum. Accuracy can also be something of a problem, as the Invisibles will do their best to confound and confuse and get you to choose them instead. The weak-willed may find themselves coming home with a practiced finger-painter rather than someone who can fly the damn plane. Your best recourse in such a situation is to fulfill the deal quickly and try again, because a god will not leave until it has what it wants and it’s done what it agreed to do — or until the body it’s riding gives out.
Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to be dragged around in your own body, completely incapable of moving or speaking or objecting in any way. Emotional trauma and forgetting how to speak or move are common consequences. Never mind coping with whatever the god has been doing to you, such as depriving you of basic needs or engaging in destructive practices. During the war, helping people cope with the presence of gods became a job, and quite a necessary one. These handlers had the schizophrenic task of fulfilling divine demands (“You want to drink an entire bottle of absinthe? Okay.”) and dealing with the mess left behind (“Take this and vomit. Fast.”). As well as being reassuring to confused people in altered states who may not have been able to move or speak. Soft foods and hypnosis were frequent aids.
There does not appear to be any real meaning to the colors of innate magic-users. Speculation on strength and nature of ability abounds, as well as raunchy jokes about flavors. The gods have certainly had a hand in the breeding of their riding animals, and the different colors may only be their own fancy. They and their magic do take on the color of the person they are inhabiting, so it may be a way to tell each other apart, like board game pieces. Or, it may be something as simple as preferring to drive a red car.
Hyacinth unrolled the music and began to tear it into confetti as she spoke, “You don’t play that song! You don’t play any of those songs! Are you hearing me, you dumb, red bastard?” And here she rapidly listed off every track of the album, in order. She had them by heart. Of course she did! “‘Funeral For a Friend,’ ‘Love Lies Bleeding,’ ‘Candle In The Wind,’ ‘Fanny and the Cats,’ ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ ‘This Song Has No Title,’ ‘Grey Seal,’ ‘Jigaya Jerk Off,’ ‘I’ve Seen That Movie, Too,’ ‘Sweet Painted Lady,’ ‘Ballad of Billy Daily,’ ‘Dirty Little Girl,’ ‘All The Young Girls Love Alice’ — fuck that song. Fuck Alice!” That was not a song, that was a opinion. ” ‘Your Sister Can’t Twist, But She Can Rock And Roll,’ ‘Sigurd’s Day Night’s Alright For Fighting,’ ‘Dale Danvers,’ ‘Social Disease,’ ‘Harmony’ — especially ‘Harmony!'” Another opinion. “All those songs! Any of those songs! You don’t play any of those songs! Are you reading me, Mordecai?”
“Yes…” he managed.
“Good!” She threw the remaining scraps of sheet music in his face.
They seem to be getting our music in this universe. Some of the words may be a little mixed up, but the same songs and the same groups performing them. Part of this is practical concern, if we’re going to have the music I want it credited to the real groups who authored/performed it. Sometimes the words need to be filked because there are things that don’t exist, like ‘Jamaica’ or ‘Jets.’ Of course, I don’t have the rights to any of these songs, but I’m not being published/paid in any conventional manner so I hope I’ll get away with it.
Mordecai is capable of getting sounds out of a violin (and a ‘cello) that one should not reasonably be able to have — voice and woodwinds and brass and even a little piano. With a little help from Milo, Erik will eventually be capable of percussion and electric guitar. They needed good music to play. Classical is fine, but you can’t dance to it. I wanted really good music. There are Elvis people and Beatles people and I am Beatles people (Mordecai would say this is the only religion that matters). If we’re going to have the Beatles, we might as well have everything else.
Now, they are not getting our music in order. Different artists will be assigned to different eras and we will try to spread the wealth of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s over several decades, sometimes shuffled together like a pack of cards. More modern music like blink-182 and Kongos may come into play as we skip merrily along the timeline, but we know the classics are classics because there has been a lot of time to weed out the Top 40 crap, and I will try to stick to the good stuff. Except for Milo. Milo does not care if it is good, he just likes it to be happy. Despite being Beatles people, I have a cultivated taste for really stupid songs like ‘Windy’ and ‘Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes,’ and Milo’s favorite radio station is a convenient outlet. Calliope has a taste for metal and alternative which I do not share to the same extent, but hopefully I am capable of pulling off the research.
Eventually, if only for my own reference, I will have to produce a timeline matching up artists to eras. In the meantime, know that Elton John was contemporary for David and Barnaby, the Beatles for Mordecai and the Buggles (‘Cinephone Killed the Radio Star’) for Erik.
Mordecai is capable of playing ‘Revolution No. 9’ on a ‘cello. This probably sounds awesome. There would be strings under everything and a lady’s voice. Someone who is capable of sound-editing could probably do it.