Tag Archives: magic

No Country For Old Mendicants

“Steady as she goes, Brother Malo. Take her in gently.”
The wiry monk manning the tiller nodded in acknowledgement.
“This fog is unnaturally thick, Father Abbot. I fear that we could well run aground.”

Brendan, the elderly Abbot of Clonfert, looked unruffled by this remark.
“Trust in the Lord, Brother Malo. He will guide us through safely.”
Brother Malo smiled but secretly wished that, rather than just guiding them through, the Lord might be a bit more proactive and blow the fog away.

No sooner has the thought passed through his mind than Malo repented of such blasphemy and, as a gesture of contrition, banged his sandalled foot hard into the wooden frame of the boat, badly stubbing his toe.
“Careful man,” shouted Brendan, then quickly composed himself. “If you go through the leather on the side of this currach, we are all in trouble.

It was back in the sixth century that Naomh Bréanainn, known these days as Saint Brendan, set sail with a party of monks from Ireland’s shores. Their mission was to find the Garden of Eden. Seventeen in number, they had followed a haphazard route over the North Atlantic for seven long years, backtracking and revisiting many of their ports of call along the way. During this time they saw many wonders; wonders that their rich Celtic imaginations interpreted as visions of Heaven and Hell. The volcanoes along the coast of Iceland became demons hurling fiery rocks to impede their journey and an iceberg was a mighty pillar of the purest crystal. Strangest of all was the small island upon which they landed to say mass one day. When that turned out to be a whale enjoying a quiet nap, it was hard to say who was the most surprised, the whale or the monks.

Now, with death having claimed three of their crew, fourteen monks sat staring into an impenetrable fog.
“This must be it,” whispered Brendan to himself. It had long been foretold that the promised land they had sought for so long would lie within a shroud of mist.

By now every breath of wind was stilled and the only sound to be heard was the slap of the oars as they pulled the currach through the shallow water towards the mysterious island.

While it would be unfair to say that Brendan was bitterly disappointed with his first view of, what he supposed to be, the Garden of Eden, he was far from overjoyed. He had expected a beautiful land filled sunshine, birdsong and heavily laden fruit trees. Instead, the eyes of the weary travellers were greeted by a ribbon of dismal mist that drifted listlessly over a headland crowned with scrubby grass, and clung to the line of spindly trees that bordered it. No birds sang in their branches.
Brendan decided that this was definitely not the land that they were seeking, and maybe it was time to head out to sea once more, when his eye was caught by a strange figure that seemed to magically materialise from amid the trees.

As if by some unspoken signal, each monk ceased what he was doing and stood, stock still, as the newcomer approached. He was dressed, outlandishly they thought, in soft leather trimmed with fur; feathers adorned his dark, plaited hair. When he was about ten yards from them he raised his right arm, palm outwards, in what was obviously a gesture signifying ‘I am no threat. How about you?’

What happened next surprised everyone.

“Top o’ the morning to you.” he said (or, at least, words to that effect) in quite recognizable Old Irish, which, of course, was the language that the monks all spoke (with the notable exception of Brother Malo, who was Welsh. However, and happily for this tale, the similarities between the Goidelic language of the Welsh and the Brittonic of the Irish were sufficient that they could understand each other quite comfortably… but I digress).

“Um… good morning brother,” responded Brendan, getting over his surprise. “We come in peace.”

A degree of awkward silence followed, neither party knowing how to proceed, until Brother Fergus, the oldest of them all and almost bent double, could not hold back any longer and asked the question that was on everybody’s lips.

“You speak our language!” he blurted out. “We are a thousand leagues from home, and yet we understand your tongue. How can this be?”
The stranger squatted on the ground and said nothing for what seemed an age.

“My name is Nechtan,” he said at last, after some thought. “Come with me to my village, where you will eat and drink, and I will tell you of my people”

The monks immediately felt at home in Nechtan’s village, where the single-storey houses huddled close to each other. They were uniformly small, probably no more than one room dwellings, with thatched roofs pegged down with ropes, which were tied to heavy stones. Similar structures were found near their abbey on the West Coast of Ireland, where the winter winds from the sea could be merciless.

Over a simple meal of cornbread, fish and spring water, Nechtan told the monks how, many generations ago, three ships had appeared on their shores carrying a score or more of fierce, red-headed adventurers. Despite their looks, the men from across the sea had wanted no more than to rest, find provisions and repair their much-travelled ships. At least, that is what they first told the islanders. After a week or so, their leader, whose name was Bran, confided to their head man that he wished to bury a box. It was a simple enough, though puzzling, request that the chief felt unable to refuse. And so, one moonlit night, the box was dragged ashore. It was a heavy sea-chest, fashioned from black bog-oak and bound with brass. Bran and his men took it to some undisclosed place and buried it deep beneath the earth. Upon their return they made the islanders swear that they would never attempt to look for the box of bog-oak and brass. Although this was agreed, Bran bade a handful of his men to remain behind and ensure that no one would go back on their word.

The ones who stayed settled down quite happily. They each found a wife and within a generation or two, Old Irish had become the lingua franca of the island.

Brendan stroked his chin. The story of the voyage of Bran was well-known to him, but he had always assumed it was no more than a colourful legend, a tale dreamed up by the pagan bards to amuse their listeners.

“But what was the significance of the oaken box?” he asked Nechtan.
The islander shook his head.

“I have no idea,” he confessed, “but before he sailed back to his own land, Bran carved some symbols on a stone tablet. It has been handed down through the generations of my family. No one knows what it means but maybe, if you can understand it, it will shed some light on the mystery.”

Nechtan lifted the lid of a chest that doubled-up as a table, rummaged through its contents and, with some difficulty, extracted a stone tile, as wide as a man’s splayed hand and twice as long. On its surface was carved a series of glyphs in the form of notched grooves. Some were horizontal and others diagonal. All lay on, or was bisected by, a vertical line.

“It’s Ogham script,” said Brendan. As he read his face became more and more grim.

After a while he looked up from the tile and addressed Nechan.
“It entreats any who can read this to never, under any circumstances, seek for the chest of bog-oak. On their travels Bran and his crew encountered a fierce demon. He claims that their druid subdued this infernal creature and imprisoned it within the chest, binding the locks with magic. He then commanded them to bury it deep in the earth of the misty island they would find at the end of their journey. As much as I despise all mention of pagan magic, I have to agree. Under no account seek out this cursed chest and its unholy prisoner.”

“Be assured,” said Nechan, “we are a dwindling people. There are very few of us left here, these days –soon there will be none. No one cares about this legend. There is enough to fear on our island without digging up more monsters to trouble us.”

Brendan wondered what he meant. The place was dismal, that was for sure, but he saw no evidence of things to fear.

The voyagers returned to their boat and on the following morning decided to venture further inland. Surely there had to be one or two relatively pleasant places to enjoy. As Nechan had implied, the rest of the land seemed devoid of humans and indeed, animal life as well. At the end of the first day they pitched camp on a reasonably flat piece of ground overlooking the sea and settled down to what they hoped would be a decent night’s rest, away from the cramped conditions of the currach.
It must have been around midnight when Brother Malo sat bolt upright.
“Did you hear that,” he whispered. There’s something going through our belongings.”

The monks had left their meagre possessions outside their tent, confident that nothing was likely to happen to them.

Malo pushed his head through the flap and gulped in astonishment. Three small, fish – like creatures, balancing on crude wooden stilts, were going through the monks’ packs and dragging away anything they could manage. One had found some wooden spoons and had discarded his stilts in favour of these more sophisticated prosthetics.

Malo swore, then remembering his vows, hit himself with a rock as penance.

By then the whole camp was awake and two of the younger monks – both on the wrong side of fifty – chased after the spoonwalkers (this was probably the very first occasion that these creatures could legitimately be called this, as it’s unlikely that any had before used spoons as a preferred method of locomotion).

Brother Fergus was surprised to find a long tentacle wrapped around his leg. It was issuing from a small fissure in the ground and was attempting to persuade the ancient monk to join it. Brendan at once rushed forward, brandishing his wooden crucifix and demanding that the creature, apparently from the very depths of Hell, to let go of his colleague and return once more to the fiery pit. All that this achieved was for a second tentacle to emerge and take the crucifix from his grasp. Fortunately Malo had the presence of mind to hit tentacle number one with the rock that he was still fortuitously holding, retained in the event of his having the urge to inadvertently swear, or think blasphemous thoughts again. The resulting blow ensured that Fergus was freed and the brace of tentacles, along with Brendan’s crucifix, disappeared swiftly into the rocky ground.
Just when everyone thought that things could not possibly get any worse, the vast shape of the Kraken rose from the boiling ocean, its slumbers disturbed by all the commotion.

“That’s it! Back to the boat brethren.” cried Brendan, “I’ve had enough of this island, it’s hopeless,” he added, with a rare, but unintentional, flash of clairvoyance.

“And you expect me to believe that load of old Blarney,” said Philomena Bucket, a smile upon her pallid face.

“It’s true,” replied Bartholomew Middlestreet, propping himself against the bar of The Squid and Teapot. “I’m telling you, Saint Brendan the Navigator visited Hopeless as part of his epic voyage.”

“And what about all those islanders who spoke Irish? Where are they now?”

“I expect they died out, as Nechan predicted.”

“And Bran?”

“True as well,” said Bartholomew. “When Sebastian Lypiatt was digging the foundations of the flushing privy, all those years ago, he found the Ogham stone.

“I don’t believe a word of it” said Philomena.

“It’s true. He had no idea what it was or what it meant but he knew it was important, somehow. Look… up there, just above the fireplace. You’ve probably never noticed it…”

Philomena looked and sure enough, just where Sebastian had placed it, almost a century before, was a rectangular tile, as wide as a man’s splayed hand and twice as long, covered in the faint grooves of the Ogham script.

“There was even a chest made of bog-oak and brass, but that’s another tale altogether,” said Bartholomew, with a grin.

Author’s note: Should you wish to know what became of the bog-oak chest and its contents you might like to read the tales ‘The Necromancer’ – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/the-necromancer/

and ‘Bog-Oak and Brass’ https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/bog-oak-and-brass/ (preferably in that order).

Annamarie Nightshade is Going To Die

Annamarie Nightshade is Going To Die

Just Not Today

Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. She knows this in her bones, in her toes. She knows this the way she know how to breathe. Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. Just not today.

Seeing the future is not a particular specialty of hers, but sometimes you don’t need to See. you just have to pay attention, and as a witch a lot of her job is paying attention. People are sick, the cemetery is full of vampires and O’Stoats, and they’re looking for someone to blame. Annamarie knows how that goes

She’s got tea on the hearth. She’s cursed Durosimi O’Stoat one last time. She’s hidden her broom in the attic, and tucked a bucket of seawater outside her door where it’s unlikely to be knocked over. Lamashtu is glaring at her. His tail twitches.

“I could just move you away from here,” he says.

“Oh, so they can burn me again next time?”

“You have no idea if this will work.”

You have no proof that it won’t.”

“I won’t stay about to watch.”

“I’m not asking you to.”

The kettle sings. Annamarie reaches over and strokes Lamashtu carefully. He allows it.

“Keep an eye on Sal,” she says. He vanishes.

Annamarie waits until she can hear the mob approaching before she drinks the tea. It tastes sharp, and it burns all the way down. She doubles over, snarling, and collapses. She loses feeling in her fingers, in her toes, in her ankles. Her vision is beginning to blur when the door is kicked in.

She’s glad that her mouth has stopped working, because she’d have to laugh. Or cry. Or curse. Emanuel you fool, she thinks. The fog creeps in behind them, crawling into her house. Emanuel Davies is raving about purging the town, cleansing it of evil. Nobody seems to question that their witch is conveniently not struggling or cursing anybody.

At least if this doesn’t work I won’t feel anything, she thinks. She’s dragged along, head lolling. People are holding her, they must be. Torchlight gleams in eyes and she recognises face in the crowd.

Hopeless is small when it comes to people: that’s Incompetence Chevin whose broken leg she set last month. Josephine, who goes to church and prays and comes to Annamarie for preventative tea. Her mouth tastes dry, and salty. Something in her gut boils.

Emanuel yells something. His face looks like a horrible mockery, stretched and unreal. You stupid bastard, she thinks, not entirely without fondness. She loses feeling in her ears, and all she can hear is the mob roaring. It sounds like waves. It sounds like an ocean coming to eat her.

She can still mostly see when they drag her to the stake. She just isn’t paying attention because her insides are crumbling into sand. Annamarie is aware of the heat. In the same way she is aware of the smoke. Of the crackling around her feet. She is already burning. She’s just thankful her sense of smell is gone too: she doesn’t want to smell herself cook. Please, she thinks, please…

 

Outside Annamarie’s cottage, Frampton Jones stands very still looking at the mess. At the bucket of seawater next to the door, which bothers him for some reason. Something inside it moves; it has a lot of eyes. Frampton does not step nearer to the thing in the bucket. He instead finds a stick and gently pokes it. It steals the stick.

Frampton is looking for another stick when he hears footsteps and turns. The blind fishermans walks out of the mist.

“Seth.”

“Frampton.”

“What are you doing here?” he wants to take notes, but, well, Annamarie was a friend of sorts. It feels crass.

“Job to do.”

“I can’t imagine there are any fish here,” says Frampton. Seth sighs. He walks past Frampton and goes to the bucket. Frampton notes that he does so confidently, with no indication that he doesn’t know where he is. He crouches by the bucket, and mutters. Frampton inches closer. “Hello Aunty,” he hears. Which makes no sense.

Seth picks up the bucket, apparently not worried about the whatever-it-is. He walks away. Frampton follows him, because the alternative is to stay here at the empty house of a murdered friend. He’d rather not do that.

They reach the sea. It’s chilly, there’s a wind, and Frampton can still smell smoke. Seth carefully empties the bucket into the water. Something goes ‘ploop’. Frampton feels as if an important thing has happened. Seth remains quiet. Water seeps into Frampton’s shoes.

“Well,” says Seth, “that’s dealt with.”

The two men stand there, Frampton looking for a horizon he cannot see and Seth, presumably, thinking whatever mysterious thoughts a blind fisherman has. The fog gets thicker.

“Come on,” Seth says abruptly, “I’ve got tea.”

 

Annamarie doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t feel anything that she can recognise. She shudders. There are voices. She knows them. There’s a gentle puff of power. A breeze. She shivers. She moves. She dances, oh! This is it! It’s like flying a broom, except for how it’s entirely different. The wind carries her up. She holds onto the power in the air, moves it. Pushes. Drifts across the island and over the sea in a thousand tiny pieces. Concentrates, and draws herself together into… something. A form. It’s different, yes, but who said change is bad?

She pulls herself together and drifts upward, up and up and up through the mist and fog and ah! She turns her face (is it a face? She has to hold it together. She’s ash and water and flakes of salt) she turns her face up and feels the air move through it, looks up and sees sky. She grins.

Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. Just not today. Today she changes. I’ll have to see if the island can still hold me, she thinks. It might. She might be more attached than ever before. But it’s worth a try, she thinks. And if it turns out she’s still trapped, well. She’s never been any good at backing off from a challenge. But first, there’s a monster in the ocean she wants to check up on.

Annamarie gathers herself together, all her little pieces, and soars.

 

This piece was written by the rather astounding Meredith Debonnaire. She is the creator of Tales from Tantamount and other wonders. We wish to thank her, as this is utterly wonderful and gave us many feelings.

Hopeless Optimists

So here we have it – the next Hopeless Maine book cover, for the penultimate book in the graphic novel arc. We don’t know what happens after the final book and will worry about that when we get there.

At no point in the story itself does this image get explained. I thought I’d do that here, for the reading pleasure of those of you (you know who you are) who like to ponder the details.

Here we see experimental occultist Salamandra O’Stoat making protective magical glass for the light on her lighthouse. You will see some of this glass magic going on in Optimists, but not at this location. The reason she’s doing this, is to create a light that will drive back the fog. Or The Fog, if you prefer.

The colours of this owe to a version of Hopeless that pre-date my involvement. During one of those rare periods of his life when Tom overcame his fear of strong colours, he did a version of the lighthouse with complex rose designs in stained glass windows. He wasn’t working to deadline then and hadn’t thought about having to draw that design repeatedly. So this is a nod to that, without the nervous-breakdown inducing potential of the original design.

A Traveller in Hopeless

Hello people! (and others) The lovely Matt Sanders has played Travels on Hopeless with his group of young humans and has this to report-

 

Hopeless, Maine – Travels in Hopeless – A Role-Playing Game for Adventurous Eccentrics

I’d like to just give you a little idea about the roleplaying game for Hopeless, Maine, and in the near future, I will provide an in-depth review, with all the ups and downs and ins and outs, along with video footage of the game in action.

But for now, let me get the mechanics out of the way, because I feel this game isn’t really about the core mechanics, but more about the nuanced elements of the mechanics and the game world and its atmosphere.

The core mechanics have at their root the Basic Roleplaying game from Chaosium, and any player of BRP and the now-legendary games that use it… Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest… will be instantly comfortable playing this game. Well, maybe not with the magic, but I’ll get back to that later when I get further into the setting. It isn’t pure BRP, and has its own flavour and style, but those familiar with BRP will grasp it all very quickly.

For those not familiar with the BRP system, but who are experienced roleplayer, it uses a simple roll-under percentile system which is very intuitive and becomes second-nature almost instantly.

The world of Hopeless, Maine will most likely feel incredibly familiar to many readers. I found the world and its characters less like things I was being introduced to and more like things I’d almost forgotten that I knew everything about.

The inspirations are clear, and the world has a deep, dark, abiding melancholy to it, and any lover of Poe, Lovecraft, Carroll, and even Dickens, should find things to love about it. Think of as being like Nicholas Nickleby wandering through the narrow streets of Arkham, pining over his lost Lenore, who the Mad Hatter had sacrificed in an attempt to appease Yog-Sothoth.

The artwork fits beautifully amongst the text, and evokes a mix of childhood memories of those dark and lovely television shows for children that those of us who grew up in the UK and in the 60s and 70s know so well, and the drawings of Edward Gorey and Charles Addams.

The magic system, which I mentioned before, is incredibly thematic and versatile, and comes in two flavours… Folklore and Dichotomies.

Folkloric magic, also called witchcraft by some, is simple, quick magic, usable by most, which requires totems and talismans for its workings, and its practitioners can heal, curse, and defend.

Dichotomies are complex and lengthy rituals used to summon and bind demons, and are a far riskier proposition than witchcraft, and any error by the would-be demonologist could see them possessed or worse.

Don’t think it’s all about powers best left alone, there are also gadgets to be built, maintained, used… and misused… too. Steam or clockwork devices are the choice for the pragmatic adventurer, whilst if you really, really must make contracts with things from Beyond, yes, you can use demons to power your latest conveyance or weapon.

All in all, it is a lovely game, made even more delightful by the world that the Browns have crafted. Mr Healing has done a great job in adapting the BRP system and creating the versatile magics and gadgetry, and I won’t forget to mention Mr Cumber’s work in the Bestiary section either.

Any lovers of Hopeless, Maine who also enjoy roleplaying games really should indulge in this one, and thank you for tolerating my rambling style, as it’s been many, many years since I’ve written a review, and as I said at the start, expect a full, all-singing, all-dancing review very soon.

 

If this has piqued your curiosity, the core rules and the first scenario can be found here. I hope, as always, this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

Cover art reveal

Hello, people (and others)!

Sorry we’ve been a bit quiet. I’ve been working diligently on the page art for the next graphic novel volume and Nimue is doing roughly twelve thousand* things all at once.

*rough estimate, she is a blur, so it’s tricky to count.

Hopefully, this will make up for it, a bit. Here is the cover art for VICTIMS (Volume three of Hopeless, Maine) I gave a bit of background about the decision process on the subject matter when we posted the cover art at drawing stage, so I won’t get into that here. I *will* say, that this is the best, strangest, most touching, funniest script so far. You know when you are watching an anime series and the first season is all pretty straightforward and largely what you would expect and then the following seasons drops you into the deep end and play with all of your expectations and turn up the emotions and conflict? Yes, that. That’s pretty much what’s going on with the rest of the series.

Here is a thing wot I wrote to go to the distributor for the listing of Victims-

“Welcome back to the fog-shrouded island of Hopeless, Maine- an island cut off from the world and lost in time. It’s been busy here since you’ve been away! We all knew that werewolves would show up on the island eventually. I mean, there are vampires (that cough), ghosts and all manner of things that go bump in the night (and occasionally around noon, for no particular reason) well, they’re here now. Salamandra and Owen do their best to cope with this new danger to island residents while investigating a new rash of disappearances. Masked, cowled cultists have begun to make themselves known, and the vampires are about as much help as usual. Salamandra struggles with the disembodied presence that surrounds the island and continues to speak to her alone. Owen receives a new position (which he definitely does not want) and Drury the undead dog cavorts across the island. This is the most eventful volume yet, with greater insight into the main characters, and a generous helping of dark humor.”

Pretty good, huh?

So here, without further ado, is the cover art, hand coloured by Nimue. The text is a temporary version, our publisher will make the design all shiny and put the Sloth Logo on and such. Also-look closely and see if you can find the key in the image. That’s a thing that showed up in The Gathering, and we will have more to say about that soon… Hope you like!

In which we make a book cover

Hello, people! (and others)

Rather a lot has been going on behind the scenes here, and this will no doubt lead to rather a lot more things and we shall be busy, and will hopefully keep you entertained. My focus at the moment is the art for the NEXT VOLUME OF HOPELESS MAINE (pardon the shouting. Bit excited.) The next book will be called Victims (this is because originally the series was to be called “Hopeless” rather than “Hopeless, Maine” so the titles were all playing on that. So, the next book would have been called Hopeless Victims, but our old publisher insisted on Hopeless, Maine and now all of our clever plans lie in ruins on the floor. (not really, just going for sympathy there)

Normally. I draw the cover art before we start the page art at all, but we thought we’d try something different this time and get a better sense of the book and then do the cover. All of the covers feature Salamandra doing some sort of magic (the keen-eyed among you will have noticed) So, as Nimue and I were walking and discussing possibilities, Nimue said: “I have an idea, but it’s a bit silly”. I knew we were onto a winner at that point. We have not shown Sal doing fire yet really, so Sal looking epic while heating a kettle for tea was the perfect solution. This means we get to include magic, devices, Sal and perhaps most importantly, tea. Here we are at the pencil stage.

Nimue has just started on the hand colouring and we will be passing the finished thing to our lovely publisher (Sloth!) before long. All being well, Victims will be in your hands, claws or tentacles late spring/early summer. I’m greatly enjoying drawing the page art and being more collaborative with Nimue on the art as well as the story is an absolute pleasure!

Until next time, I hope this finds you all well, inspired and thriving.

 

The Bone Mystery Deepens!

bones s
bones on the beach

Are the bones of our ancestor walking? A number of reliable witnesses report having seen a skeletal form wandering the shoreline at twilight. This may explain the disappearance of the recently discovered remains from the library, but we must ponder what strange enchantment has put life into the bones. Is there intelligence inside that hollow skull? And if so, what does it intend? Should we leave this be as yet another peculiar feature of our island life, or should the bones be stopped before they do something dire? Can we trust the undead remains of our ancestor? After all, no one has established who the body belonged to and we have no idea if the spirit that moves it is kindly disposed towards the rest of us. I would advise caution until we know more about this matter.