The sliver enlarges the wasteful ice, yet the blow volunteers that same ice. When does the weather enhance the freezing wood? The vessel prepares the moldy regret.

The oil enlists the fire. The way influences the flame. The mature peace crystallizes into the burn.

The balance hangs on the meal. How does the meal modernize the ordinary person? Why does the rapid attack execute the grain, but not the spit-roasted meat?

The ray conveys the wave, the thunder leads the increase. All is extinguished, but the flames.

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I see them there, every time I pull up: the three stacked traffic lights at the intersection of Van Buren Avenue and Lewis Street. People drive by them every day, twice a day or more, without noticing.

But I do. I know their secret. I see it every time one goes dark, imperiously stopping me or sending me on my way. Tiny skulls, in shadows of amber, crimson, or jade, leering out of the glass.

I’ve tried pointing them out, bringing people into my confidence about the evil that has overtaken that intersection. But they all laugh or cluck their tongues, saying things about LED lights and optical illusions. But I am not fooled; I know better.

Those lights are the locus of all that is evil in the world, a poisonous seed spreading tendrils throughout a tranquil garden.

I know what I must do.

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Devtpo – A large but sparsely populated barony in southern Pexate known for its peaks, straddling as it does the Gambeaux Range that helps divide Pexate from Layyia. Its remoteness and solitude have led the Sepulcher to establish many monastaries there. Due to the danger from marauders and Layyian raids, most of the monastaries are fortified and manned by guards, doubling as fortresses.

Toan – A large city on the river, Toan has long been a gateway for shipping inland goods that come from the southern sea, as all but the largest boats can sail up the river to reach it. This gives Toan a cosmopolitan air and its marketplaces and back alleys are among PExate’s most powerful engines of commerce. As a barony, it is among the smallest, encompassing only the city itself and a bit of the surrounding countryside as a legacy of its former status of a Liberated City of the Crimson Empire. It is also ruled by a bishop rather than a baron, thanks to its status as a coveted prize and the Sepulcher’s reputation for neutrality

Exor – A barony in central Pexate, directly on the border with Layyia. It has been the site of many battles between Pexate and Layyia, and as a result has traditionally been allowed considerable latitude to defend itself. Known for its iron mines and high-quality steel, Exor blades have long been the arms of choice for the kings of Pexate.

Hecoran – A mostly rural barony in central Pexate notable for its many rivers and dense hardwood forests. Like Exor it borders Layyia and has been the site of many a clash between the two kingdoms. Its hardwoods are prized for furniture, and it also has many sites at which the components of gunpowder may easily be gathered.

Ioxus – A large barony in the plains of central Pexate and home of many herds of wild and feral horses. The capture, breaking, and training of hoses has long been its specialty, and Ioxans in general are known for their horsemanship. The barony provides heavy cavalry, scouts, and many other essential troops. It is also a matriarchal barony in that power passes from mother to daughter rather than father to son, a feature that Ioxus has carried over from its long-ago existance as an independent principality.

Gattne – A barony in northern Pexate consisting mostly of wild grasslands and home to the majority of sheep in the kingdom. Its vast herds of sheep have also made it a center of dyeing and weaving. The city of Bleachfield is particularly noted for its textiles, and its finery is famous throughout the land. Bleachfield has been the source of clothes for the Pexate court for centuries, the process behind their brillian “Bleachfield Crimson” a closely-guarded trade secret.

Varrett – A barony in the north of Pexate, notably covered by Greywacke Wood, the largest and densest forest in the kingdom. Its people are notoriously hardy warriors, most of them having hunted from an early age, and forestry is the basis for most of its economy. Notably, Varrett’s forests and fortified crags at Aiov and Ogre’s Reach have meant that it has never been conquered.

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It came to me slowly, as all great things do.

I had, for many years, marched to a martial beat in the service of others. Or, at least, that is what I had told myself. I gloried in the marching, the brass clusters and percussive taps. It was my structure, my life, the rack on which I hung the baggy canvas sack which my life had become.

In narratives like mine, the chain is always broken by an unlawful order or a massacre, a big evil blade to sever the chain forever. But, as I said, it was a gradual thing.

When you’re in a rut, when you’re relying on orders to fill a void within you that you refuse to address yourself, you notice little things. That robotic adherence to the letter rather than the spirit. That cynical manipulation to get what you want rather than what they meant. And the annoyance of watching the young and the idealists, matched only by the annoyance of watching them wilt into you, into your successors.

Everybody has a point, even if it’s just a fleeting one, in their lives where the straws are piled high enough that they can see the break coming, even if the camel can carry another bale or two. For me, that time came one morning when, as I had done a hundred times before, I had to write somebody up.

Only this time, somthing was different.

Only this time, that somebody…was me.

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Said she: “Why dost thou do this, the selling of tissues? Surely the income thou earnest cannot cover thine costs, not in a time and a city which hast known much of sorrow yet prides itself on never shedding a tear.”

Said he: “It is my lot to soak up the tears of a weeping world. For all they who hold in the weeping for lack of something soft with which to meet their sorrows, I am there. For all those who wish to comfort and dry the tears of their dearest ones, I am there.”

Said she: “But why?”

Said he: “For I have known much of weeping in my own life. I have never turned down a person who sobbed but could not pay.”

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Canto the Fifth

In those caverns deep where no light will dare
The Seeker of Knowledge waits patiently there

With great red-rimmed eyes and features of stone
He seeks to know all and he seeks it alone

Bargains he will make and deals he will strike
For knowledge alone without malice or strife

For that’s what sustains him, that what he craves
All new information stored deep within the caves

But be wary of him and his treasures do shun
For it’s knowledge he gathers but of it he gives none

For the deep set Seeker is where good facts go to die
And you will die too should you meet with his Eye

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By the reckoning of the old Imperial Calendar instituted by the Crimson Empire before it splintered and was annihilated by the Dominion of the New Order, the Creator fell in Its great battle with Muolih, the Spreading Darkness, in the year -10,782. That calendar was later replaced by the Epoch of the Creator reckoning (EC) for most of the former Imperial provinces, to comemorate the great religious awakening that came with the founding of the Sepulcher of the Creator.

Tales and histories, as well as surviving artifacts like the Purposeful Blade of Pexate, indicate that in the old days the forces of magic were much more powerful than they later became. Magicians, cantrips, magical artifacts…they are all well-attested for hundreds if not thousands of years. But no one can deny that magicks are rare and valuable in the latter days, and a careful study of history seems to show a gradual weakening, a slow petering out, of magic across the world since the great struggle between the Creator and Muolih.

This lost Age of Magic or Age of Wonders is held to have come to a close with the founding of the Sepulcher, which began to keep exhaustive records on magic and magic-users. While artifacts–like the aforementioned Purposeful Blade–where made after that point, no one has been able to deny that magic has slowly been disappearing from the world.

Many theories have been proposed for this. Chief among them is that the Creator was the font of all magicks and Its death resulted in the power slowly draining from the world as It dreamed in the process of ultimate Reconstitution. When the Creator rises again, renewed and dreaming no longer, the theory states, magic will be restored to the world. Another theory, popular in some circles of the Sepulcher, holds that magic sprang from Muolih, the Spreading Darkness, and that its disappearance is a good thing.

More prosaic suggestions have been put forth. Magic-bearing ores deep in the earth being depleted by heavy use are a popular one, as is the notion that sapients consume magic in the ambient environment and the population explosion since antiquity has left little to work with. Finally, some deniers insist that magic never existed in the first place outside of myth and that all the artifacts exhibiting magickal properties have rational explanations.

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