Writing a modern world occult setting, attempt #2

Photo by Tina Vanhove on Unsplash

This is the second part of a writing experiment where I try to create a modern-world setting with magical elements, vast conspiracies and secret societies battling for control. I’d like a strong element of sci-fi horror in this.

I looked over my last attempt again and wasn’t very happy with having “mystical beings”, possibly with distinct personalities, behind everything. It seems a bit too un-mysterious for my liking if you can just talk to these things, even if it might not be as easy as picking up a phone. I think a sci-fi approach where the world contains only unthinking forces would help to put what goes on in the human character’s head in the foreground. I also wasn’t happy with the two factions from last time having fundamentally different powers that basically cancel each other out. I think it would make for better stories if the opposing groups are on equal ground regarding what they can do, but it’s down to the choices they make and the reasoning behind them that determines who the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are (and even that should depend on the observer). Also, “anti magic” powers just don’t sound fun to write about! So here’s the second version:

Throughout the ages and seemingly without a pattern sometimes men and women were born who could do things that shouldn’t be possible. They could move objects by thought alone, walk through walls or even manipulate the minds of others. There are as many names for such individuals as there are for their uncanny powers, but what they all have in common is that those without the gift always feared and often persecuted them.

Long ago some of the Gifted found each other and bonded together for mutual protection. They would send out agents from their hidden strongholds, to wander the land and find those like them, and offer them a chance for a life free of fear and prejudice in their midst. Their true birthplace and original name, if there even was one, is lost in prehistory, but much later they started referring to themselves as the Order of the Tetrahedron, after the simplest platonic solid which symbolized their longing for understanding and simplicity. They craved to find out the origin of their strange powers, and what it meant. For millennia they meticulously studied and recorded all the different manifestations of the Gift, filling libraries with knowledge that nobody outside their secret circle would ever be allowed to see.

Speculation about gods, demons, curses and spirits as the ultimate source of the Gift always abounded, but no mystical explanation was ever fully accepted as the one true answer. The Order’s most dangerous finding on their quest to understand the Gift though was this: using the Gift extensively meant that more Gifted would be born, and each later generation possessed more and more powerful abilities, to the point that those individuals could barely control their own abilities, with catastrophic consequences. Legends of terrible creatures like giants, the medusa and vampires often are distorted records of Gifted whose own power twisted them into inhuman creatures. The Order would send their own to either destroy such horrors or clandestinely aid those who fought them. They knew that if the Gift became ubiquitous it would mean an apocalypse, and they vowed to prevent it happening, all the while never revealing themselves or the very truth of the Gift to the world at large. Their eyes and ears were everywhere, detecting new Gifted and either recruiting them into the Order or neutralizing those that refused, non-lethally if they could avoid it but always with absolute conviction. Still, some would slip through the cracks, and would often become a danger to themselves and others. Teams of carefully selected specialists would deal with such matters.

Despite the occasional need for force the Order understood itself as an organization of scholars. They gave up speculating about the source of the Gift and saw it as a manifestation of some unthinking, fundamental power that arises from living beings. Despite being mostly seen in humans, some animals were known to be born with some form of the Gift, which served as another source of legends with a kernel of truth. However, a schism formed, led by a particularly powerful Gifted who agreed that for the sake of avoiding a magical apocalypse the Gift had to be controlled, but the time for secrecy was over and instead the Gifted should take the reins and rule the world as obviously more powerful beings. When she left she took a portion of the Order’s hoard of knowledge and riches with her, along with a number of like-minded individuals. Over hundreds of years the newly formed Temple of Transcendence worked tirelessly under the control of their effectively immortal leader to acquire vast power and resources, preparing for the day where they would reveal themselves to the world at large and assume absolute control over all of humanity.

Although the Temple’s numbers and resources are still dwarfed by the Order’s they make up for these shortcomings through aggressiveness and a taste for risky and extremely dangerous applications of the Gift. Their members are often visibly twisted beings with strange mutations of the body, like a third eye in the center of their forehead. Such an appearance would cause shock and alarm among normal humans if it weren’t for their ability to mask what eyes and even machinery can perceive, though it always leaves those observing with a powerful sense of wrongness about what appears to be a normal person.

The Earth has changed greatly since the earliest days of the Order, with great cities arising and vast technological advancements coming into existence that used to seem like magic. It is in this setting that the Order and the Temple fight their invisible war over the question if magic should be something to fear, control and hide away, or a proud birthright to hold power over millions.

The Temple’s leader sounds maybe a bit too much like Voldemort, but I think this is a world where I could imagine some interesting stories happening.

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