Cryptic Nations

Also called "Shadow Nations, "Ghost Nations," or just "Die-Hards," they are created by nationalistic magicians deliberately playing on the Sundering to create a refugee population of (usually) internal exiles who continue the old way of life after a state or regime is destroyed. Most citizens are not magicians, but rely on magic to sustain themselves and keep up their Sundered condition.

They have uneasy and shifting relations with Order and Cabals, and are usually opposed by and to the Sunder Guards. Many Cryptic Nations have been one of these other three before.

The main effect of the "national enchantment" is to keep them ignored.

Physically, most Cryptic Nations are a scattering of settlements that are, in effect, invisible ghettos. They may be obscure villages in the country, or indistinguishable pieces of neighborhood in the cities. Either way, they are ignored: no police patrols, no postal delivery, no taxes, no voting, and so on. Tie-ins to the net and power grid are handled gingerly, or they do without. Commerce with the outside is done through fake identities, and this is often where magic comes in.

Socially, life is cozy / claustrophobic, since these societies are so small. You seldom deal with anyone outside the Nation, which numbers only a few hundred or thousand, and most likely the bulk of your dealings are with the few dozen in your immediate enclave. Meanwhile, there is that other nation all around you, unaware of your secret.

Many Cryptic Nations have a king, emperor, or other monarch they cling to, the successor of some lost dynasty. These have necessarily come down a lot in the world.

At best, the successor lives in a fine but hidden country manor, not a palace, and sometimes the whole Cryptic Nation is basically this one household. A fair bit of magic is needed to keep it hidden and running, and the monarch is either a mage themselves or served by a team of geas-bound mages, usually successors of the ones who established the Cryptic Nation in the first place.

At worst, the monarch lives a mundane cover life, the palace is a shared dream-place off in the astral, and the whole Cryptic Nation is a club of Sundered families with a strange occult hobby of shared dreams of the Good Old Days.

There are two ironies inherent in the Cryptic Nations. First, the Good Old Days were never as they are remembered/imagined. Second, although Cryptic Nations are intended to preserve the past, they cannot stop time or life, and the citizens of Cryptic Nations undergo their own cultural evolutions, however conservative their intentions may be.

Put briefly, there are four esoteric images of national identity in the esoteric world:


There is no Cryptic Confederacy from the American Civil War; its niche is occupied by Palmito Hill . Unless Palmito Hill is a Cryptic Confederacy rather than an occult conspiracy. It could be considered a borderline case.

Another borderline case is the Men of Sherwood. This esoteric society has sometimes been the British Order, has more often thought it was the British Order, but could also be viewed as a heavily eroded Cryptic Saxon England.

There is no Cryptic USSR, either, since using magic to set up a society dedicated to dialectical materialism requires more double-think than anyone happened to be able to muster.

How They Are Born

Almost definitionally, the founders have the services of some mages and/or fays, either founding members or hirelings. In fact, the magic-capable members of the founding party are probably the ones with the plans and initiative.

"Hail, second cousin of the late king. I am the fortune teller his late majesty sometimes consulted, but not enough. This is the brownie from the royal kitchens; he looks funny but he is a loyalist like me. And fortunately for you, I am rather more than a fortune teller. After the rebels/usurpers pause for breath, they will do a little genealogy and decide you would be an embarrassment. But we have a plan. A bit of a plan. Grab as much of your family and retainers as you can get and really trust, and come with us."

Just a little later, after a lot of unseemly haste:

"Well, here we are in the hunting lodge that was forgotten in the depths of the forest after the last plague. The children are tired, aren't they? I think it would be a very good idea if the children took a nap. The brownie and I need to tap their vital spirit. Do not worry, theywill renew it as they sleep, and wake up a deal fresher than you feel right now. But the brownie is going to cast the biggest glamour he has tried in quite some time, to hide the trail here and make the house look like a dense copse. And I must ride far and fast to contact more loyalists, and the horse and I will both need the endurance. What can you do? Why, take your men and go hunting, 'Your Majesty.' We'll need the venison."

Of course, the initiative could come from the mundane side.

"You, alchemist, are you and your wife really Cunning Folk? Are the rumors true that your moggy is a troll-cat and sometimes talks? Good. I'm just a little too closely related to the late king for comfort. These are my knights, and we need a place to run to. Cunning Folk seem just the ticket. If you can come up with something, you can name your reward. Inside a troll hill? Fine."

How They Die

Cryptic Nations do not last forever. Most die a-borning, and any can succumb to enough bad choices and bad luck. Let's take Outer Russia as an example. Imagine it to be sputtering out, instead of its canonical state of surviving if not exactly prospering.

The last generation consists of the last tsar and tsarina, unmarried brother and sister, and the last monk. Everyone else has died off, run away to civilization, or vanished mysteriously. The monk is about to die off and the brother and sister are about to vanish mysteriously. In his last illness, the monk has a dream-vision of three angels. Mother Russia (the Principality) and Raziel (the Angel of Magic) are working over a book that is nearly full of writing. They finish the last lines, close it, and hand it to Azrael. They nod to the monk and walk away. Azrael turns to the monk and approaches...

The monk departs for a fairly extended purgation, after a life of so much magic. The prince and princess bury him in the populous forest cemetery, of necessity with their own hands, feeling more exposed than ever. Now that the last magician is dead, the charms of confusion around the mansion are crumbling; feeding prana into them single-handed did nothing for his health. Men with snow-white skin, riding black horses, charge into the grounds. The young tsar dies defending his sister, who is carried off as a prize to one of the Thrice Ten Kingdoms. Her brother does not let being dead slow him down much, but pursues, eventually rescuing her and seeing her wed to a brighter sort of fay before himself ascending to higher planes.

Back in Siberia, agents of Grand Normandy show up on the disenchanted grounds, claiming right of inheritance thanks to their long treaties with Outer Russia. (Those treaties and Grand-Norman power were the more mundane things that let the dying Cryptic live out its days as long as it did.) They are contested by other esoteric groups. Games of guerilla treasure-hunting ensue, but there isn't much left to pick over. Kerdeans politely prowl the grounds, taking notes, protected by bullyboys versed in esoteric martial arts. Within a week, the place is truly deserted.

Raziel, or possibly the Sundering itself, sees to it that the house crumbles to undetectable ruins and the forest covers it over.

That was a dramatic and violent end. They can die with a whimper as well as with a bang.

Imagine the Caroline Scots (the die-hard adherents of Bonnie Prince Charlie) have, as their main esoteric connection, a partnership with some Scottish fairy folk who are themselves the dehumanized ghosts of ancient Celts. When Caroline Scots die, they tend to get recruited by these fays, so you start with trooping fays in medieval dress, then you start getting ones in Renaissance dress, then Georgian dress, then Victorian, then Roaring Twenties...

And the human population of Caroline Scots dwindles until finally there's one old lady that her nurses think dotty, and she is, but 25% of the hallucinations are real ghosts. Then she dies and a local psychic sees a party of Bright Young Things, featuring a particularly exultant flapper waving goodbye to ... the psychic, the world, whoever ... in a phantom roadster.

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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011