Signs and Portents ~ Homemade Magic

Were a 'real' mage to look at the scene, he'd have sniffed with disdain even as he quietly bit his lip in anticipation; at least, if he were any mage who still had the spark of discovery within him, asking that one lingering question: Is this going to work?

The circle was rendered in grease, a bare hand with scars on the knuckles having gathered it up and spread it around with a thumb for a brush. The circle was incomplete, and irregular; the driveway on which it had been set abandoned only for as long as the workday would allow. The oil that now showed an arcane aspect was the leavings of a working truck, a vehicle that knew only labour and rest, with never anything else; it was not driven for fun, nor had it carried anything other than a labourer's tools, in some fashion or another. It would be worked for a few years yet, and then, when its time came, cast aside, one of the many dead workings of King's Row.

There were no candles arrayed at equal points; instead, on one edge of the circle, like a colossal bead on a bangle, sat a fire barrel, an oil drum having long since done its duty carrying dyes and chemicals at the garment works, and now a solace for the bums and nobodies.

See now, your home-spun mage; he wears second-hand clothes, with only his trenchcoat being new. That coat is a mark of pride - the shield and heraldry of the Row of Kings. Harlem Foreman, Knight of the 93rd, a young man who rallied a street and set out a legend in the minds of the little people. Before he was ever a hero, the young man met violence with violence, and showed that sometimes, peace wasn't worth giving a chance. Grease stains his hands, his hair is unwashed, and about him is the industrial scent of chemical fire. He coughs as he strikes the match, raising his hand and dropping the burning ember into the barrel with all the ceremony he can muster - which is to say none.

This warrior, scarred and battered, hard from the inside out, is not even twenty years old.

As the flames begin to rise, the youth lifts in one hand the final component of this makeshift rite; a battered and busted fedora, bought from a homeless man for enough money to get drunk on cheap whiskey and easily enough money for a man to get completely spun out on extremely cheap whiskey. Sad but true, Harlem mused, that in doing so, the bum would find himself in the homeless shelter again, where they'd give him a hat to keep the rain off. It was odd how the Row cared for its own in the way it could.

The homeless shelter. Harlem reflected absently as he glanced up at the moonlit sky, clouds mingling with soot mingling with that ennui that the hopeless had. The - singular. Only one shelter in the whole row. Half the people living in the Row were unemployed; half of those who weren't unemployed were living under the poverty line. The economy had been stimulated by that Wentworths place, but Wentworths didn't hire poor Row folk who were too poor to afford a suit and a daily shave - no, they wanted the best and brightest, and had their nice little clique of Talos Folk.

Harlem set the hat down in the circle, stepping back and turning around, out of respect. Some ritualists and summoners were prone to much grander turns, of chants and symbols, of pentacles and sacrifices. Harlem was one of the lucky youths who had stumbled onto magic in the same way a child stumbles onto the ocean. Strip away the pomp and burn away the ceremony and you were left with connections; finding the right thing to put in the right place. What did the Row need of candles and goat heads and arcane symbols from a time before monkeys? All it needed was a hat to keep the rain off, a good fire to keep the pinch out of your fingertips, and a place to rest your tools. Bring it all together with a song.

Harlem fished the harmonica from his pocket. Some rites needed chants and incantations - here in the Row, you could have anything for a song.

And didn't Harlem know it.

There's something sweet to the music of the technically inept. Something pure about those who don't know chords and notes but know music. To call Harlem a gifted musician would be doing an affront to genius, and on the quiet nights as he tapped out rhythm with a cane on a rooftop, Harlem wondered how many people like him, how many Beethovens and Mozarts and Zappas and Sondheims had been swallowed up and lost in a world of poverty. Sad, mournful notes, blithe and bittersweet, wafted from the young man's fingertips and lips.

Brother, can you spare a dimeā€¦

Simple things in a simple way. The Row way.

The song had to finish; Harlem didn't listen to the rumbling stone behind him, the concrete shifting, the foundations and motions groaning as spare rubble made its presence felt. No, the limit of this time was the song - and Harlem was well-acquainted with letting a song run its course. As the final mournful strands wound their way into the night sky, the youth stood up, off the kerb, turning around and putting the harmonica back in his pocket.

"Good to see you, big guy."

Huge stone hands held over the flame, as two small burning eyes watched Harlem over the fingertips. A third glowing ember danced from side to side as the Spirit of the Row's cigar danced with his speech. "Hey, kid."

Author's Note

This pre-dates the Rikti War and all the drama of Harlem's life from that time, and is actually quite an innocent time for him.

One of the vices of this style of writing is that it's awfully incestutous. I love talking about how Harlem does things, his motivations and his manners. The idea of using chunks of junk to render arcane sigils, of, well, homemade magic, intrigues me and I find it almost achingly sweet to see the poor boy operate as he can with the resources he has.

Spirit of the Row is one of the first characters to really inspire me to play Harlem more outside of the Project, and this image was then used later by Megajoule as a Vignette of the Spirit of the Row, predicting the coming Rikti war.

- Talen Lee

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