Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Hellebore Society

And back to the final set from my kith, when he finally stopped screwing with me. And so we get a set of proper words, that are wonderfully, instantly evocative:

Blonde, hellebore, melee, nervy, rising, drinking, tink

I don't know about you guys, but I went immediately to a stylistic 1920's adventure vibe, that could lean either noir or pulp. It was Tink, though, that brought that touch of magic.

It's all coming undone. The world is accelerating towards the End Times. Towards Ragnarok. We have entered a time in which the Spirits Above and the Spirits Below shall war for the very fate of humanity. We have entered The Melee. And us poor bastards are caught in the crossfire.

But perhaps I should start a bit earlier. Magic has always been a part of this world. But it's a tricky, unreliable, and terribly costly part. When ancient shamans would contact the spirit world, or medieval alchemists would crack open the laws of physics, they paid horrific prices that were far in excess of the gains they made. Power is there, but it is not power man is prepared to wield.

As the centuries turned and science flourished, the practical and predictable drove out the esoteric and ephemeral. By the end of the nineteenth century, few educated people gave any serious credence to mysticism. Oh, there were certainly fads, parlor tricks, and amusing charlatans, but those were rarely considered genuine. The rise of the twentieth century, though, would yield three critical events that would change everything.

In 1914, the Great War came upon us all. It was a ferocious conflict that stole away nearly an entire generation of young men. One man, too old to take to the field but fearful for the young boys dear to him who would, decided that he had to make a difference. J. M. Barrie performed the ancient rites and called forth the spirit who had been his muse: Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell struck a deal with Barrie, and brought forth a hundred of her sisters to aid in the war effort. And thus did Tink's Brigade enter the public consciousness.

I would like to tell you that Tink's Brigade, with its amazing magic and fearless determination, turned the tide of the war and brought it to a swift conclusion. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, pixies are not good soldiers. While there are a few notable battles in which the actions of the fairy host saved countless lives (the Battle of the Somme could have been a bloodbath, instead of the quick victory we enjoyed), there are any number of instances of their precocious mischief and short attention spans creating more havoc than help. But a bit of pixie dust went a long way to improving morale back home, and their exploits were frequently seen on the front page, suitably edited to show their best efforts.

Tink's Brigade also was not good at recognizing the chain of command. Indeed, when the war ended, it did not end for them. To this very day, there are bands of roving pixies that will suddenly appear to harass anyone in a uniform. Whether it is soldier or schoolboy, police or priest makes no difference to them. And the only one that could call them off is the one that called them forth in the first place, Barrie. Tragically for us all, though, Tinkerbell took as payment what you might most expect, Barrie's maturity. He now has the mind of an eight-year-old boy, and enjoys Tink's adventures entirely too much to make her stop.

The other event of the Great War was far, far darker, and much more dramatic. The Eastern Front was a bloody disaster for the Russian forces. In September of 1915, Tsar Nicholas II took personal command of his armies. At a suggestion from his nobles, he also brought along his most trusted advisor, Grigory Rasputin. Rasputin, a noted mystic but suspected fraud, held true power. At Nicholas' insistence, he unleashed that power.

Rasputin traveled in secret to Uzdowo, the site of the end of the Battle of Tannenberg, the worst loss the Russians had suffered. There with twelve of his disciples, he performed a ritual of the darkest and most terrible magic, handed down from Koschei the Deathless himself. He reached down into the soil and called forth the blood of his countrymen. He reached across the Veil of Death, and summoned their souls back for one last battle. On September 19, 1915, the world witnessed The Rising.

An army of the dead marched from Uzdowo to where the German armies were laying siege to Vilnius. Along the way, they passed other sites where the Russian armies had been defeated by the German artillery. New recruits rose from their graves and joined the ranks. When The Rising met the German Eleventh Army, the fighting was decisive. The Germans had no stomach to face the walking dead, and few weapons that could stop them. It was a slaughter. It continued to be a slaughter through the Tenth and Eighth Armies as well. The entire German line along the Eastern Front was destroyed.

On October 31, Rasputin's bill came due. His armies of the dead turned as one. The magics that animated them each pulled on a portion of his soul, shredding it into a million pieces. It is said that on that field you can still hear him scream. But his work had been a success. Russia was saved, and the German forces were broken. He was hailed as a national hero. (Nicholas, unfortunately, was tarred with both the extravagant bill of the war effort and the stink of black magic, and was still deposed in the Revolution.)

Shortly after the end of the Great War, there were, understandably, many questions about magic. That is was real was without doubt. What exactly it was and how it could be used was much more in doubt. Spiritualism exploded onto the scene, led by a host of greedy hucksters. Two men, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, were instrumental in investigating the truths. Doyle was a devout believer in spiritualism, and Houdini was a strident skeptic. At first, Houdini carved a great trail of disappointment, exposing one spiritualist after another as a con artist. But then, Doyle introduced him to Jack O'Bannon, the Mad Irishman.

O'Bannon was not the usual sort of spiritualist. He didn't go in for spooky trappings, and he didn't charge exorbitant fees. He needed three things to speak to the dead: a sprig of mistletoe, a red candle, and a bottle of whiskey. O'Bannon would later be famously quoted as saying, "There's three ways to free your mind to reach the other side: meditating, starving, and drinking. The fastest and most fun is always drinking." When Houdini tested him, the sheer simplicity of the setting impressed him. There were no gauzy curtains to obscure movements, and O'Bannon did not insist on darkness. It was simply the back room of a pub. And there, O'Bannon contacted Houdini's mother (who, the stories say, was very cross with Houdini for spending so much money trying to talk to her over the years).

Convinced, Houdini changed from skeptic to advocate. He still believed that ninety percent of spiritualists were frauds. But that ten percent was worth investigating. He joined with his author friends H.P. Lovecraft and C.M. Eddy, Jr. to pen A Magician Among the Spirits, a detailed guide to telling the difference between the hoaxes and the genuine article. More significantly for our purposes, these three plus Doyle and a few others joined together to form The Hellebore Society.

What is The Hellebore Society? Well, we are a select organization that is dedicated to the study, verification, and documentation of occult activities. At least, that is our publicly stated goal. In truth, we are soldiers and spies in a shadow war of epic proportions. Before O'Bannon died (all the drinking was not good for his liver), he warned us of The Melee. The Harbinger was already amongst us. His birth in 1889 had opened the doors wide enough for the likes of Tink's Brigade and The Rising to be possible. The Harbinger was steadily gaining forces, collecting power, and finding a way to rule the world. His identity is still a secret, but one that we are steadily chipping away at.

We know of two allies of the Harbinger, forces that The Hellebore Society has tangled with more than once. The first is the Order of Thule, a secret society of black magic in Germany. The second is known only as The Blonde. We do not yet know her name, though we have two letters that refer to her as "Eva". The Blonde is a mistress of the shadow war, commanding soldiers who are fanatically loyal in precise actions to change events on grand scales. What her motivation is, we can only guess. Perhaps she is Hel herself, taken human form to speed Ragnarok. But we do know that her end goal is to bring the Harbinger to power.

Fortunately, we Hellebores are not the only soldiers on our side. Many nations have assembled dedicated teams to investigating and combating occult threats. Here in London, Scotland Yard has fielded a magnificent squad known in the press as The Nervy Nine. While they spend most of their time exposing hoaxes, they do tackle more serious threats. Just last year, they successfully brought in the famous dark mage, Aleister Crowley. They are spectacular lads, and we are always happy to have them at our backs.

Which, of course, brings us to you lot. The Hellebore Society is mostly led by authors, scholars, and society men. We need a few more men (and, yes lass, women) of action. If we are going to have a prayer of the mortal world surviving The Melee, we need to do everything we can to stop the Harbinger, The Blonde, and whatever other allies they can assemble. Are you willing to take up the cause?

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