A Brief Introduction to Magic in the World of The House

In the world of The House, there are a number of different magical disciplines. Every mage has a gift or talent that leads them to specialize in one, or more rarely two, of these disciplines. Working in a discipline outside of that speciality is very difficult and almost never worth the effort.

The most common discipline is mana, or raw magical energy. Every mage is taught the basics of this art because mana is needed to power every spell. While every mage has some skill in it, there are few specialists. Such specialists are able to distill mana and store it in objects (often crystals) for later use. Unless they posses such objects, a mage has to draw upon their own reserves of mana to power their magic. So far, the only mana specialist that has appeared in this story is Jason.

The discipline of illusion allows its practitioners to change appearances and create false images. While sight is its most obvious application, any sense can be fooled by spells from this discipline. It also allows users to conceal images, allowing for invisibility. Specialists include Sarah, her teacher The Mistress, and Madeline, another of The Mistress’s pupils.

The discipline of spirit focuses on the soul. Perhaps best known for allowing communication with the dead, this art also takes advantage of the union between body and soul to enable healing. In rare circumstances, the wielder may even be able to return the soul of the recently deceased to their body, thus resurrecting the dead. Among its specialists are Rebecca, her mentor The Elder, one of The Elder’s sons Phillip, and Bailey (though Bailey has rejected this speciality).

Closely related to spirit is the discipline of the mind. This art focuses on information rather than well-being. Comprehension of languages and texts is possible, as is communication directly between two minds. In extreme cases, it can be used to manipulate others through brainwashing and programming. One specialist of this discipline is Marie.

Charm is a hybrid discipline, combining elements of both illusion and mind. As a tool for manipulation of others, it is faster and requires less skill than mental magic. However, it is not as long-lasting, and the effects it can achieve are not as complex as that other discipline. One specialist is Madeline, who developed the skill from her studies in illusion.

Elemental magic enables the creation, control, and destruction of elemental forces such as fire, water, wind and so on. While elementalists can generally work with any element, they often focus on one or two. Matthew is elementalist focused on electricity, and David is an elementalist focused on fire.

The discipline of spatial magic is primarily used for transportation and defense. Portals can be used to instantly connect two distant points. In order to do so, the mage typically needs either to be familiar with the distant location or have something linked to it. It is also possible to open a portal to a particular person, but this is more complicated and requires a great deal of skill. Spatial magic can also be used to create barriers to defend against both physical and magical attacks. Specialists who are particularly gifted in this discipline are even able to create and manipulate spaces to suit their needs. Julia is one such specialists. Thomas also has an aptitude for the discipline, but he is not as gifted as Julia.

It should be noted that Julia, Thomas, and Rebecca managed to combine their gifts and create a portal through time. This technique is a novel invention from Thomas, and it is believed to be unknown to any other mage.

An off-shoot of spatial magic is shadow magic. While not as versatile as spatial magic, it allows for instantaneous travel between areas of shadow without requiring a portal. It is also capable of invisibility, though unlike illusion, it can only affect sight. Aisha is a specialist in shadow magic.

Time magic largely focuses on speeding up or slowing down time for objects or small areas. Crops can be grown faster and materials even caused to rot by accelerating the effects of time. Likewise, time can be slowed or stopped, preserving perishable items indefinitely and even removing people or things from the flow of time altogether. This discipline can also be used to view the past or future, though this use is discouraged, especially with respect to the future. While the future so viewed is only one possible outcome, such viewing can affect the viewer and the possible future in unpredictable ways. Both Thomas and Solomon, as well as Thomas’s teacher, are specialists in temporal magic.

The final discipline encountered in the story so far is that of chaos magic. Specialists in chaos magic are the rarest type of mage. At the most superficial level, chaos is connected to luck and probability, and specialists are able to bend chance in their favor. Beyond this, chaos magic can both create and destroy through decreasing or increasing entropy. Whereas temporal magic has to follow the arrow of time – either speeding or slowing its passage – chaos magic can, with enough skill, reverse the effects of time altogether. The extent of this discipline’s capabilities is not well understood by anyone not a specialist, and such specialists tend to be . . . eccentric. Jason is one such specialist.

This introduction should not be taken as an exhaustive list of magical disciplines, specialists, or even everything the disciplines here described are capable of. This is merely a reference indicating what our major players can do and have done. The world of magic is large and varied. New mysterious may arise at any time.

Reflections on The Cabal

The Cabal began as a one-off story. The main character of that story – Jason – was based on a character I had played in a tabletop RPG over 25 years ago. That character (whose name has completely escaped me) was inspired very loosely by Peter Falk’s Columbo. The name of the group was a quick momentary decision with little thought behind it. That’s why you’ve never seen “The Cabal” used in the text of any of the stories.

Almost immediately after writing that first story, I realized I had created a set of characters that I wanted to get to know better. It’s been several years since I had a regular gaming group, so I began to think of these characters and their stories as a stand-in for role-playing, where I get to play all of the characters. (I’ve also thought about this as a serialized story like a comic book.)

I’ve now been living with these people for almost two years. Some of them I like better than others. And some of them I feel as though I understand more than others. One of the things I appreciate about being around characters for this long is when they surprise me. Julia has done this more than others, perhaps, but I have also learned a lot about both Rebecca and Bailey. The biggest surprise, by far, was the end of the “Death in the Family” arc. The original plan did not include anyone’s actual death, and certainly not the death that transpired. In fact, I was nearly done writing that story when I realized what the ending was going to be.

That is not uncommon in my longer stories. I might figure out the major beats before I start, but there is a lot of flexibility built in so that the characters have the freedom to do the unexpected. I’ve gotten to know these characters over the last two years, and I still enjoy their company.

So I intend to continue telling their stories for now. I will also still drop in the occasional one-off story now and then. I hope you’ll stick around and see where this goes next.

The World of The Cabal

The world has witnessed marvels made possible through scientific and technological advancements. Devices that were the stuff of science fiction mere decades ago are now commonplace. The world today would be unrecognizable to people only a few generations back. And yet, there is another world within this one that is even more fantastical.

This other world is filled with magic and its practitioners. For millennia, mages lived openly among other human beings, sometimes revered as leaders, and other times reviled because of their power. With the ascension of the Christian Church, mages withdrew from everyday society, and stories about them became nothing more than myths and legends. Few people believe they ever existed, and fewer still know they exist today. Even those that see magic in use often dismiss it as a hoax or some sort of special effects trickery. 

Mages are generally content to keep to themselves, conducting their research and keeping out of the affairs of the ordinary world. Preferring solitude, mages never developed a hierarchical structure nor ruling body. They do often, though not always, organize themselves into houses for both protection and material support. Such arrangements are always a matter of convenience and governed by whatever agreements made by the members of the house.

There have been many different magical traditions, many of which have been passed down and are still practiced today. No matter the techniques employed, every mage specializes in one (or, very rarely, two) area of magic. Such areas are many and varied, ranging from elemental magic to magic governing time itself. The effects possible cover an even wider scope of possibility, often limited only by the ingenuity of the wielder. 

The concerns of material wealth or worldly power hold little interest for those who study magic. Such things are easily acquired and pose little challenge. They pale in comparison to the mysteries the arcane holds. As a consequence the activities of mages rarely encroach upon the ordinary world. It is not that they could not pose a threat; it is merely that they choose not to do so.

Perhaps you have never met a mage and never will. Or perhaps one is standing in front of you at the coffee shop. Likely you will never know. And there is no reason to worry yourself about it.

Mage Devourer

The creature stirred in its cave. It had no idea why it was now awake; indeed, there was no thought at all. It simply found itself raised from slumber. And hungry. The emptiness in its belly was of utmost concern. Not just any food would do; this sort of hunger could only be sated by a very particular prey.

Its long, slender body uncoiled as it began to search for the scent of what it craved. Though it superficially looked like a serpent, small suckers lined its underside. Any remaining resemblance to a snake was shattered as a dozen thin, spindly legs unfolded from its body, lifting it off the ground.

The creature was a mana worm; the mage who named it had not seen its legs. In legends, it was known as a mage devourer, a designation it had earned many times over. They were forces from the realm of magic, nearly mindless, operating on instinct. A single worm could destroy an entire tower of mages by itself. They were entirely unknown by humans who had no connection to magic. These days, most mages did not even know of them.

The worms had been nearly exterminated after countless mages had lost their lives to them. The few that remained had retreated to forgotten depths to sleep undisturbed. Only a handful of written records of the creatures existed, and all of those were forgotten in private collections. A few people had heard legends, but these were little more than fairy tales. Not many people had heard of them, and no one believed that they still existed, if they ever had.

Yet, this one still existed. Someone had known about it, had even known how to wake it. None of this meant anything to the creature. It knew only its hunger and the scent of a mage that had been left behind. It would feed as soon as it could find that mage.

The Hallway

The lock had been surprisingly easy to pick. The apparent affluence in the neighborhood had led him to expect much tighter security, yet he had the door opened in less than 30 seconds. Now he found himself in a long hallway with wooden floors and light colored walls. In fact, as he looked at it, it seemed too long for the house. Having taken a few steps, he looked back over his shoulder, but he could no longer see the front door. He hadn’t turned any corners, and yet the way he had come in was simply gone.

He walked back to where he was sure the door had been. Now there was just a blank wall, a dead end. Probing it, he could find no secret panel that might be concealing the entrance. The only option he could see was to continue on, so he turned back around and began walking again.

The hallway continued to present him with oddities that he couldn’t explain. Sudden turns appeared when it first looked as though the hallway continued straight ahead. Doors disappeared when he got closer to them. Several minutes passed without coming upon anything of note, and he knew that something was very wrong in this house.

Any thoughts of robbery had evaporated; now his only concern was escape, but there was no obvious way to accomplish that. There were no remarkable features in the hallway, no decorations or adornments. And no other path to take.

After going around one corner, he saw a man walking toward him. He looked for a place to hide, but there were no such places. It turns out he needn’t have bothered; the man, who was talking to himself, walked right past him without even looking up.

Deciding that getting out was more important than staying hidden, he called out. “Hey! Excuse me?”

The man stopped and turned around. “Oh. Who are you?”

“I. . . I am lost. I was hoping you could tell me how to get out of here.”

The man smiled absently. “Sure. Just keep following this hall. It will lead you to the front door.” Without waiting for a response, the man turned and walked right through the wall.

He knew he’d been walking away from the front door since he arrived, so he couldn’t possibly be heading towards it. More confusing was that a person just walked through a solid wall. He knocked on the wall, and there was nothing hollow sounding about it. He had no other choice, so he continued walking. A few more steps, and he found himself in front of a door, one that didn’t vanish. Grateful to finally have found the way out of this endless hallway, he opened the door and stepped through.

Into a dimly lit room. Just a few candles on tables provided any light. A woman with blue hair sat in an armchair and looked at him, or at least in his direction.

“Hello.” He voice was pleasant enough.

“Hi. I was . . .”

“If you’ve found your way to this room, you are likely very confused.”

“Yes, I . . .”

“If you need to speak with a living person, one will be along . . . sometime. For now, allow me to explain your predicament.

“You do not belong in this house. If you did, you would never find your way here. Unless you are Jason, in which case,” her voice took on a resigned tone, “you already know the way out.

“You should know that there was some discussion about what should be done to the random trespasser. At least one of us, the person who designed the hallway, wanted a rather lengthy and gruesome punishment. She was overruled, however, and a compromise was reached. Unfortunately for you, part of the compromise is that I can’t tell you what the punishment is. What I can tell you is that you must keep moving. There is a way out, but only if you keep moving. Good luck.”

The woman winked out of existence, and he stood there staring at the chair she had recently occupied. All of a sudden, he was blinded by lights, and it took him a minute to realize it was just the overhead lights coming on. Looking around, he saw the man who had passed him earlier in the hall.

“Are . . . are you really here?”

The man chuckled. “Yes. Sorry I followed you. Sarah’s little speech is fun to listen to, especially when she mentions me. I just wanted to hear it again. I realized you were headed here, so I just tagged along.”

“Sarah? The woman I just saw?”

“Yep. She’s really quite good at this stuff.”

“Okay… she said I had to keep moving?”

The man gestured across the room. “That door over there. Normally, I’d tell you to run, but you seem like a nice sort. Truthfully, a brisk walk or light jog is sufficient. It moves kind of slow.”

“What does?”

As if that was a cue, growling and scratching could be heard on the other side of the door by which he had entered the room.

“That. You should really go now.” The man just stood there with his absent smile still on his mouth.

He quickly made it to the far door and opened it, finding himself once more in the hallway. Walking quickly, he could hear snarling behind him. Terror overcoming him, he ran for awhile, but he couldn’t keep it up and had to return to walking.

The only real indication of the passing of time was the ache in his legs. When the pain became nearly unbearable, the growling grew louder and he pushed through the agony. Eventually, his legs became numb, and he couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t been walking.

He never caught sight of the beast behind him, but the sounds of its pursuit were always there. Just as he was about to collapse, he stumbled into another door. Opening it, he found himself outside in the sunlight. Hours must have passed while he had been inside. The fresh air and sun gave him a new burst of energy, and he broke into a run to get as far away from the house as possible.