Magepunk — also sometimes called Dungeonpunk, Arcanepunk, or Magicpunk — is defined by a setting where technology and magic coexist and are readily available. Often, the technology is post-industrial, modern, or futuristic in nature, but its operation is often dependent on magic as a catalyst.
These stories may take place in a variety of settings, be they historical, contemporary, futuristic, or fantastic secondary worlds. The key thing to remember about this genre is that magic and technology not only exist at the same time but are cooperative and integral to each other. A world where these two schools of though are at odds with each other, or where magic is hidden or rare, would not be considered Magepunk.
I have seen more representations of this genre in gaming than literature, such as the Eberron setting in Dungeons and Dragons, the tabletop wargame Warmachine, and in the Magic: The Gathering setting of Kaladesh. I would love to see more books of this genre, and would love to hear some suggestions from you!
Now that we know what magepunk is, let’s take a dive into the sub-genre! I proudly present: Crimson Storm
by B.K. Bass
Nathaniel jerked awake as the ship lurched. He grabbed the brass rail next to his bunk to steady himself as he got to his feet. Crockery slid across the table in the center of the cabin. He reached out a hand as the clay pitcher fell from the table and it hovered in the air. It slowly levitated back over the table and came to a rest in its usual spot.
“Who in the blazes is at the helm?” he muttered as he drew the crimson long-coat over his shoulders. Fastening his sword belt over it and settling the heavy cutlass on his hip, he strode to the door of the cabin and flung it wide with a wave of his hand.
The room beyond was the only buffer between his cabin and the main deck. Galen sat in the center of the chamber before the Elevetorium. The blue crystal was lovingly embraced in a filigree of brass. Arcs of electricity ran across its surface. Galen’s bushy brow furrowed in concentration as the ship lurched again, struggling to maintain control of the vessel. Nathaniel did not speak to the old mage, not wanting to break his concentration. If Galen’s control of the crystal faltered, they were all doomed.
Nathaniel passed through the next door and out onto the main deck as the ship jerked hard to one side. He steadied himself on the frame of the portal and took in the scene before him. The deck was awash in organized chaos. Sailors ran from one task to the other with grim purpose. Cannons were being angled at the port gunwale and sails were being unfurled.
“Bosun Gree! What in the nine planes is going on?” Nathaniel called out.
Standing as a monument to calm amids the storm of activity, a large figure turned in response to hearing his name. The ogre stood eight feet tall and had shoulders half as broad. His arms were almost as thick as the mizzen mast, and he could crush a man’s head in each hand. When he spoke, there was an elegance to his soft enunciation that spoke of years of dedicated study, “Well, captain, we have spotted a merchantman cruising not far off to port. I took it upon my own initiative to put the boys to action preparing to accost the vessel in hopes of some lucrative monetary gains.”
There was a sudden cry as one of the lines to the yard of the main mast snapped and came loose. Putting on his best bosun’s voice, Gree called out, “Avast ya lazy sea dogs! Secure that line before I tie it around one of your necks and throw you over the gunnel!”
Turning back to Nathaniel, he said, “My apologies, captain. The boys seem to react more efficaciously when I adopt a brusque timbre.”
Nathaniel waved a hand in dismissal as he strode over the the gunwale. Looking over the rail, he saw the other ship in question several hundred yards ahead. It was at a lower altitude than the Crimson Rose and angling away with full sales. Gree handed him a spyglass, and peering through it he was able to better evaluate their prey. The ship had guns, but not many. They looked to be traditional cannons, as well, so not much of a concern. Most likely, the merchantman had a limited crew and only a handful of mages. They definitely had an aeromancer on board, because their sales were fuller than the weather would allow naturally. Clouds slipped by between the ships, and far below the waters of the Covalia Sea shimmered in the morning sunlight. Ahead there was a bank of dark storm clouds. The merchantman was running for the storm. It was a suicidal move, but they had made their choice between facing the wrath of nature or the mercy of pirates.
“Very good, Gree,” Nathaniel said as he slid the spyglass closed. “Send word to the Elevatorium for Galen to bring us down two hundred yards. And somebody find Mirabelle! I want our sails full so we can catch them before they make the storm!”
Gree nodded and stomped off to grab crewmen to run the orders. Nathaniel inspected the cannons along the gunwale, making sure that the brass-barreled arms and their charge crystals were in proper order. The gunnery master, Bae’Kish, was shouting his own orders to the men under his command. The elf looked to be the junior of the officers aboard the Crimson Rose, but he was actually a hundred years older than anybody aboard the ship. He rubbed his hands together and arcs of blue energy appeared between them. He held his hands to either side of the crystal on one of the cannons, and the energy infused it with a bright glow. He worked his way down the line, charging each of the guns with the raw magical energy that was his specialty.
Everyone aboard the ship was busy about well-practiced tasks. Despite the appearance of chaos, every soul aboard was working as part of a whole. Even as he thought this, the ship began to descend to the level of their quarry and the sails swelled with a powerful magic wind. Nathaniel looked back and saw Mirabelle standing upon the aftcastle, arms held up wide and her blue skirts and shift flowing ahead of her. Her long hair, as well, was stretched out before her. A strong wind flowed from behind her, summoned by her control of the air itself. Almost as important as Galen’s control over the Elevatorium, the aeromancer’s mastery of the wind was vital to speeding the vessel towards its objectives.
Soon, they were nearing the merchant ship. Thunder rolled in the cloud bank ahead, punctuated by the roar of the other ship’s cannons. Flashes of light and plumes of smoke erupted along the hull, and lead cannon balls soared through the air towards the Rose. Most of them were likely to miss, but one seemed to be headed right for the bow. Steeling himself, Nathaniel reached out with both hands and concentrated upon the projectile. Its trajectory changed abruptly, and it flew harmlessly below the ship. Nathaniel wiped sweat from his brow. Clay pitchers and wooden doors were simple matters for him, but altering the path of ten pounds of lead hurtling faster than a diving wyvern was a challenging task.
As they drew alongside the vessel, he cried out to the elven gunnery master, “Target their sails! Slow them down!”
Bae’Kish nodded, his bald head gleaming in the sun. His one good eye quickly inspected his gun line, the other covered by a velvet patch. “You heard Captain Rose, take down their sails!”
The gunners angled the guns and inserted smooth cylinders of polished glass between the charged crystals and the array of lenses on each gun. Pushing the crystals into contact, the stored magic ran through the glass and was focused into tight bolts of rippling blue energy surrounded by white hot coils brighter than the sun itself. The bolts ripped through the sails of the merchantman, setting them alight with fire. One even struck the foremast of the fat galleon, sending it shuttering over the forecastle and plummeting to the sea below. Almost instantly, they were gaining upon their quarry. Bae’Kish wasted no time in setting about recharging the guns for another volley.
Heavy footfalls sounded on the deck, and Nathaniel turned as Gree approached him. “Brilliant shot, sir. I dare say our foe shall not make the shelter of nature’s wroth afore we have them in our grasp.”
“Just so,” Nathaniel said, “Have Mirabelle slacken the sails. I don’t want to overshoot them and end up in that storm ourselves. Are the boarding parties prepared?”
“Aye, and eager. Many have been feeling sorely purloined for lack of enervation.”
Nathaniel nodded, not entirely sure what the ogre had just said. It seemed that all was in order for the next stage of the battle.
As they began to slow, Bae-Kish asked, “Targets, sir?”
Nathaniel considered the options. The enemy’s remaining sails were ablaze with fire and they were quickly loosing speed. Blasting the hull would just dump potentially valuable cargo plummeting through the air. The merchant ship’s cannons fired again, and this time several shots tore through the hull of the Crimson Rose. He frowned as the deck shuddered beneath his feet and screams of pain echoed from below decks. “Take out those guns,” he said fervently.
Again, streams of bright energy shot out from the brass barrels. They raked across the top deck of the galleon, shattering the gunwale and setting timber alight. Fire blossomed on the side of the merchant ship and her cannons either fell over the broken edge or slid across the deck out of control. One even managed to crush a few of the merchant sailors before it slid off the opposite side of the ship, taking another two cannons over with it. “Nicely done, gunney,” Nathaniel said.
The elf smiled back, which was as close as he ever got to showing emotion. The stoic gunnery master did not get excited very often, but he did very much enjoy his role aboard the ship.
“Prepare grapples!” Nathaniel called out, and the order was repeated by Gree’s thundering voice. Men ran to the gunwale with ropes tied to iron hooks.
This was his own moment to go to work, and he set his feet wide to steady himself. Reaching out, he concentrated all of his will on the galleon across from them. Pulling with all of his might, he slowly brought the crippled ship closer to their own. When it was within reach, the crewman to either side of him cast their lines across the gap. Iron spikes bit into wood an hooked over anything they could grip. The crewmen pulled on the ropes, and soon the ships were alongside each other.
“Raise the sails and tell Galen to bring us to a stop!” Nathaniel growled through clenched teeth. Sweat beaded up on his brow and ran down his cheeks in rivulets. His pulse pounded in his head from the strain, but as their ship slowed he put all of his force into slowing the momentum of the merchant ship. All around him, men roared as they climbed over the gunwale and swung across on lines from the masts.
Once both ships were slowing to a stop, Nathaniel drew his own cutlass. The storm clouds were close, but far enough not to be a worry. Gree leapt the short gap between the ships and began to lay about the merchant crew with his massive bare fists.
As Nathaniel joined the fray, his spirit soared. Sword in hand and shoulder to shoulder with his crew, the fire of battle overshadowed the actual fire upon the ship’s deck. This was when he felt most alive.