Imagine a city very much like the great ones of our time. Tokyo, New York, London. Towering skyscrapers, pillars of glass gleaming in the sunlight. Well dressed men and women milling about on the street, walking from store to store or simply enjoying the day. Businessmen in offices making and losing fortunes in stocks, performers in the streets entertaining the masses, expensive cars caught in rush hour traffic. Perhaps this is familiar to you. And indeed, New Salem is perhaps one of the greatest post-Advent cities in the world. Under the watch and care of the Corporations, this city has flourished to heights rivalling the cities of bygone days, perhaps even surpasing them.
But the trained eye may notice sutble differences. The businessmen chant strange words as they look over ancient tomes, the cars run quietly and smoothly without even the faintest hum of an engine, and the street performers, while enjoyed, are almost imperceptibly avoided, as though they have some disease, some contagion that might spread by contact.
The streets host much fewer people than a city of this size would suggest. Cameras are on every street corner. Men in white suits and dark glasses can be seen casually watching the crowds. On most every man or woman's clothing, an emblem, a statement of loyalty is visible.
But the greatest difference are the animals. Creatures of any shape and size march alongside the well dressed men and women. Dogs and cats are present of course. But so are birds, black ravens and bright parrots. Lizards, tiny geckos that ride upon a shoulder, snakes that slither about, and great crawling reptiles that trail after their human counterparts. Bats flit about, insects crawl and buzz, and an ape even can be seen shambling behind a young woman. And all of this goes unnoticed by the people. Or at least, no on seems concerned with it.
That is because for the last two hundred years or so, such things have become commonplace.
These are the Familiars. The source, or perhaps conduits some researchers say, of magic.
But of course, every great city has two sides. Where there is light, there must be darkness. Where there are pristine skyscrapers, there must be dirty alleyways. Where there are haves, there must be have-nots.
That is where this tale begins then. In the darkness, in a dirty alleyway, with two young men, teenage boys to be truthful, who are most certainly have-nots. They are in the outskirts of the city, for away from the shining fortresses of progress and reason. They wear dishevelled and mismatched clothes, with no visible emblem. They pant heavily and look around nervously, as though they have been running from now unseen persuers.
Which is in fact exactly what they were doing. One, the shorter of the two by only a few inches, turns to the other. Fear in his eyes, he whispers, "We should never have gotten into this. What did Mom always tell us?"
The other one, taller of the two, pauses for a moment in thought.
"Always wash behind your ears?"
"Ye- No! Do you really think that's important right now?"
"...Look both ways before you cross the street?"
"N- okay fine, that's still kind of important. But it's not what I-"
"Stop doing that or you'll go blind?"
"What? No! I'm talking about how she always told us not to go into abandoned buildings or we might get hurt!"
"Ah. Right. But we weren't hurt, were we?"
"We now have three different Corporations and the Witch Hunters after us now. We're going to be, trust me."
<Would you two kindly stop with the unnecessary chatter? I don't feel like dying today.>
"Well I'm open to suggestions!"
"I'm not- or right, you can't hear her."
The shorter boy messages his temples. 'If I survive this,' he thinks to himself, 'I am never going to leave our shack for as long as I live.'
<Pretty big if.>
'Oh shut up and help me think of something useful to do.'