For those seeking enlightenment on the world of Raven Song, I've secured these stories for you. Be warned: though none of these will spoil the story about to unfold, they may raise as many mysteries as they answer.
From the diary of Marie Dovetail, age sixteen at first entry, founder of Dovetail Parcel. Copied on loan from their private archive.
Scrag told me he don't want my money today, told me I could get my Quarantine from somebody else. Must have been the fight with Leo. Need to tell Leo to stop losing his temper. If we don't get no rad shots, we don't go outside the walls, and we don't go outside the walls, we don't live.
They say that what's out there will kill us. They're right. But what's not in here will kill us faster: food's running low. Electric's been down for two weeks—needs parts for repairing the generators—and ain't nobody cares about Brooklyn Heights right now. It's all they can do to keep the Barrier up, they say. But the Barrier's not keeping us warm next month for winter, now is it? I got my little brother Nick to watch out for now. For mom. That's what she told me to do, after the cancer clouded her eyes, but before it touched her brain. I'm gonna do it. She said she'd watch me from Heaven, and I need to make her proud.
I remember dad cryin' when the mayor read the numbers last year. He said the whole city now has the number of people his neighborhood had (something like "Elmhart"?), back in the Old Era when he was a kid. They say New York City was the most famous place on Earth then, like a kingdom, people everywhere. Dying now. World didn't give two farts about us last winter, and they won't this one.
So we'll scrounge. They don't have parts? We'll find 'em. Out there. Out where the too-olds are too scared to go look.
Leo says he heard some dumb story from crazy old Shi. Guy says he saw a two-headed dog, all fangs and anger. Says he bit his shotgun in half. Shi's been out there too long, never bothers getting his Quarantine right. I bet he lost his shotgun. I bet the cancer's in his head, too.
Mom used to say Hallelujah, and I might too. Merry Christmas, Mom, wherever you are. Leo and I got the present you sent us from Heaven.
Finally got the money together for our first scrounging run, and we knew we had to make it count. Quarantine was a nasty kick in the stomach, though... I still smell the reek, in the back of my nose... gotta get used to it, I guess. Made it twenty blocks outside the Barrier without problem. And wow! It was like looking at a painting, up there, in the sky, no fog of the Barrier in the way. At first I was so scared, thinking I'd fall right up into that crazy blue. Stupid, I know. Leo laughed at me, but I could tell he was scared, too.
Stuff near the city's all been picked clean, so we ran past it. Quarantine don't last that long.
Lot of weird things in the wastes. Gas cars, all clogged up in the roads, as far as the eye can see. Dad said the EMP took a lot of them out, and the ones that didn't, well, we haven't been able to call on our friends in the Old World to send us more gas. Bridge was full of those broken-down clunkers, and bicycles and shoes. Lots of torn up shoes. Maybe people lost them when they wore 'em out walking to the dome checkpoint. Maybe they gave up on shoes when they were turned away, back when the dome couldn't take any more refugees.
Saw a skeleton today, first one I'd ever seen. About screamed, but Leo grabbed me, kept me quiet. No good attracting Shi's two-headed dog, you know? Or the raiders.
Poor skeleton. Had a smaller one on its back, like it'd been carrying the other. Why'd they die there like that? I don't know. Their shoes were gone.
No one comes to New York anymore, no one tries to get in. Dad says the old refugees clotted up the subway tunnels, crowded each other out for warmth when the winter came because there weren't enough apartments. Says most of 'em died, after the medicine and food ran short that year. He always used to touch his Militia hat when he spoke of 'em, said he helped pass out supplies and aid.
But here I am talking about all that old history, not saying what we found, what beautiful, wonderful thing we found.
She's a gas van, but Leo used to convert the things to solar with his uncle for the Militia. Found her in a storage shed that hadn't been broken in yet. No rust! No radiation! Not even rats in the engine, all locked up and covered like she was. If we get enough money to convert her ourselves... we can sell her for a fortune. Militia has the money, and they need cars like this; their old buckets keep falling apart.
Oh, and we even got a roll of copper wire out here. Generators are getting fixed tonight—the whole block's!
Merry Christmas, us.
Militia didn't want the damn van. I tell 'em, it took us months to convert. Had to cannibalize parts I found diving into a flooded rathole forty blocks west into fricking Jersey. Thought critters were going to eat my toes. Almost got nicked by a slaver in February, too. Great, they say. But they didn't want it anyway. Said they didn't trust something scrapped together by kids.
I thought Leo was going to punch that Militia man right there. We've put so much into doing this. We're almost out of money. Got a van no one wants. Got a stomach full of nothing.
Nick's crying again.
Nick died yesterday. I don't know why. I fed him. I fed him every day. I didn't eat so he could. I don't know. I don't know. Mom, I'm so sorry. I'm so, so, sorry. I let you down and now Nick's up there in Heaven with you and I'm so sorry.
I give up. I'm done.
I didn't think I'd write again, but Leo forced this notebook in my hands, and now I'm in the back of the van. We're going to New Pleasantville, he says. They cleared the bridge, and he got a license to leave the dome, and we're going. He says if I stayed in New York another day, I was going to die. Been dizzy, I guess. Haven't been able to even buy mealworms for a few days.
When I got in the van, there was a damned dead dog in the back. It was a nasty thing, teeth huge, fur patchy. Had a huge tumor lump growing out of its neck. Leo said he accidentally hit it on his test drive: Shi's goddamned two-headed dog. It's an awful creature and it stinks, but so help me, I looked at it, and looked at Leo, and I laughed, and it was the first time I'd laughed since Nick went.
Dog's gone now. Didn't want the thing in the van the whole way to New Pleasantville. Can't believe Leo smuggled in that thing to make me laugh. Can't believe it worked. Maybe I've turned all "morbid". Dad liked that word.
I don't know what's out here, but I guess it's living, and that'll have to do. The sky's still so beautiful. And there's green growing. I didn't notice it before, but it's pushing up through the old cracks in the road and the sidewalk. Maybe there is something good here in the wastes.
Turns out New Pleasantville isn't much different from New York. Not enough food and medicine, and the convoys out here seem to make half of it go missing if they get here at all. Even I've gone a few days without Quarantine sometimes.
I'm telling Leo he needs to paint a dove on the side of the van, like what's in my name. Dad said doves used to mean peace and good things. I told him, I'm ready. I'm going to live. People out here, people in New York, they need things, and we're going to deliver them, just like we always thought we would as scroungers. Maybe people will see that dove and have hope that good things are coming. And maybe we'll fill our bellies better.
We have to. I've been feeling funny, and I think it's because of what Leo and I did a few months ago.
Most people have trouble with that stuff, with the radiation and all, but I guess not me.
Maybe it's a boy. Maybe I'll name him Nick, and I can do better this time.
From the personal notes of Theodore Huxley, Head Instructor of New Acolytes of the Mage Order of New York, 2132
A new potential is to arrive on my doorstop tomorrow. His name is Jackson. I am told his Gift may be strong; I would lie if I said I wasn't absolutely tickled to hear it. I haven't seen an initiate of truly extraordinary potential for three decades. Before I taught her, the last "genius" appeared in my father's time...
This has set me thinking again about whether Father was right, and that depresses me. There are less of us turning up every season, even though the city's population numbers have stabilized. I almost cannot believe it when I read that before the Bombings, every year, there were several geniuses, often competing to be top of the class.
The records do not lie. Mages are a dying breed.
Even my own line withers, the great Huxleys of New York. Only three generations ago, I am told, we needed every room in this mansion. Now I am alone here, Tabitha my only company.
It is this accursed poison in the world. Weapons of war destroyed this planet, mutilated something fundamental, and I believe it has harmed humanity's connection to magic itself.
I wonder if that is why we can no longer hope to achieve the wonders it is said once existed at the dawn of things.
I must be growing old, because I dream often of this dawn, of Lemuria—oh, how the non-Gifted laugh when they hear conspiracies about Atlantis, of all places! I too wonder if it was real, even if the texts say it was from where all Orders sprang. When I close my eyes and think of it, I see the soaring rainbow towers, the miraculous skyglasses filled with stars, a land where the Gifted used their wisdom and magic to push humanity ever higher.
I wish those tales were real. I wish it was how things still were, sometimes. But, they say Lemuria fell, the gods furious at their hubris, at the abuse of magic for personal gain.
This cautionary tale has been coded into Order Law since time immemorial. We keep our practices beneath notice because we do not want the gods to rend us apart a second time, thinking our lesson unlearned. And to my sorrow, this code sometimes prevents us from doing great public good. I sometimes wonder... would the Bombings have been different if only the Orders' powers were known?
But, secrecy does have its advantages. Secrecy kept us alive during the panics and Crusades and witch hunts. Secrecy kept us practicing our gifts unmolested by government or corporate interests. To think, if the Coalition knew of us! Mages would certainly be pressed into being enforcers, an abuse of this power if I ever thought of it. If the stories are true, the price for living in the open would be phenomenally high. My heart wishes it weren't so. But my mind knows better. Our secrecy... it is best.
At least, I hope it is best, elsewise I have wasted my life teaching my students silence, even when the gods have not spoken for centuries.
And, as our numbers wane, so do our talents. Though the old stories speak of mages who were varied and complex in their spellcasting, I have seen very few who could manage anything outside of a specific domain. I recall my disappointment when I found I could do little beyond aura assessment—an outwardly unimpressive ability if there ever was one! At least it has allowed me to locate new initiates easily.
But to be so Gifted as Sakura Morimoto, my last truly amazing pupil... I remember when I first saw her purify. In a poisoned world, I recall knowing, deep down, that she was a miracle the people needed—a promise of clean water and soil. And as if that were not incredible enough, her dual talent to see spirits, communicate with the dead... I admit I have felt great peace knowing now that my own father and mother sometimes wander through the house, keeping watch in the armchairs. Ducat probably wishes I'd never learned, for now he must work extra hard to keep the furniture tidy. I'm not going to let father and mother sit in dust, now am I?
Poor Sakura... so bright. So cheerful. So, so talented. Not content to be like the other mages of New York... it still breaks my heart a little, when she left, feeling the calling to journey for the Texan settlements to found a new Order. But goodness knows how many lives she improved by purifying the earth around her in secret.
To have been driven mad by the other realm of her talents...
I find I still cannot write of her without my eyes burning, my throat tightening. Magic is a dangerous tool. Perhaps it is for the best that her son was born without the Gift. The Morimoto line, like mine, will wither and end.
There is only one mage I know who will not wither. Our Archmage. I am half convinced he'll be set in stone in our Order until the world ends a second time.
He frightens me.
I try not to think of him much. I don't know why; perhaps that just makes dealing with him easier, as I must, as head of education. But to look in those eyes, sometimes I am chilled. They haven't aged a year since I first met him at the age of ten, decades ago, his stern, grudging nod admitting me to the ranks.
An alchemist, the records say, when he arrived over two hundred years ago. A skilled alchemist.
He is powerful, he is genius, and he is unsullied, somehow, by the poison that has taken root in our kind. I could see him taking a place by the Lemurian mages of old, though he does not strike me as a man interested in creating miracles.
I am right to fear him, my heart says. And my mind... it agrees. Why have I never tried to puzzle him out? Why do I never think of...
[many lines have been blotted out]
Can't believe I fell asleep while writing. I should nap, I suppose. Is this what getting old is like? I should save my strength. Tomorrow, a new student arrives. I am told his Gift may be strong; I would lie if I said I wasn't absolutely tickled to hear it. His name is Jackson, I believe.
Perhaps he will prove my father wrong.
—Theodore Huxley, July 13th, 2132
From the 2105 Bombings Research Report of Coalition Historian Dr. W. Zhang, New Beijing
The world ended in 2022, and we could only rebuild on the bones left behind.
I have scoured all of the documentation we've recovered. This includes the new collection escavated and decrypted at great expense from site US97, "Pentagon". We had thought the central military intelligence of an old world superpower would house more data. Disappointingly, it seems even they didn't know who exactly fired the first shot of the Bombings, or why.
I begin to think it does not matter. The end result was simply that everything burned.
What we have found was that the first city hit was Glasgow, Scotland, something that has caused a great deal of discussion, as it had no known military points of especial interest. The second city was London, England. Millions died across the western land once known as the United Kingdom in seconds... a tragedy as keen as any other mass extinction in the history of the world. I can only imagine how the other startled nations must have felt, looking on, the fire beginning to blossom over their own heads.
Of course, this finding raises as many questions as it answers: why was the U.K. first?
As much as I have endeavored to find these answers, I can only continue to conclude that the Bombings gave no rhyme or reason; no one declared war or announced counterstrikes; no one announced enemy takeovers or a hacking crisis. It was as if some great intelligence had simply decided to wipe the slate of the Earth clean, and humanity's own nuclear stockpile was its tool of choice. When the hellfire blanketed Asia, Europe, and North America, cities and rural countrysides alike, there were no warnings or explanations, so perhaps the question of why the U.K. was first doesn't even matter.
But, as the volley began to spread against South America, my favorite mystery happened: the bombings slowed. As it reached the edges of Africa... it stopped.
Why? THIS was what I was desperately trying to find, why I began my research. It's a question my father and grandmother before me died without answering. Survivor accounts are shockingly useless. They had no one to ask. The EMPs from the blasts lacerated communications systems and electronic infrastructure. The world burned, and then, it went dark.
Of course, the survivors were so focused on their imminent death, I suppose it's little wonder they were not asking the bigger questions. The radioactive wind was going to decimate any populations that evaded the strike. It must have seemed a miracle when the Barriers rose, the defense program we still find no record of. One by one, ten of the surviving cities (including my own) spread shields across the sky, filtering the deathly breeze, powered by solar arrays. A beacon of hope. No wonder so many tried journeying to these points of light on the map.
Of course, here, there are more why's? Why did ten of the world's largest cities happen to have experimental Barriers nestled in their cores? Why these cities? Was there warning after all? It seems to beggar belief that these lucky urban areas escaped being targeted in the nuclear volleys. Some of them were the most important cities of the old world.
But the Pentagon data answered nothing. I begin to wonder if what my superiors say is correct: maybe such wonderings are pointless. Nothing can be done to change history, nor to bring back the world that was.
Sometimes, it is hard to study the Bombings, the accounts... they frighten me. I have had many nightmares. I am glad to have been born in this decade, so far removed from the hell that followed the birth of the New Era. It took three decades alone for the world to lift itself from survivalism, feudalism, and poverty, the cities daring to trust each other, to disentangle themselves from the isolationist nations they had become. But they needed to stand together if they were to survive. They needed to examine each other, ensure none of them were plotting against the rest. They needed to see that the Bombings would never happen again.
Some question the Coalition's edicts, but I have learned from history, so I do not. If any of us secede, they will be destroyed without hesitation, without mercy. And I say: good. Peace must be kept, no matter the cost. Billions died once in the old world. If it happens again, humanity may not recover.
So, as they say in schoolbooks: Long may the Coalition stand. Forever may the peace be.
And may these ruins of the past teach us something this time.