Students! Masters! Seekers of the Illuminated Truth! Take Caution!
LEFTMOST IS THE SIGIL FOR THE SUMMONING
OF HASDRABEA, LORD OF THE LAMPRY
STEALER OF CHILDREN, BRINGER OF MADNESS,
DEMON OF THE SIXTH ORDER
RIGHTMOST IS THE SIGIL FOR THE SUMMONING
OF HASDRUBEA, LORD OF FALSEHOODS
STEALER OF TIME AND RESOURCES, BRINGER OF NOTHING
FALSE DEVIL OF THE ZEROTH ORDER
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KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!
For centuries, the works of the various occult brotherhoods - from the Conspiracy of Whisperers to the Golden Hand and others more secret still - have sought to explore the nuances of the world in the
The Most Wondrous and Expert Society of Procurers, Barbers, and Deliverypersons, commonly and derisively referred to as "the Fetchers" or "the Cadgers" for short, is the largest union of individuals and entities employed in the procurement of necessary but difficult-to-obtain components for magical spells and artifacts. Due to the invaluable nature of the Society's work, as well as its thousands of contacts and agreements granting it monopoly on a variety of magical goods, it is one of the most powerful, if [something confederations to be found anywhere.
The Cadgers were formed in 1731 as a result of the union of the three most numerous magical procurement firms in Seville - [names]
The Society is comprised of eighty-seven separate organizations, each known as a "sodality," and prefixed with the title "the Numinous Cohort of," followed by the name of its trade1. Each sodality within the Cadgers specializes in a particular category magical substance or ingredient; for example, the Numinous Cohort of Harvesters specializes in the procurement and production of plants and raw plant products with supernatural qualities, while the Numinous Cohort of Beetles works with dungs and offals from extraplanar entities.
The blood that would sustain the empire flowed freely. The old priest held the creature down as it instinctively jerked, trying to escape. An inarticulate bellow escaped its lips, dying [with the creature.
All around, acolytes in newly-sewn vestments of gold and silk watched eagerly. Finally, the
Just like every morning, Susan awoke to the pale purple light of the sun streaming through her window. Just like every morning, she had a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and coffee.
As she ate the sausage, she remembered how difficult it had been to recreate the exact taste of the meat from her memories of childhood. It had taken several months and at least eight thousand tries, but had certainly been worthwhile.
When she was done eating, she took a shower and brushed her teeth. Then, just like every morning, she put on her jacket and headed outside. As she stepped out onto the street, the same chill she always felt passed by her. She never minded. The brisk weather was one of the things that she enjoyed about Pollensbee. Susan allowed herself a moment to admire her masterwork in its entirety. Sixty thousand people, living, breathing, and having free will, or something close enough. Eight thousand miles of wiring throughout every building and lampost, along every street. One million, six hundred thousand gallons of water, not a drop wasted.
Buildings, streets, electricity grids. Social customs, lives. All crafted to her perfect specifications.
The moment passed, and it was off to work for Susan. Swell as Pollensbee was, no city could run itself.
The first order of the day practically ran into Susan. During the night, a gust of wind had torn torn a branch off one of the elm trees that lined the street outside of Jane Lattimer's house. She sighed. Nights were always tricky. Even the best systems had some openings for entropy when she wasn't there to monitor and correcting their workings. And even she needed to sleep like a normal human.
Lesser minds might have considered it to be a non-issue, but Susan could see the larger picture. The branch might become a symbol of chaos and mismanagement, causing discomfort to the good people of Pollensbee. Far better to fix it at its source than allow worry and disorientation to fester. She closed her eyes and imagined the branch as it should have been. Providing a place for one of the six hundred thirteen grackles that resided in Pollensbee to make a roost. Giving shade to a child. That sort of thing.
And that was that. When she opened her eyes, the branch was a part of the tree again. It had never fallen. Susan continued along her way.
Over the course of the day, Susan made six-hundred forty-four alterations, slightly above average. Most were minor, at least to the untrained eye. But Susan recognized the importance of every single one.
The Richardson family was the last change that she made. She frowned as she came to the ranch-style house. From inside, she could feel the resentment of Lisa towards her mother-in-law. Something to do with a broken plate.
Susan sighed. The Richardsons were a particularly difficult family; this was her third time this month righting wrongs inside the household. Despite the precision of the system that Susan had developed, ensuring the maximum happiness and utility for each family, the Richardsons were always fighting about something or other. Susan had once attempted to explain the dynamics of Pollensbee to them, about why they really had nothing to fight about. She had been met with blank stares.
Unlike the Wisneskis, the Richardsons were too central to the community to simply be removed. Eric Richardson was a board member at the public library, and his social interactions were central to at four distinct networks of citizens, encompassing a total seventy-eight individuals. Lisa's work at the car lot was invaluable for thirty-nine functions as well. And the children, Emily and Jane, were crucial components of the social hierarchy at the Pollensbee High School. Susan could no more wish them away than she could the wiring for the street lights. Better to fix it and move on.
Susan closed her eyes, and imagined the Richardsons as a loving family once again. When she opened them, she no longer felt the hostility radiating from the house. She smiled and moved on. After a shower and a hot meal, imagined to exact specifications, she went to sleep.
The next day, Susan followed the exact same routine. Same breakfast, same breeze. As she went to work, she frowned.
Same broken branch. Broken in the same way. It only took a moment for her to set it right, but it disturbed her all the same. She considered taking some protective action, maybe removing the tree altogether, but decided against it. The tree was involved in countless, minute interactions throughout the day, all calculated to maximize overall happiness. She imagined the branch fixed and moved on.
As she went around righting the wrongs of Pollensbee, Susan began to feel a fuzzy fatigue settle on the edges of her vision. Something about that branch.
She hadn't felt tired since she first began her work with Pollensbee. When she had first moved to the city thirty years ago, "basket case" would have been a charitable assessment. Domestic strife, crime, drugs, disorder. She could sense all of it. It would have been simple enough, maybe even better, to wipe the city away altogether, like she had done with New Lebanon and Fulton. But she relished the challenge of correcting the wayward city. And, she had to admit, walking down the tree-lined path between Maple and Dunn, that the place held a certain charm for her, even in the days when the city seemed to wheeze.
After six years of intimate study - of census records, of building plans, of hand-drawn maps written in symbols only she could decipher - Susan was ready. Taking a deep breath while sitting at her dining room table, she pictured the city as it should be. And, with that, it was. Gone was the dirty Pollensbee with its filthy streets and furtive drug deals. The water pipes leaching toxic chemicals into the taps of every sink in the city vanished. The surly meter maids became, in an instant, morphed into gregarious public servants.
And that had been that. Pollensbee had run smoothly ever since that day. Well, more or less - no system, no matter how intricate, could run perpetually. But with an occasional nip and tuck, the city stayed effectively the same as it once had been.
That night, Susan returned to her sparse apartment. Just to be sure, she reached out to Pollensbee with her mind, feeling the contours and searching for possible breaks. Finding none, she went to sleep.
The next day, Susan skipped breakfast, skipped correcting the air pressures to allow for the breeze to brush past her as she exited the apartment. Instead, she rose from her bed and got dressed before simply deciding that she was in front of the broken tree.
The branch was there, lying on the sidewalk as it had been before. Mocking her. And everything she tried to do for this town. All her plans. She had to fight the acid rising in her throat. The last time she had let her frustration get the better of her, she reminded herself, New Lebanon had happened. Or, more precisely, hadn't.
Every problem had an optimal solution, she remembered. The world, at least the visible world, was a place of inherent order. All she had to do was find the solution and the order would be restored. But as she devised a solution, she would have to put together a stopgap. With a thought, the tree and the branch vanished.
As she moved to leave, Susan thought that she noticed hairline fractures she had never seen before, spidering across the brick of the Lattimer house. She shook her head and assured herself that it was just the stress talking.
That day, there were eight hundred thirty-seven mistakes to correct. A thirty six-percent increase from normal amounts. Albert Nitti had even sworn, on the street no less. A brief moment had fixed his attitude, but Susan felt shaken nonetheless.
She had to be vigilant; any mistake, any broken system, could fester and eventually bring down the whole thing. She realized that now. To shut her eyes was to give the enemy, who- or whatever it was, time to regroup.
Susan did not sleep that night. Instead, she studied maps and figures. Grids of Pollensbee as it had been, census figures of Pollensbee as it was and would forever be. Logically, there was no reason why these acts of defiance should exist, let alone multiply. The system was perfect, without room for error.
Without any room for error, she thought, the only possible source was from outside. An infection.