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 vintage port 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, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the 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 FIFTH: PENNY BLAKE
So, here we are, Johnny. You have asked me to put to paper my reasoning in support of my new found pastime. Nevermind that you are as transparent as ever, obviously hoping to glean some marker as to the level of either my sanity or depravity or perhaps in the pompous hope that by attempting to justify myself I will find my own supporting arguments so weak that I will realise my own folly and quit this… what did you call it? …. deplorable habit?
Sorry to disappoint you but, true to your enviably robust character, you have again completely missed the purpose of my endeavours.
But perhaps I am being ungenerous, afterall, despite all we’ve been through together – the giant crabs, the loss of limbs, the zombie hoards, the atrocious dinner theatre… – if you cease the whirlwind and reflect for a moment, you barely know me at all.
Let me enlighten you then and perhaps, if I am really as wicked as everyone says, you’ll see that I am also correct and that your only option, really, is to join me or wash your hands of me completely. I don’t believe you are the sort of man to walk away from any challenge, Johnny, but, lets see, perhaps I don’t know you as well as I think I do either… unlikely but always a possibility…
I must begin with an apology. I’m afraid I have let you believe for some time now that I failed my exams multiple times and was only, eventually, allowed to enter the Collegium because my uncle is head of one of those Towers. How you could have believed such a flagrant twisting of the facts for so long is beyond me, still you will take people at their word won’t you? Another useful character flaw.
The truth is that I passed my exams with merit but my Uncle, who had overseen a large portion of my earlier education, petitioned the Dean repeatedly against my admission. Why would he do such a thing? Why do you think? Because he could already see that my ideas and ambition, my reckless innovation and energetic pursuit of knowledge would be dangerous within those walls.
He guessed, quite correctly, that my passion to enter the wizarding profession had nothing to do with a desire to serve Wiz or learn his petty doctrines and laws of magic, no, all I wanted was access to all those books and ingredients and utensils that were banned everywhere else in Ire. I wanted to get my hands on and into everything related to magic, I wanted to possess it, to become it, to use it to create my own reality and make the world around me dance to my own tune.
You suppose that I accepted Lord Ashton’s commission to create a portal in the aether because of the reward he offered me. I cannot fault you for that, Johnny, it’s exactly what I told you. But really, really, are you honestly that obtuse? To open a portal, whether you believe there is a goddess on the other side of it or not, is to invite new power into our world and that can only increase the power here at our disposal. And what of the world on the other side? A chance for an ambitious wizard to pull the strings on not one, but two realities? I sense your frown already, stop it at once.
Perhaps you feel that none of this has anything to do with Hex Slinging, as they call it; that back alley sport of pulling magic, raw and burning, from the aether and using it to rip your opponent to shreds in front of a rabid crowd of gamblers. But my hope is that, being an intelligent fellow, a dread enlightenment of sorts is beginning to awaken at the edges of your consciousness.
I am not, as you are no doubt beginning to realise, frequenting the hex rings of Lancaster in the interests of pleasure, distraction or mere entertainment. The study of magic must be practical, and by observing and imitating these men and women who live and die by the aetherial sinews of the universe, we can learn far more than the fusty towers of wizardry could ever have taught us.
That’s right ; us Johnny, I want you beside me in this as always, our fates are almost inseparably entwined now, even you must see that neither of us can ever go back to Litchfield , so what else can you do? Join your sister in rebuilding the pirate city? Live out your days gutting fish like your father? I think we both know that is not how your story ends.
I am not suggesting, of course, that you join me in the ring ; although I don’t doubt your capabilities in this field, your skills in alchemy are equally as vital to our enterprises and I would not risk you for that reason – you have already made your revulsion at my own scarred and aether-damaged hand quite clear and there is no reason for you to suffer the same.
But nevermind about me, Johnny, I have heard of an underground craftswoman who can replace my prosthetic left hand with a silver one that will conduct both soul and aether and then I will be able to use that instead of continuing to sacrifice the flesh I have on my right.
So, there you have it, my obsession is incurable and I invite you to join me in it at once, if you know me at all, John, you’ll have expected nothing less.
Your friend and associate, Dr. Mercurio Smith