This is a bonus episode that is using up some spare minutes in my monthly podcast plan. It is unscripted, so apologies for the incoherence.
I’ve just got home from Adelaide, a city in the far south of Australia. I took my children on a plane for the first time, and as I did, I thought of you, dear listener, because looking out the window I saw an endless sheet of cloud and thought “Sigh…there’s that Dunsany story I can’t think of any ideas for called The Unpasturable fields“. Then I had these ideas.
First I remembered seeing a photograph of a Kármán vortex street caused by a lighthouse. Let me explain what that is. A von Karman vortex street is a regular pattern of vorticies that appear in the tail of a solid object that is obstructing a current. Now in the photograph, there were clouds being blown by a straight wind onto a lighthouse, and so in the building’s lee, there were a series of vorticies of gradually decreasing size.
We talk about the vim field that fuels spellcasting as a fluid. It flows, it has tides, it circles the Axis Magica. We talk about the Aegis as an obstruction: it’s a dome or pillar. So, in this metaphor the vis field takes the place of the wind and the covenant takes the place of the building. This means that behind the newly established covenant you might have a vortex street.
This turbulent area of magical energy would have a fluctuating aura. This probably displeases nearby faeries because it makes it harder for them to maintain their glamour. This may be an in-game explanation for the many early faerie rivals which spring up to challenge Spring Covenants.
It also probably has strange effects on humans because when auras rise, people’s senses are sharper – there are more colours, sounds are clearer, tastes are brighter – and minor magical abilities are easier to trigger, either accidentally, or deliberately. Given that the vortex is a regular pattern, there might be predictable periods where people have supernatural; powers or enhanced senses, and these might be tied to specific locations along the street. Similarly, if your covenant was in the street of another object, this would explain the Flickering Aura hook.
The Lord Dunsany story is essentially about how two tribes of elementals, represented as clouds and mountains, say disrespectful things about each other. Magi can get involved in their battles if they wish and are unwise. The mountains seem to like cities, and have a sense that they fade into myth. The clouds say that pegasus is pastured up them, and that he is fed by songs bought by larks, and can see future wars. This is useful if you’d like a pegasus farm, but it didn’t strike me as a strong use of the story, so it’s been sitting at the end of the Dunsany pile. Then I remembered a piece for an earlier Ar book that ties in.
In one of the Third Edition books there was a Sailor from the Sea Above – a sort of humaniform spirit which sailed in a sort of cloud-ship, and his anchor snagged on the ground. He slid down the anchor line to clear it, but if detained he “drowned” in the mortal air. Characters were encouraged to explore the Sea Above, and discover a place that allowed rapid, safe travel. I can remember being against it, when it first came out, because stories need stakes and conflict, and striving to go to a place that deliberately had neither seemed boring, but that was a hasty judgement. Whoever wrote it just got to the idea that magi should be able to get to the story without hitting random monsters faster than I did.
If you accept the existence of the Upper Sea, then it is of obvious value to various people. House Mercere, for example, presumably wants to put infrastructure there. Ars Magica has some rules for creating megastructures, in “Transforming Mythic Europe” and “Legends of Hermes”. If Mercere is trying that sort of thing, then either, because where you have humans you have conflict, or there are indigenous creatures that do not wish the space colonised, you have story potential.
Alternatively, the space could already have been colonised by a previous magical civilisation. The Atlanteans, for example, were a skilled magical civilisation which held imperial control of a large section of the continent. They could have used the sea for troop transport and logistical support. If that’s true, when your characters arrive, there could be a series of levitating bases, filled with the artefacts, wards, and servant spirits of ancient ancient Hellenistic sky fascists.
I also recall a story, Horror in the Heights, by Arthur Conan Doyle, about an early aviator who discovers a new biome in the clouds. He returns to get evidence of his discoveries, but there are predators in this new environment, and a pack of them get between him and the ground. He leaves a note in his journal, which is found by his crashes plane, indicating that this is a terrible way to die. I think that could be stripped for a monster at least. The story is 35 minutes long, so I need to cut it down to colour and hooks before putting it up.
If there is already infrastructure there, is it decaying? What do you do if a piece of road falls out of the sky? What do you do if only one end falls from the sky, and the other stays attached to places beyond the clouds? If there are any Atleanteans up there you don’t want them, or their pets, coming down. Worse, there are a heap of kids wandering around Mythic Europe with magic beans that create towering planets that can reach these places. You can’t just blow it all up, because it would shower down on Mythic Europe. Can you make it scatter like dust, or light? Can you tow it out into the Atlantic and crash it there? Does this create a wave? Is this how the wave that destroyed Atlantis was made?
In the audio version, which was recorded and edited very quickly, I made some mistakes.
- used the word “macroarcitecture” for either “hard infrastructure” or “megastructures”.
- called the Aegis of the Hearth the Parma Magica once.
- mangled the description of a story I recalled, which I’ve now identified as “Horror in the Heights” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are two Librivox recordings, but each is over 30 minutes long, so I won’t send them out in the podcast, at least with substantial editing and commentary, which I’ve not had the chance to arrange.
- Forgot to thank the Librivox recorder of the Dunsany Short Story. It’s Thomas A. Copeland.
- The throat clearing noise / gargle at the end is terrible. Sorry. I thought its waveform was the outro and so didn’t cut it.
The unpasturable fields by Lord Dunsany
Thus spake the mountains: “Behold us, even us; the old ones, the grey ones, that wear the feet of Time. Time on our rocks shall break his staff and stumble: and still we shall sit majestic, even as now, hearing the sound of the sea, our old coeval sister, who nurses the bones of her children and weeps for the things she has done.
“Far, far, we stand above all things; befriending the little cities until they grow old and leave us to go among the myths.
“We are the most imperishable mountains.”
And softly the clouds foregathered from far places, and crag on crag and mountain upon mountain in the likeness of Caucasus upon Himalaya came riding past the sunlight upon the backs of storms and looked down idly from their golden heights upon the crests of the mountains.
“Ye pass away,” said the mountains.
And the clouds answered, as I dreamed or fancied,
“We pass away, indeed we pass away, but upon our unpasturable fields Pegasus prances. Here Pegasus gallops and browses upon song which the larks bring to him every morning from far terrestrial fields. His hoof-beats ring upon our slopes at sunrise as though our fields were of silver. And breathing the dawn-wind in dilated nostrils, with head tossed upwards and with quivering wings, he stands and stares from our tremendous heights, and snorts and sees far-future wonderful wars rage in the creases and the folds of the togas that cover the knees of the gods.”
Photo credit: Wikicommons