Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster
Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.
I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here; here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!
But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,
like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in those curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…
TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER
SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS
TALE THE FIRST : Siggy And Me
Sigmund Ignatius Newburger doesn’t hear his full name used often. Smite me down, I never even knew that was his full name until I heard it bellowed through the steam-filled Tiffin Den one Monday afternoon in late September. The fella bawling it was a sight. Mind you, smite me down if Siggy ain’t a sight himself. Guess we all are here though ; handling raw magic takes its toll, any hex slinger will tell you that for nothing, long as you ain’t the law o’ course!
The damage starts with your fingers, for most, just a tingling sensation at first a bit like pins and needles and if you stop then and there I dare say you’ll be alright after a fashion. But we didn’t stop, did we? Siggy and me. And now we have to hide our black veined hands and arms beneath long coat sleeves and leather gauntlets ; one look at that scorched, stained flesh and everyone knows what you are and we can’t have that now, can we?
This fella, anyways, he wasn’t a slinger. I could see his arms right up to his elbows, shirt sleeves rolled up and thumbs stuck in his braces like he meant business. “Sigmund, Ignatious Newburger!” he’s bellowed and Siggy jumped clean out of his seat like he’d just seen a flesh eating Liver Bird through the window.
It didn’t take long, a brief altercation and the fella left looking ‘Most Put Out’ as the Garish Set would say. Plenty of them in the Den that day as well but we don’t mix with that sort, revolution’s all well and good when you’re just spitting daggers about the Queen across the tea table, but smite me down if some of these Theatre Lot aren’t a bit too serious for their own safety, if you know what I mean.
Anyhow, I got the savvy over a custard tart and a pot of chajo. Clarence is the fella’s name, Clarence Aloysius Newburger and he’s Siggy’s own cousin. Siggy now spills his guts all over our elevenses and it ain’t pretty ; his old man works for Lord Ashton up at the Silk Mills, he’s some sort of overseer there, right high up and fancy which is how they got the coin to send The Young Sigmund to school and then, later, to the Wizards’ Collegium in Litchfield.
I never knew all this about Sig before but it all makes sense to me as he says it ; there are three sorts of people who end up here in the back-alley hex rings of Lancaster and smite me down if it probably ain’t the same in all the big cities of Ire : there’s those who ran away because this was their dream, and I guess you’ve got me pegged now too coz I’m certainly one them, then there’s those who are down and out anyhow and looking at any way they can to make ends meet, hex slinging can be the end of you, WILL be the end of you if you stick at it, but if you’re good at it, really good, and me and Siggy, smite me down if we ain’t pretty damn good, you can pretty much make your fortune at it. Or so the ring bosses will tell you. Anyhow then there’s the last sort, Siggy’s sort as it now turns out, and that’s the fallen wizards.
When a wizard gets disillusioned or disgraced – I don’t know, maybe he suddenly realises that The Almighty Wiz ain’t as benevolent and loving as all his holy texts make him out to be or maybe he develops a Tiffin habit or a taste for Lemonade, we all have our vices eh? – whatever the reason for him leaving Litchfield he doesn’t have many options open to him; everyone hates magic users and if you ain’t carrying an official licence from the Collegium you can’t legally practice it anyway. Chances are he’ll end up in one of two places; The Gutter Wizards or The Hex Slingers.
We don’t get many of Siggy’s sort down here, as you can imagine.
But I’m getting off the point again. Siggy said he never like Litchfield. He loved magic but he says they don’t teach you real magic up there, only their own limited and feeble understanding of how the world is put together and how a man can influence and exert his limited and feeble will over bits of it.
Not like us, we stretch our soul out of our fingertips and into the aether, grasp the threads that hold the world together and force them to obey. It’s incredible, raw, adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy and once Siggy tried it( in a back alley behind the Burlington Arcade with a Youth who wore the scarlet leather of the Cameo Libris Scribes and claimed his mother was witch) he knew his Collegium days were over.
He came home to Lancaster but his old man didn’t want to know about it. That’s when he met me and I got him his Beauty and we started this whole lark together.
“Haven’t a friend in the world, Erik,” he kept saying – Erik Wise, that’s me in case you didn’t figure it out – “Haven’t a friend in the world now.” He’s one of those comic-morose types y’know? All Over with the Rueful Smiles and Languid Glances, the Heavy Sighs and such.
So I got him one. In a matchbox. Docklands are crawling with mice you see and they’re good for the fight if you know how to use them. You can use anything to boost your game if you know how, but Siggy likes mice ; smite me down if he can’t stand in a hex ring with Beauty on his shoulder and whistle and every mouse in every garret and gutter will come and swarm on him like a second skin. You can really do a lot with a skill like that and it drives the crowds wild and terrifies the wits out of any newcomers I can tell you.
We always go in for the doubles, Siggy and Me. I like the dust, it listens to me now and I can use it to bring physical form to the magic, which is terrifying in its own right, even without the Myomancer beside me. But we’re a great team and I wouldn’t go solo for any common price.
So this Clarence fella, he’s come to Lancaster looking for help and Siggy’s father won’t give it to him. Clarence is all set to solve his problems some other way when he hears on the ground that Siggy is still in Lancaster and fighting for coin in the hex rings. This suits Clarence’s plan even better ; seems that some rogue relation – Harvey Hilarius Newburger, whoever he may be – has gotten himself into a scandal and needs to be gotten rid of sharpish before he lands the whole family in hot treacle. Seems Clarence thinks a hex slinger ought to be able to sort this little problem out a treat.
But Siggy’s a decent sort and he won’t have a part in it so old Clarence goes off to do the dirty work for himself and smite me down if I didn’t pity this fella Harvey-Whoever-He-Is on account of the murderous look on Old Clarence’s face as he left the Tiffin Den that day.
We never heard from him again and smite us both if we ain’t glad about it. We’re doing alright, Siggy and Me, we make enough in the rings to keep us in ‘Tops, Tails n Tiffin’ as they say round here. Maybe one day we’ll make that fortune we were promised, or catch the eye of some well to do Patron, then we’d hit the big time and no mistake. But we’re doing alright for now…
So there you have it, the first in this little series of snap-shots of Lancastrian street-life.
Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your coat is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!
Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…