Hidden underneath the veneer of civilized society is a dark and magical world of unbridled exploration into the unknown. It’s always been there and those who have been willing to throw off an egocentric view of the universe have discovered the true secrets of existence. There are more such seekers than ever before in the Strange Aeon, but they face an obstacle to enlightenment the likes of which they’ve never encountered before – the government.
When humanity was finally forced to accept the existence of the dark secrets of the universe, they feared. Bringing such power and danger into the light was enough to make the common folk want to retreat to their own safe corner of the world. As with all dangerous things, the government felt the only way to create an atmosphere of safety was to step in and heavily regulate all things related to cosmic power and communion with things both less and more than human. At first, nations created individual agencies to rather inefficiently deal with enforcing these regulations, but with the inception of the New Earth Government came the ever-efficient and draconian Office of Internal Security.
But no government has ever been able to stop the traffic of goods or services for which there is a demand. Those things the powers that be declared illegal went underground. And with the creation of a thriving underground culture and black market came the creation of a whole new subculture and a whole new world of danger. Today, the New Earth Government is host to a thriving occult black market, or what has come to be known as the arcane underground.
Since the penalties for violation of law regulating all things occult or paranormal are severe, those trafficking in the arcane underground are necessarily cautious. One does not simply walk down a dark alley and find someone ready to deal illegal magical texts, like one might a drug dealer or pimp. Just finding a way in is a serious challenge. The best most can do is to make themselves available and appearing of the right character in hopes that they are approached. Most trying to find a contact hang around magical circles with edgy reputations and endure whatever is necessary to be accepted. Eventually, someone with a way into the illegal world will approach them if their attitude says that they are willing to go the distance. But once inside, one still needs to remain cautious. Those who find a way in who get cold feet or those who seem like weak links are often murdered by those who have much to lose.
Of course, such a world has other dangers. There are always those who want what someone else has, so those who flash money or valuables around often are mugged or burglarized by those with less. There is the omnipresent threat of simply getting ripped off – someone delivering bunk goods or just taking the money and running. Worse yet is receiving bad or doctored texts or rituals. Some may be useless, but many have been altered to be dangerous. Then there is the threat of extra-dimensional entities – monsters. Many sorcerers in the arcane underground summon creatures to do their bidding and some have minds of their own. Bakhi, Gaunts, and N’athm in particular are regular parts of the arcane underground and each is deadly, dangerous, or worse. But the most insidious danger of the underground is the exposure to cults. By their very nature, cults are forced to operate parallel and within this level of society and some who walk in this world find themselves running afoul of cult agenda or, even worse, find themselves getting drawn into and involved with the cult itself.
But many seekers are their own worst enemies. Some push forward into the deepest waters of the arcane underground, finding that they pushed too far too fast and are in way over their heads. Just like association with any other type of criminal culture, it’s difficult if not impossible to pull out once a person has been in. Some bite off more than they can chew, taking on deals they can’t seal or taking on knowledge or rituals they can’t handle or getting involved with people that are more severe or dangerous than they’re ready for, and then there are those who pose, pretending to be bigger fish than they truly are. In the arcane underground, there are always bigger and badder fish and those who pose usually wind up “missing.”
Those who operate within the underground are their own breed. The very nature of the things in which they trade is dark and that darkness rubs off into the hearts and souls of those who deal with them. There is often a price in mental well-being for the things they seek and many have departed from conventional views of sanity. In general, there is a detachment from normal mortality in those who dig too deep or spend too much time within the arcane underground.
Anything related to the practice of illegal magic or forbidden knowledge can be found within the arcane underground, once a person finds a way in and those who traffic there trust them enough to deal with them. There are four main categories of things available. The first is illegal magical rituals, which are most often sold in electronic form. Hackers beware, however. The encoding placed on illegal rituals is intense, created by well-paid and experienced hackers. Most often, attempts to hack the copy protection will result in the corruption or deletion of the ritual. Then there’s the fact that dealers tend to have those who hack their wares killed. The second category is services, both magical and parapsychic. A person may not be able to or wish to command the power themself, but they can find those who will use their abilities in service, if one has the resources to pay. The third is books. There are those that trade in nothing but forbidden texts and maintain teams whose only job is to unearth new tomes or steal those that are jealously guarded by collectors. The fourth and final category is materials, the things one might need for their rituals that might be frowned upon in polite company. Drugs, blood, small animals and children – all these and more can be found if they are what someone needs.
There are functionally three levels on which the arcane underground operates. The most basic level of the underground can be found on the streets. In dark alleys, abandoned buildings, secret warehouses, and the like are where the deals take place. This level of the underground is where most people believe it exists and is most often portrayed in movies. It is seedy, immediately dangerous, and volatile. However, it is the most easily accessible way to find a way in. Then there’s the arcane underground of the “suburbs.” This level is typically populated by bored housewives, professionals who feel they need to live on the edge, and naïve and/or rich kids. Dealers love this strata of the underground, because it is lucrative and the buyers are easily fleeced. The harm perpetrated by those at this level is mostly due to accident or incompetence. But the most dangerous and flourishing segment of the underground lives at the highest levels of society. It is here that big-time trafficking occurs and it is from here that nearly everything in the underground trickles down. Affluent and powerful dealers and organized cartels are the power players here and the truly powerful and potentially dangerous are their buyers. This is the segment with which the Office of Internal Security dances the most. Though many of these kingpins remain independent, cult influence can sometimes be felt.
If one is to live an illegal lifestyle and play in the arcane underground, one needs to be clever and careful to cover one’s activities. Big brother is always watching and the Office of Internal Security has few laws standing between them and someone’s arrest and detainment. It only takes one slip and a person could be put away forever. Friends, family, lovers – no one can be trusted once one has taken the step into the world of illegal cosmic power. The very nature of walking down this dark street is not for the sentimental or the faint of heart.