April 2022

In the aftermath of the great Scarecrow Ball Fire, the surviving courtiers ventured into the Great Hall of Erareon searching for survivors. Few were found, and those who were located were so badly burned as to be unrecognizable.

A man that they took to be the king was seated on the grand Scarecrow Throne built for the occasion, and his state was such that the courtiers could not determine if he was living or dead.

It was decided to move him to his throne room and to place him upon the throne, there to recover or perish as the fates willed. The king’s charred form was wrapped in soft gauze and draped in his finest robes, and laid upon his throne.

While this happened, a matter requiring the king’s urgent judgment arrived. The most able and independent men who remained at court had died, leaving only the hand-picked and easily cowed yes-men to deal with the emergency.

One courtier, finding the king unresponsive, simply responded to the missive in a way that he thought the king would have: brutal, unsympathetic, and racked with visions. The message was sent forth, and an innocent man executed for a crime he did not commit that very night.

And thus began the reign of the Charred King. Surely if he were not yet dead when placed upon the throne of Erareon he died soon after, but he had built a court that was too afraid to question him. And so it was that his brutal rule continued from beyond the grave.

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It so happened that in the mighty kingdom or Erareon, a king came to the throne when his father died. This king had been troubled since a young age by demons of insanity, and frequently flew into rages, made arbitrary demands, or experienced things that were not real. Nevertheless, there was no other heir, and several nobles schemed to take power themselves by manipulating the Erareonian king. So he was enthroned and duly crowned.

It then transpired that the nobles who had backed him over more stable cousins or a regency council had underestimated the new king. For although he was troubled by inasnity and caprice, he was nevertheless his father’s son and possessed considerable intelligence, and cunning. Within the first years of his reign, all the nobles who had hoped to influence him had been driven from power into exile or execution.

Once the threats to his rule had been removed, replaced by pliable and cowed men, the king began plotting a series of elaborate entertainments and festivities. Each more spectacular than the last, they included masquerades, dances, and darker spectacles like witch burnings and executions. The final entertainment was the most elaborate of all: a great harvest dance, with the banquet hall decorated with sheafs of corn while the king and his courtiers dressed as scarecrows with dried pumpkin heads. Recognizing the danger of fire in such an environment, light was provided by expensive oil braziers on the ceiling and bonfires in the yard reflected inside via mirrors.

It so happened, though, that a courtier arrived late to the masquerade. He had not read the strict instructions, which banned open flames, and bore a lit torch. A stray ember from his flame caught a dry corn husk, and within moments the hall was an inferno.

None escaped.

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The founding of the Magistratus following the Black Death led to a codification of rules, procedures, and geneology that held sway for centuries. Adherents, known as Old Blood Enchanters after the fact, carefully traced their bloodlines and attempted to arrange marriages in such a way as to combine powerful skills and maintain political power. Naturally, this resulted in an eccentric and inbred population, and the Old Blood Magistratus was reformed under Magistrate Avis II in 1743, abolishing the strict system that had predominated and attempting to build a more practical and egalitarian society. The need for war enchanters at the front in the Succession Wars certainly played a part, as did the tantalizing prospect of taxing enchanters for the first time.

Needless to say, many rejected Avis II’s reforms and declared that they would hold to the original Magistratus. Faced with this uproar and outcry, Avis relented and issued grandfather clauses to all enchanter families who wanted them. But these came with a proviso: once the rolls were closed in 1745, no further names could be added, and any family that broke the Magistratus that they had pledged to keep was then subject to the Reform Magistratus Avis had put in place.

The result was a gradual waning in numbers of the Old Blood Enchanters, as they were not called, over the years. With no new blood entering, and others trickling away, the remaining families tried desperately to adhere to the terms lest they face ruinous taxation.

By the era in question, most of the Old Blood Enchanter families were moribund, many with a single heir.

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Built by the Luxton family of Old Blood Enchanters as a country retreat, Bloomhaven was constructed as both as a charming half-timbered chalet and a magical sieve to keep unwanted visitors at bay.

The first Lord Luxton designed Bloomhaven, and his misanthropic nature shone most clearly in its entrance arch, which could be magicked to reject unwanted visitors. An unannounced guest entering via the arch would find themselves exiting it at speed in the opposite direction, and more than one solicitor quite literally launched themselves away from the house in an attempt to charge through the defenses.

The architecture was modified somewhat by his son, the Second Lord Luxton, who kept the arch but developed the far side of the house further. His general distaste for his in-laws is largely to blame, allowing himself to isolate from them in a nearly seperate house. He also added the extensive gardens, nourished by a natural magical spring, and a carriage house.

The dwindling stock of Old Blood Enchanters meant that the Thirteenth Lord Luxton was likely to be the last, as the only child of only children. He partly occupied himself with modernizing the estate and its magicks, but was known to also be a kind if private citizen. His garden’s bounty was largely donated monthly to the needy, and a special secret rear entrance was known to be usable for short friendly visits or trick-or-treating, though woe betide anyone who attempted either with malicious intent.

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Found only on the Pacific atoll of Tuo-Kua, the sprinter bamboo was first described by German naturalist Georg Haas in 1899, during the German Empire protectorate period. He noted that it grew exceptionally fast, recording rates of up to a meter a day, and recommended it for export to be used as a source of cheap lumber.

The First World War interrupted any such plans, and the atoll was taken over by Japan as a result. A Japanese botanist, Masaharu Sekito, studied the bamboo and came to the same conclusion as Haas, recommending it for export. Specimens were taken accordingly and shipped to Truk and Tokyo.

However, they failed to thrive and soon died in both cases, leading Dr. Sekito to speculate that some crucial natural substance was required for their explosive growth. Sporadic attempts to exploit the sprinter bamboo took place until the outbreak of war in the Pacific.

Ultimately, the most noteworthy use the sprinter bamboo was put to was in the torture and execution of Allied POWs who were interrogated on Tuo-Kua. Placed over green shoots of sprinter bamboo, they were subjected to an accelerated version of bamboo sprout torture that earned garrison commander Yoshinori Fukushima execution postwar as a Class II war criminal.

Sadly, like much of the unique island flora or fauna of the Pacific, the sprinter bamboo did not survive the war. The isolated garrison at Tuo-Kua, cut off from resupply by island hopping, ate all the remaining shoots as they starved. Already rare as a result of large-scale naval base construction, the bamboo was extinct by 1944.

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“You know me, I always plan for the future. In this folder is a plan for getting Sunny across the border, to a place where she’ll be safe. I’m sorry I couldn’t explain more, but they’re following me and I know time is short. All my love to both of you, Marie.”

John flipped through the documents which detailed a route up over the Mackinac Bridge, across Wisconsin and Minnesota, to an unmanned border crossing near the Lake of the Woods. Marie’s maps were covered with post-its noting various details about mysterious, shadowy figures pursuing her.

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Marie’s call had been from a private number, but John hadn’t thought to try *69. His phone buzzed with the call.

“Manitou County Sheriff;s Department,” a voice said on the other end.

“I’m calling for a Mrs. Marie Carr,” said John. “She called and left a message for me last night?”

A moment of silencce on the line. “There is no one living here by that name.”

The phrasing immediately struck John as odd. “Of course, ma’am, but no one lives in a sheriff’s office. I would like to know if anyone or anything answering to Marie Carr has passed through your office recently.”

Another silence. “I’m going to have to refer you to the coroner’s office.”

Sensing a dead end-especially as it was a Sunday and the office was likely closed, John continued. “Please, ma’am, I just need a simple answer. I got a call and a message and I need to know what to do about them.”

An audible sigh. “Sir, are you asking me to compromise my deeply held religious convictions on the sanctity of life?”

“No, ma’am. I just want information. Information has no beliefs.”

The echo of computer keys clacking. “Very well, if you must know, an entity was booked on grave robbing charges re: the grave of one Marie Carr.”

“An entity?” John said.

“An entity,” the receptionist replied. “The matter was remanded to the Gehanna Crematorium.”

“WHAT?” Sunny shouted.

“That’s all the information I have.” The line clicked dead, going over to dialtone.

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The next shot was also wild, as anything from a Glock would be, but the guard was sprinting to the site and had two reloads jiggling on his belt.

“Can you move?” John said.

Sunny shook the restraint off her arm. “I can now.”

“Get in the truck!” John cried.

Sunny nimbly scampered up the loose soil and into the Ram, carefully buckling herself in. John almost laughed at the sight of someone risen worried about that-did she think she’d die, again?-but he was too busy scrabbling up after her.

There was no gun in the truck; John did not own one. His rap sheet caused too many questions. But he wasn’t entirely defenseless.

Chucking the shovel in his bed toolbox, John drew his Orion flare gun, chambered a bright red round, and fired it at the guard. It lanced across the distance between them, hit the man in the chest with a resounding oof, and sent him sprawling.

John tossed the weapon into his bed and got into the driver’s seat, slamming the accelerator as hard as he could.

“Where are we going?” Sunny said.

“I’m taking you home, to your mom,” John said. “I owe her a lot.”

The Ram cleared the cemetary, delivering a glancing blow to the Cougar Security car as it did so.

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Sunny said.

“Look, I’m sure your mom has a plan,” John said. “Lots of risen around going about like everything was normal. It’ll be okay.”

“No, I mean…that was her grave next to mine. We both died at the same time.”

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“Bill.” John tipped his hat to William Carr Jr., beloved husband and father, to Sunny’s right. Bill had been a thoroughly decent man, the sort John had never quite been able to be, and the heart murmur that killed him was a crying shame.

John looked at the earth to the left of Sunny’s grave. It had been disturbed, as if for a burial, but the edges were also ragged and it was rather shallow.

“Maybe she left something down in there?” John mused. He was able to clamber down fairly easily into the hole. Pawing through the dirt revealed nothing but loose stones, but a sound a moment later caused him to jump back.

“Hello? Is anybody there?” The shout, muffled, was coming from the other side of the dirt – the occupied grave.

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“I’m looking for someone at this address,” John said. “Sunny Carr. Young girl, late teens, braces. You see anyone like that?”

The security guard looked over his mirrored glasses. “They don’t pay me enough to keep track of everyone that comes or goes,” he said.

Annoyed, John raised an eyebrow. “Well, what do they pay you for? Cuz it sure ain’t the conversation.”

“Watch your mouth,” the guard said, his hand brushing against the Glock in his holster. “I’m here to keep anyone from digging folks up.”

“I thought you weren’t allowed to shoot the risen,” replied John. “Wasn’t there some kind of court thing about that?”

“The stay expires at midnight and Michigan’s got trigger laws that kick in at 12:01. But trespassing and grave robbing are still castle doctrine material.” His hand caressed the Glock in its holster again, as if the urge to put 17 bullets in something were nigh irresistible.

“And the risen?”

“Long as they stay in their holes, we’re all good. Go on in and lay your flowers, wise ass, but don’t take too long.”

John pulled the Ram through. The guard didn’t follow, but in the rear view mirror John could see him making finger guns at the truck as it drove deeper into the forest of headstones.

Just like Maria had said, he found Sunny near the back.

“Sunny Carr, beloved daughter,” he read off the headstone.

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