Good news, Dear and Patient Readers! Collaborative fiction with a team scattered across the planet is a challenge, what with jobs, university, holidays and whatnot, but The Grand Navigators: Arcana of Blood is finally returning after a long hiatus.
To get you caught up, Our Story So Far:
Welcome to Aeldreth, a world saturated with mystical energies, where both naturally occurring magic and the learned arts of wizardry shape every aspect of life. In recent years, a newly discovered phenomenon has been the subject of intense study: Wormholes in the fabric of space-time randomly manifesting in the form of tornadoes with the power to temporarily connect Aeldreth to other worlds and realities. It has been established that these fierce storms, popularly called “funnel-tunnels,” have the ability to carry things and people both out of and into the world of Aeldreth. The adventure of the Arcana of Blood is the fruit of these alien connections.
The Arcana of Blood is one suit of a deck of cards known as the Daemon Arcana. The deck was one of the treasures brought back by the first Aeldrethians to explore the funnel-tunnel phenomenon and return to tell of it – the famous Ereonis brothers of the Sovereign Duchy of the Grand Navigators, Peino Starhand, Jeneyeru Nightwise, and Ruili Windwolf.
The Daemon Arcana is a summoning deck in which each card can be used to conjure whatever creature or force is pictured on its face for the price of a sacrifice determined by the suit. For example, to summon the monsters of the Blood suit, blood must be spilled in accordance with the card’s number. For the Three of Blood, you must give three drops of blood — the first time you play it. Each time the card is played, the volume of blood that must be shed times-three goes up.
In their original world, the Daemon Arcana deck was used in a vicious game in which evil wizards gambled with torment and death, but the real trick of the cards is the power to devour the souls of those who become addicted to the game. Of all the souvenirs collected by the Ereonis brothers on their voyage across realities, these cards were deemed so dangerous that the Keeper of the Gateways herself, the death goddess Caillun, who almost never intervenes in worldly affairs, outlawed them. The deck was given over to the Masters of the Guild of Wizards and Magi, the most powerful wizards in Aeldreth, to be locked away in a secure vault until some way of eliminating them could be found.
But the Ereonis brothers learn the cards have somehow escaped the Masters’ control, as monsters from that other world appear to wreak havoc on the sea and in the cities of Aeldreth. Someone is breaking up the evil deck and selling individual cards, together with instructions for a new summoning spell, on the black market to any dupe or criminal with gold coins to spend. Meanwhile, inquiries sent to the Wizards Guild headquarters go unanswered. A disaster is in the offing.
As the ones responsible for bringing the Daemon Arcana to Aeldreth, the Ereonis brothers take up the quest to find out what is happening and to stop it.
They are joined by one Jean Lafitte III, Captain of the improbable airship, La Danse Calinda. Both man and ship are so odd, it is strongly suspected that they, like the Daemon Arcana, are not of this world, though Lafitte seems to be well settled in.
Lafitte’s crew of Aeldrethian ruffians and oddballs includes the ship’s lookout, Ionas Farseer, scion of a noble house on the run from his family, who is handy with daggers and who inadvertently picked up a storm curse which has been both boon and burden to our heroes as they go along. Also, the ship’s wizard, Tayliana Dahtaligaar, who ran away from a boring life as a farm-country weather-witch to seek adventure and excitement in the sky. And Lafitte’s First Mate, the brooding and lethal assassin, Beau Bergeron, who seems to hail from the same homeland as Lafitte, though perhaps not quite the same one.
Also joining the quest are Lotye O’Tulvar, a petty thief and swindler who accidentally came into contact, via her blood, with some of the cards, and Y’lanna Sparti, the newest arrival to Aeldreth via a funnel-tunnel, who stole a space ship to escape indentured servitude on a planet called The Cerebral Moon, only to crash-land in the ocean off the Grand Navigator Islands and then land in hot water on this quest alongside her rescuer and now patron, Lord Ruili.
The adventure begins in the South Arian Sea, when the pirate ship Reputation, under captain Bom Boneshred, attacks the ship of Peino Starhand, The Marsh King’s Daughter, utilizing one of the cards. Aided by Lafitte and the Calinda, Peino sinks the Reputation, captures the pirates, and collects the first two Blood Arcana cards — the Chained Hearts (2 of Blood) and the Blood Larvae (3 of Blood).
Recognizing the cards, Peino sends a psychographic message to his brother Jeneyeru in the Grand Navigators and proceeds with Lafitte to the royal city of Sesus in Raurugia, where Peino has a diplomatic mission to complete. Along the way, Beau Bergeron instantly recognizes the power inherent in the cards and encourages Lafitte to stick close to Peino as he, Beau, schemes to take the cards for himself.
In the Grand Navigators, Jeneyeru Nightwise, alarmed by the news, immediately departs with his valet, Mr. Thimble, to meet Peino in Sesus. There, in the midst of a festival, Jeneyeru takes up the case of Lotye O’Tulvar, who has been arrested for accidentally activating one of the cards she lifted from the purse of a man she saw pay good gold for them. Released into Jeneyeru’s custody, Lotye hands over two more cards: the Tearing Gibberers (4 of Blood) and the Mountain Ghost (7 of Blood).
Tracking the seller of the cards, the heroes discover that a gangster known as Ashcat is selling the Blood suit in Sesus for a mysterious client. Meanwhile, Beau makes and fails at a first attempt to take the cards from the Ereonis brothers, Peino gains the support of the High King the realm in the form of a letter of marque granting him authority over a royal garrison, and Ionas witnesses the murder of Ashcat’s man carrying the cards by a man in black who takes the packet of remaining cards with him. However, Ionas finds on the body two hidden cards, which he gives to the brothers: the Flesh Revenants (5 of Blood) and the Holy Screaming Automaton (10 of Blood).
Meanwhile, back in the Grand Navigators, a small space ship drops out of a tornado that is being monitored by the naval vessels Wolf and Pious Drake. Ruili Windwolf, commanding the Wolf, rescues Y’lanna Sparti from the wreckage and takes her back to the port of Plesz, capital of the Grand Navigators. While waiting for her status to be sorted out, he takes her out for an evening on the town, but their pleasant time is interrupted by the appearance of a horrific monster which kills a man in the middle of the theater district. In resolving that crisis, Ruili acquires another card from the assassin who used it: the Dragonness (Queen of Blood).
Accompanied by Y’lanna (at her insistence), Ruili departs for Sesus to catch up with his brothers, who have already left in the Calinda, heading north to Mt. Isolla and the stronghold headquarters of the Guild of Wizards and Magi, on the trail of Ashcat’s mysterious client. Ruili and Y’lanna follow by train, along with Ashcat and his lead henchman, Haug Handslayer, and separately, Ashcat’s unknown and murderous client carrying the rest of the cards. In the mountainous region of northern Raurugia, the train is attacked by bandits and in the fight, the card-carrier uses one of the cards. Ruili confronts the conjurer and plays the Queen against his six, defeating him. The conjurer escapes, and Ruili acquires another card: the Swarm Wyverns (6 of Blood).
Continuing northward with many dramatic, high-action contretemps (including a dragon!), our heroes all eventually meet up at the White Grove Shrine of Flidais, Mother of Beasts, in the Ogil Valley, where the local faeries are fighting against the bandit army of Baugl of Caernith for control of the temple. Here we learn that it was at least one traitor within the Wizards Guild who stole the cards and used the Raurugian criminal network to distribute them, but we still don’t know who the enemy is. The heroes help defeat Baugl. In the battle, Ashcat and Baugl are both killed, and Haug Handslayer takes over leadership of the bandits and makes a deal to help the heroes in exchange for being allowed to loot the guild stronghold.
To offset this, Peino sends his royal letter of marque with Thimble, Y’lanna, and Beau to a garrison stationed nearby, ordering them to march to the stronghold as well. Beau, still scheming for power, attempts to take the letter of marque from Thimble so he can command the army himself, but he fails again. He ends up having to swim for shore as Thimble and Y’lanna continue on their mission down river.
Meanwhile, Peino, Lafitte, Jeneyeru, Ruili et al. have laid their plans for a full assault on the stronghold of the Wizards Guild. La Danse Calinda is flying towards the summit of Mt. Isolla. The storm is raging all around them. And their enemy awaits…
Look for the thrilling conclusion to the saga of the Arcana of Blood beginning in March 2014.
And starting now, please enjoy some interludes and vignettes of life in Aeldreth and beyond. First up, the Story of Beau Bergeron, by Maurepas.
Happy New Year!