| Archived @ "ftp://ftp.asstr.org/pub/Authors/World_of_the_Darkside";
or www.asstr.org/~World_of_the_Darkside & www.greyarchive.com.
DARKSIDE: USAN; "The Charge Keepers, Pt 1."
[Version Control : Original.]
[Disclaimer: This text is intended for adult audiences, if you
are not of age to view it, be somewhere else. This series of
stories explores the darker aspects of the human experience, if
that might offend you, then you were warned, and it isn't my
problem. -- KTM]
Anything can happen in the Multiverse. Even a world that
is much like ours, but which somehow... isn't. A world that is a
magnet for the blackness in the dreams and souls of humankind. A
world known as: The Darkside.
The World's economic system depends on a delicate
interlocking system of mutual trust and financial debt. When
those bonds shattered, the governments and monetary institutions
crumbled. Even the most idealistic civil servants left their
jobs when their families were gripped with hunger. The Survivors
of the Chaos would come to call their nation the United States of
Chapter 16a. "The Charge Keepers, Pt. 1." (Background) -- by KTM.
"Who are you?" said the deep voice. The vast ebon throne
room was shrouded in darkness. The speaker was illuminated in
outline by the soft blue glow coming from his sapphire seat, and
by a faint white light coming from the woman who sat near him.
At the forward point of the gold star set in the floor stood
a robed figure. He was backlit by thin shafts of moonlight
streaming behind him from the room's large skylight. Dancing
around him were tiny flames that chased each other about in
hypnotic patterns. Soberly, the robed answered the question.
"We are the Mage Clans."
"What do you want in my Empire?" the Dark said.
"For the most part, we only want to be left alone," the mage
answered. "We are an insular society."
"Tell me how your people came to be that way." Robert
ordered. The mage nodded, and began.
...The Ancient times were more than two millennia ago. Ley
lines formed the lifeblood of the planet, and they were close to
the surface, bringing with them the magic that stemmed from them.
Those with the skill could tap the lines for both power and for
Our ancestor's spoke of Gods who walked the earth, doing
great deeds. Nature, the planet itself, was personified in part,
and magic was abundant for all. Mages cast grand spells, and
creatures lived in those days that aren't found anymore, for they
required magic to survive, just as much as air and water.
There were other lands then, not found on any modern maps.
Demi-planes perhaps, connected to the earth by arcane energy.
Asgard, Avalon, Olympus, and Tirna Nog are but a few. It was an
incredible era, but it all ended with the Drought.
The Drought occurred around the beginning of the Common Era.
The magic faded away, the ley lines sank deep into the earth.
Nature herself seemed to hibernate, and the elder Gods left us,
one by one. Magical creatures fled to the other places, and the
links to them were lost. Mages stopped being able to cast magic.
It wasn't that the magic was completely gone, there was simply
too little left to support all the drains on it...
"Mages without magic," the on the throne chuckled.
Pained silence answered him.
Rebecca frowned, "You asked him to tell his story, Robert,
so let him do it." She smiled at their visitor.
Robert sighed, and gestured for the to continue, leaning
back to find a comfortable position in his stone seat.
...The Dry Times lasted until quite recently. The mages
learned to adapt to the rarity of magic. No longer could they
solely try to be the most skilled practitioner of their
specialty. They gathered for protection, preserving their skills
for better times. Changing their lives and even themselves.
Breeding programs worked to allow them to make the best use
of the remaining magic. They artificially divided the two
critical skills that all mages possess to some extent. The first
is the skill to draw the magic from their surroundings, the
second is the skill to manipulate the magic once it is held. The
drawing skill was retained by only a few, while the rest kept the
ability to use magic, should they possess any. But the Clans
were so completely adapted for the lack of magic, that it's
recent return caught them unprepared.
The tide of magic was already starting to show faint signs
of returning, when it surged last spring. It was if someone
threw open the floodgates. In comparison to the last few
centuries, the world's mana gradients were supercharged. The
effects of this radical flood of magic are only now beginning to
As far the Clans could tell, the world was restored
overnight to the Golden Age's high mana mark, as during the time
of Atlantis. They didn't have a chance to adapt with the flows,
and now they are in an uncomfortable position. There is of magic
enough for all, if they could only access it, and the majority
are simply unable to do that...
It was the woman's turn to laugh this time. "So that is
what happened when you boosted the unknown gift, and the energy
that it fed on. It's nice to find out what one's actions
The big pinched her on her hip, and growled to her
softly, "It's not nice to tease." Turning to his guest, he said,
"Tell me more about this breeding program. It seems to be at the
root of your troubles, with magic, and with me."
...Perhaps you should know what we were. Originally the
Clans were a guild of the strongest mages, dedicated to the study
of magic. Likely apprentices would be sworn to the order and be
taught the basics of magic. When they gained a little skill,
they made journeyman and assigned to assist a Master in their
field of interest. When their expertise permitted, they would
create a master work such as a new spell or item. It would be
judged by a board of Masters, and confirmed by the Guild master.
Once approved the mage would become a full member.
Things changed with the Drought Instead of studying magic,
they became the conservators of it. Only the strongest mages
could function at all, and those gifts tended to run in families.
The guild formed Clans to breed the strongest mages, and keep the
gift strong. The guild structure remained, and the occasional
outside apprentice was brought in, but a duty to pass on one's
genetics was added to the academic requirements.
The position of Guild master, or Clan Lord also changed.
Anyone who was sponsored by a number of Masters and thought they
were strong enough could challenge for it. The winner of the
resulting arcane duel won. With the structure added,
these duels more often became internecine battles of son against
father, and against brother.
Women rarely became Masters as the culture continued to
change. Their genetic duty took too much power from them during
bearing and nursing. The time spent rearing the next generation
hindered their chances of learning the highest levels of magic
that remained. Matings were for genetic advantage, not personal
compatibility, and because of it, women were not permitted to
refuse a breeding ordered by their Lord.
The females of our Clans might be made to have children by
men they despise. They may have any lover they wish, but could
never have a child by them, unless a child was approved. To
disobey would risk the child's being unclanned, or exiled from
the Clans. In this way, women became second class citizens in
the guild; eventually becoming discriminated against in every
way. It isn't a part of our history I am proud of...
The man's voice stumbled into silence. Both Robert and
Rebecca bore stern faces of disapproval. "I know you don't like
it, Sir and Madam. It probably will not help to tell you that it
was just part of our culture. These habits were passed from
parent to child for over a thousand years, in an unbroken line of
decent. Not even Britain's royal can claim the same."
He brought his chin up, and squared his shoulders. "It is
my family's duty to keep these records, and we will not deny our
history for convenience's sake. Our new Master has ordered me to
explain the history of the Clans to you, and I am trying my best
to do so.
Robert nodded grimly, "Continue."
...To keep their populations reasonable, the Clans only kept
the best and most talented within their compounds. All progeny
of the members were the result of carefully researched, planned
and monitored matings. Spontaneity in such matters was NOT
encouraged. The lesser families were distant relatives of the
favored few, who were kept in moderate contact. They provided
labor and capital to the elect, and their children were watched
to see if anyone with ability came from this 'farm pool' for the
These families were lightly controlled, and were compelled
against revealing the Clans existence by any means. Some were
aware of their true role, but mostly they were left alone to live
their lives. Some matings were ordered for them, but not many.
A culture of marrying within 'their own kind' did all that was
When full members had unscheduled offspring, the child was
assessed for their magical potential at birth. The very best
were fostered to other clans, while the promising were sent out
of the Clans to the lesser families. In no case was the allowed to keep the child, it having been her fault for not
taking readily available and effective contraceptives. Those
deemed too talent-less to keep track of were put in the mundane
Unplanned children weren't the only ones who were unclanned.
Mages in rebellion to their Lords, could be exiled if they were
caught in their treachery. Their magic ability would be ritually
severed, and they would have the secrecy compulsion imposed on
them. They would made to forget about their heritage, and about
magic.. They would be into the lesser families, or even
abandoned to the world of the mundanes.
In this way, the normal communities around the Clans tended
to build up cast off magical potentials. Occasionally a child
from these neighborhoods would pick up enough latencies to become
wild talents or flukes. If they were considered useful, they
were brought into the lesser families to enrich their bloodlines,
or more rarely were adopted directly into the Clans. Those
thought to be dangerous, or who had proscribed powers, were
So the cycle was complete: the Clans were the cream of a
broad base of moderate to mediocre talents. The culled rejects
were spread into the local populace as a way of regaining
anything important that spontaneously reappeared in the
uncontrolled breeding environment outside the Clans...
"Treating human beings like livestock is wrong," Rebecca
said flatly. "Simply terrible. Didn't you learn anything from
the fact that eugenics programs have failed everywhere they've
"The Nazi's were amateurs compared to us," the mage said.
"We had some notable successes, such as in our enhanced
longevity, before our most important program let us down, as you
have intuited, sir."
...The classical mage was one who could see or detect the
raw magic around them. By gathering that magic to them, or by
drawing on a limited reservoir of internally stored power, they
could wield magic in prescribed patterns to cast spells. Few
could produce magic within themselves, or were skilled at
generating magic by ritual means.
That was changed by the breeding program. Those with the
best ability to use magic, no longer had the strength to draw it
in enough quantity to do anything. On the other hand, those
still able to draw the magic were usually limited in their
ability to use it. The classic, well-rounded mage no longer was
able to do either well enough to be useful at all.
The logical course was to separate the two critical gifts.
The wielding and storage of power was divorced from the gathering
of it. The greater program developed a Drought resistant mage,
able to store a great deal of power when given it, and then make
use of it. The smaller group agreed to sacrifice their ability
to utilize magic, in order to gather it for the rest.
These brave few were called the Charge Keepers, and they
were honored as sources of the power. The Clan Lords, those with
the greatest storage capacity, would come to them regularly, and
draw their ration of power to redistribute to their followers.
The Keepers were treated like Kings or High Priests, supported
and tithed to by the Clan leaders, who competed for the honor of
being their hosts.
Eventually, gradually, the Keepers began to be taken for
granted. The Lords bullied them once they had developed their
transfer gift beyond the ability to cast spells at all. By
ritual means alone, the Lords could gather enough magic to force
a Keeper on strike to service them, and so the balance of power
shifted. Now to be the Keeper's 'Host' meant political power for
the Clan who did so. They could cause disadvantage to enemy
Clans by restricting access to the Keeper, claiming they suffered
stress, or weakness.
As time went on, the Lords kept Keepers as near slaves.
Disparagingly they called them 'Batteries'. To keep the talent
ever stronger, they presumed to dictate the breeding of their
most critical servants; with disastrous results, in retrospect.
In better times it was thought to be an honor for the best of the
bloodlines to contribute to the Keeper Family, and in this way it
To try to increase the transfer ability, their line was
heavily inbred on itself. With the worsening social conditions,
and the restricted gene pool, the functioning Keepers were
getting fewer and weaker. This trend was met by an ever
increasing restriction to the bloodline...
"In the last few decades," the mage said, "there has been
only one functional 'Battery', and he was very old. Last year he
was pronounced terminally ill. Far too to breed, he couldn't
be threatened to provide the power. He was already in terrible
pain from his disease, so what worse fate was there?"
Those lounged on the dais listened attentively. "The Clan
Lords were frantic;" the mage said, "the magic had returned, but
it could not be that they could never again tap it's abundance!
When the Keeper's end came, his passing was recorded for our
archives." The mage threw up a crystal, and those observing
could see into a darkened bedroom...
"Stop laughing, you shriveled up geezer!" snarled the
Clan Lord to the dying man. "Can't you at least pass with some
sort of dignity, Elias?"
"The way I die is the only thing you can't control, you
little prick," wheezed the patient. "So, up yours, Medford!"
"What in the world is he laughing about?" Medford's son Mark
asked him. "He's got to be in terrible pain. What's got him
going besides the fact we're losing our sole access to the power,
when he dies as the last of his line?"
His shrugged. Usually the Clan Lord who hosted the
power-giver had an advantage in council politics. The decrepit
Battery had been the pawn of a game of human 'hot potato' for
over a decade, especially after his terminal diagnosis. Who ever
was his host at the end would get the censure for losing their
only channel to the magic. Not that it could be prevented, and
every one knew it.
Mark was right, Brock Medford thought. The was
going on about something, but what? Reaching deep inside, he
drew a precisely measured bit of magic from the meager supply in
his reservoir. Shaping the mana into the pattern of a truth-
tell, he cast the formed spell onto the sick man.
Disbelievingly, he watched as Elias up the magic of the
spell before the matrix could effect him.
Elias had never been known to have that ability before! It
was a forbidden talent for the Keeper line. If he wasn't so
critical to them, he would be executed simply for being able to
do it. Since the days of the Lord's revolution, such resistence
hadn't been permitted. The other instant penalty of death for
the line, was the ability to cast magic of any kind.
"God's damn it!" Mark said. "I'm glad he could never do
that before, or we'd never got any magic out of him."
"I know another way," Lord Medford said, turning to the
"Don't count on it, Brocky boy," Elias cackled. "You'll
never get my secret from me. It'll be too late soon, and your
damn Clans will finally die!"
"You're of the Clans, too, man," Mark said.
"What do I care?" Elias snarled. "I could never use the
magic, and my kind long ago changed from your leaders to your
The nurse prepared a hypodermic. Elias looked at it,
eagerly. "Finally giving me something stronger for the pain?"
"Something like that," Medford said. "I'm told Sodium
Pentothal has some ability to block pain."
"What? No, stop!" the whined. "I don't want that!"
Strapped down as he was, he couldn't prevent the injection.
"The Battery will be quiet!" the lord ordered coldly. He
waited until the nurse nodded. "Tell us what your secret is, man. You're dying anyway, and I will not settle for anything
less than the truth."
"No," Elias said, but his voice was fainter. His monitors
showed his vital signs as being weaker than ever. "I'm... not
"What do you mean?" Brock said harshly.
"I had kids... twin boys. 50,...60 years ago," the mumbled, his face twisted to a sneer. "Got the lord's knocked up." His voice slurred, and drool dripped from the side
of his wrinkled mouth. "S'a big scandal. Kids were unclanned...
'cause no magic, an' she never said who sired 'em. Sure pulled
one... on St. Ives..." His eyes rolled up, and his mumbling grew
Medford had already turned away. Elias was no longer
important. If the decendents survived, they had to be located.
If any possessed the gift of power transfer, this disastrous day
could still be salvaged. He was in his study furiously writing
orders and letters when Mark told him Elias was dead. Brusquely
he nodded, and gave him the first batch of messages to deliver.
Time was of the essence. Elias's offspring must be found! It
was the only way the Clans could survive...
The grim record ended, and the mage retrieved the crystal,
tossing another in the air to replace it.
"Elias Dusten is dead," Medford said to the assembled lords
of the Clans council." The mutterings that interrupted him were
expected. "But there is still hope!" he continued. Stunned
silence answered him. "If St. Ives has brought his records as I requested, we can possibly locate more Batteries."
"From where?" someone queried. "He was the last one. And
what does St. Ives have to do with this?"
"Under truth serum, Elias admitted to having bastard
children," Medford said. "About six decades ago, with the
daughter of the then-current leader of St. Ives. The children
were unclanned and given away," he said. "But given to our
lesser families to raise, or to the mundane adoption system?"
Frowning, Justin St. Ives opened a leather bound book.
"That would have been my scandalous great-aunt Marjorie, as the
leader of that time was my great grandfather." He grimaced,
acknowledging the fact that lords often had short tenures due to
challenge. Flipping through the pages, he finally stopped. His
face went stern, and he flipped back several pages before he
"They were judged to have no potential for casting magic,
and were sent outside the families. I have the name of the
orphanage they were sent to, so we can start from there." He
shut the book and sighed. "They weren't assessed for the
transfer skill. Elias was still a then, and we didn't
know our efforts to breed him would be unsuccessful."
"More than sixty years ago?" said the balding Lord Durst.
"That's two, maybe three generations marrying with mundanes
without supervision. Who knows how much the line has been
diluted. We'll probably have to breed the line back on itself
if... no, WHEN we find any of the blood. It might be another
generation or two before a suitable Battery is produced."
"Simply unacceptable," said Lady Willingston, stiffly. "The
magic has returned in full flow. And since we can no longer tap
it ourselves, as our ancestors once did, we need the services of
Batteries. I refuse to wait 20 to 40 years to feel the power at
"You may have to, you bat," Medford mumbled under his
breath. "We all might have to." Willingston wasn't popular.
There were few women on the council, but she had inherited the
position when her husband and predecessor had been assassinated
by their eldest son. Since he hadn't defeated his sire in a
proper duel, he had been stripped of his powers and sent out of
the Clans. Her daughters were unfit to rule, but the eldest
grandson was being raised to lead the Willingston Clan at his
"There are always the Rituals, milady," Medford said
sarcastically, able to predict her response to that suggestion.
"Chanting and ceremonies can gather magic for us."
She sneered at him. "You know as well as I, that method
takes too long to be of use. The power is out there, and we need
full access to the magic to return to our ancestor's glory. The
power of the Clans will return!"
Lord Mallien asked for the information about the children
and the orphanage. He was scarcely more than thirty, and
considered for his rank. He fancied himself a rebel, and
affected long hair, bleeding-edge fashions and mirror shades.
"As the Archivists, it will be my Clan's job to track down
Elias's descendants." His long fingers flashed as he typed the
information into his high-end laptop.
Medford leaned over to him. "Speaking of research, Edwin,
your Clan has been charting the mana gradients for centuries.
Any idea why the full returned happened so suddenly?"
Edwin Mallien looked up briefly, while the staccato rhythm
of his fingers on the keys continued unabated. "Actually I do
have a theory why it happened. The return came the day before a
certain anomalous person created a palace out of nothing in
northern Iowa. I think it was... Robert Black."
"Nonsense," said St. Ives. "We sent an agent to petition
him about something or other, and there was no magical aura
around him. And besides, why would he do us any favors?"
"Maybe he didn't," Mallien said. "And about the magic
aura... while that's quite true, our records indicate the ancient
Gods never radiated magic. They controlled magic, and some of
them WERE magic, but they didn't use magic. They didn't need
Medford frowned. "Are you saying Black's a God? I don't
know if I can that. He's too much the fool."
"Everyone knows the Gods are dead," said Durst. "There are
no more of them. Good riddance, I say, they were bothersome
The clicking stopped briefly. "Everyone knows...?" Edwin
echoed. Then sarcastically, he said, "In the mundane world,
everyone knows there's no such thing as real magic. Who's to say
that the return of the magic didn't mean the return of the
Gods... or maybe it's the other way around." He started typing
again. "I'm just suggesting that we should be careful around
"He's simply an ego-driven dictator," Lady Willingston said,
"the kind our Clans have always manipulated and controlled. He
will be no different."
The archivist sighed. "Dusten's descendants settled in half
of America, it seems," Edwin said, changing the subject. "I'll
give each of you places near your homes where you can start the
search, and loan you experts in records search and locating
people. We should be able to find at least one with some
"Whether Black is a deity or not," Medford said. "We should
at least be careful of his Powered minions. The Power gifted and
the psionics are an unknown quantity to us. We don't know how
our magic will affect them, should we ever get access to it
"It's frustrating," St. Ives said sternly. "To have our
access to the magic so limited. It's like... a guild of
goldsmiths dependent on one to mine the precious metal. We
can do such wondrous things with our magic, if only we had the
raw material to work with." There were several on the council
who gave the normally prosaic Justin strange looks.
Medford nodded, catching his mood. "The descendants live
and die, never knowing they soak in the mana around them like
they soak in the sunshine."
"How philosophical," Edwin said snidely. "Here's your
lists. When we meet in a month, we should discuss our results."
"You're Mallien, the archivist, right?" Robert asked. The
mage nodded. "So tell us what happened next." Edwin bowed his
head, and began.
...During the next month, the fraternal twins were tracked
from the orphanage to their adoptive families. The brothers were
separated but one was easy to track. He was studious and was
taken in by a good family. He well, and had several
children. One by one those children's lives and lines were
traced. Frustrated mages found themselves at grave sides,
knowing that one avenue of possibility was forever closed. There
were even names on the Vietnam memorial who were descended from
Elias Dusten's eldest son, but that didn't help, either.
The second seemed to be a trouble maker from the
start. Like his sire, he was always in hot water, in and out of
reform school and juvenile hall. He walked away from his home
town when he was seventeen, and never looked back. Keeping his
pattern of lawlessness, prison terms were found in the records
they discovered. Since he moved constantly from town to town,
and state to state, Edwin himself took on the almost impossible
task of finding his line.
Living descendants of the first son were found, but of them
all, only one with the potentially active Battery ability was
found. That was a relief, for they feared there would be no one
with the potential. The latent mages they found were left alone,
for now. At the monthly meeting she was discussed. The of ex-hippies, the twenty year woman with the improbable name
of Hyacinth Storm was a partner in a New Age book and supply
store. She studied eastern mysticism, and possessed the
characteristic snowy white hair of a Battery.
The welfare of the Clans was paramount. Though it
distressed a few, it was decided that the woman would not be
given an opportunity to say no to them. She would be kidnaped
and made to spend the rest of her life in service to the Clans as
their magic giver, beginning with the St. Ives Clan. One of her
first or second cousins with a lesser potential would be located
in order to breed the line back on itself...
"I sent word that I was too busy to attend, as I worked on
tracking the second son's line." Mallien told the Emperor and his
adviser. "The rest of the you have already been told by
the principles involved." The mage seemed relieved to be
finished with this part of the story...
For the rest of this story, read Darkside: USAN 16b.
Dec, 1998 -- Darkside: United States of Anarchy, Part 16a of 20.
Continues after #20 in Darkside: Imperial States of America.
Archived @ "ftp://ftp.asstr.org/pub/Authors/World_of_the_Darkside";
Or www.asstr.org/~World_of_the_Darkside & www.greyarchive.com.