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Secret City
Secret City is the Urban Fantasy book series by Russian author Vadim Panov. It's a chronicle of the eponymous city, hidden on the territory of modern Moscow, where the last remains of great magical races, who formerly ruled the Earth, dwell. The series now consists from fifteen books (two of which, however, consist mostly of Fan Fic) and still goes on.

The series is also notable for (for most of books) not having a strict division of characters into good and evil, but rather several more or less sympathetic sides, each pursuing their own goals. Usually, a quartet of Chel mercenaries - Cortes (Кортес), Artyom (Артём), Yana (Яна) and Inga (Инга) - are portrayed as main heroes. Main characters also include: mercs' top-priority employer, Commissar Santiaga (Комиссар Сантьяга), an eccentric gentleman and the heroic Magnificent Bastard of the series, and his assistant Ortega (Ортега); The Prince (Князь), leader of Nav'; police major Andrey Kornilov; Frants de Gir (Франц де Гир), the Captain and later the Grossmeister of Chud'; Vseslava (Всеслава), the Queen of Lyud', and her lover baron Mecheslav (Мечеслав); danger-prone Red Cap uybui (gaffler) Hoof, his men Needle and Container and their Great Fuhrer Sledgehammer; the khvan Muba (хван Муба), an assassin and extremely skilled combatant; Zahar Tremy (Захар Треми), a vampire; Anna (Анна) the metamorph; Larisa (Лариса), a powerful but inexperienced chel mage.

The series consists of following books:
  • Wars Are Started by Losers
  • Commander of War
  • Attack by Rules
  • All Shades of Black
  • There Are Heroes Even in Hell
  • The Concubines of Hatred
  • The Chrysalis of Last Hopenote 
  • The Shadow of Inquisitor
  • The Chair of Wanderers
  • The Rules of Blood
  • The Royal Cross
  • The King of the Hill
  • The Day of the Dragon
  • The Smell of Fear
  • The Charade of Galla
  • The Webbing of the Opposition

The series has the example of:

  • A God Am I: The Messenger of Lyud'. It takes the combined efforts of the Prince of Nav', the Grossmeister of Chood' and the Queen of Lyud' to prove him wrong.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Black Moryanas under control of Mara's bracelet.
    • Sitry, a Hierarh of Kadath, ends being fused into the walls of Kadath Castle for his cowardice.
    • Azag-Toth himself, being completely immortal, is now confined in a glass coffin, without his unique source of power.
  • Aliens Speaking Russian: Justified: all families have or at least had their own languages, but use Russian as the common language, as they lived on that territory for centuries.
  • Amulet of Concentrated Awesome: Stepan Razin's enchanted dagger which supposedly made him fearless. Later research shows it not to remove fear as such, but to enable rational thinking under stress.
  • The Antichrist: The Messenger.
  • Anti-Magic:
    • "Fisherman's Net" blocks the energy inside of a mage.
    • Moryanas are immune to magic except for the "Basilisk's Eye" spell.
    • Kitano warriors. Spells and artifacts simply don't trigger, passing through them.
    • Chel Inquisitors suppress magic and cause excruciating pain to mages in a large radius, utilizing faith of human crowds.
    • Galla can negate any magic. His Temples are Anti-Magic areas, although he can restore magic for rooms or even selected individuals at a whim.
  • Area of Effect:
    • Many spells work this way, notably detection spells. The infamous "Salamander's Ring" encloses the area in a wall of fire. And then it begins to shrink.
    • An imprisoned Spirit of Fair Play, when released from his gambling artifact prison, not only disables a spell designed for Fixing The Game within the artifact, but resets all gambling, including gambling machines all over the SC, to their mathematical probabilities, throwing the Kontsy into a panic.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: In the Order... and the Southern Fort.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Over-paranoid Azag-Toth made his hierarchs Nigh Invulnerable except one small spot.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Leaders of Great Houses, including Tat' Lords and Chel Keepers have a direct access to the Source, providing them with HUGE mana supplies.
  • Badass Army: Navs, Lyuds, Choods, Khvans and Masans have very Badass ones.
  • Badass Normal: Chel mercs, Lyud Militia, magic-impaired Choods. Notable Muggle example: Sergey in The Charade of Galla - barely introduced to SC and storming into battle.
  • Battle Aura: during a formal challenge for the Grossmeister position, both the challenger and the current Grossmeister draw power directly from Chood's Source, which manifests on their weapons and armors.
  • Beastess: Moryanas when in battle skin.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: a short story dealing with the naming of Chel mercenaries-frequented pub, "Failure's Tankard". According to urban myth, Santiaga once entered a then nameless pub and told a weak low-profile human mage that today was his day and Darkness grants him a single wish. The mage merely wished for a never-empty tankard of alcoholica and soon died.
  • The Bet on an Absurdly High-Stakes Game: the Royal Cross is a unique artifact performing RealityWarps. The user enters a card game against the artifact, betting the outcome of a major event, up to and including their life, on the outcome of the game. Interestingly enough, your own actions towards achieving your goals also influence the game.
  • Bishonen Line: Kadath. Their Hierarchs, who were once Chels, are Nigh Invulnerable monstrosities, but the four most powerful look completely human. Save for their Supernatural Gold Eyes.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Lyud', Nav' and Chood' respectively.
  • Cannibalism Superpower: Masans have taken several artifacts from their homeworld with them. While Masan legends claim the artifacts were their Sources, now they have to be recharged by killing other Masans in rituals specific for each artifact.
  • Chunky Salsa Rule: in effect. Some beings, e.g. Galla, and some things, e.g. battle golems, can disregard it.
  • Common Tongue: Russian in the Secret City, English for international occasions. Masans worldwide commonly speak the languages of humans around them.
  • Compelling Voice: the reason the Prince is an absolute monarch of the Nav'. This is a spell granted to each Prince upon ascension but not removed should Nav' ever need or force a Prince to step down. While nobody remembers a Prince before the current one, there was one and it ended in Nav's only civil war.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: an extremely rare breed of humans known as Reapers. Upon triggering the effect, most often by extreme stress or fear, they will drain their surroundings of magic and for a few seconds obtain speed, strength, reflexes and sometimes levels of agression rivaling a Moryana or a Masan. Theoretically, this power can be activated only once in a lifetime, but that was deduced for humans living everywhere on Earth and not in Moscow under permanent magic field exposure.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: each Great House has a few spells which could depopulate the earth in some way. These spells guarantee mutually assured destruction. Known spells of this kind are "Arcane of Desires", a Reality Warp, and "Tears of the Earth's Heart", a supervolcano eruption spell. Both are powered by Human Sacrifice.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Nav' and Erli, mostly.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Kortes and Santiaga among the protagonists, various others.
  • Dirty Communists: Surprisingly for a Russian author, played straight a lot. It is because Panov is an anticommunist.
  • Dirty Coward: Red Caps. Also, Viktor Krohin, but he is a more dangerous kind.
  • Dismantled MacGuffin:
    • The "Ethnic Eggs" are a collection of non-magical Easter eggs by Faberge, each one holding a sculpture of a human wearing a traditional costume of a region. The Guild of Pristavniks is offering a disproportionally high price on them. The set is completed with a magical map.
    • Dragon Needles, one of the ancient Masan artifacts. The artifact is a pair of daggers designed for dual-wielding. The daggers were split among two heirs of a clan leader as the clan itself split into a Kamarilla and a Sabbat fraction.
    • The Lesser Throne of Poseidon consists of two parts - a single piece of material forming the pedestal with a throne and a table, commonly referred as "Throne", and the Chalice of Poseidon which can be placed in the appropriate slot on the table.
  • Downer Ending: The Day of the Dragon.
  • Elemental Powers: Subverted. Spells are the same for everyone, it's the type of energy and the source of it that differ. However, when the most powerful mages operate directly the vast currents of energy, it's played straight.
  • Enemy Mine with Summon Bigger Fish: Santiaga plays the renegade Nav Yarga with his desires for magical Navish supremacy against the two most pro-human fractions: the Kitano school and the Black Book's new Keeper, Larisa.
  • The Everyman: Artyom at the beginning, later Marina's lovers Vasiliy and Sergey. Several others who are introduced into the Secret City by some sort of Glamour Failure.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep / Spell My Name with a "The":
    • Played straight with the Nav'. The Prince and his Advisors deliberately undergo this when they take the seat, as a sign of their sacrifice of everything personal in favor of duty before the family.
    • Averted with Galla who could carry a lot of grand titles but simply goes by his given name.
    • Played straight with Kortes, who goes by that nickname. In an encounter with an elder and possibly retired operative, we learn that Kortes was called Kirill and his call-sign was "Plague".
  • Fantastic Drug: Golden Root has varied effects for different families:
    • Shas, Erli, Os', Masan, Moryanas, Kontsy, Pristavniks: unknown, most likely addictive and destructive.
    • Choods: Root extract causes a minor enhancement of magic powers, golden sparkles in the eyes, then quick descent into addiction and quick deterioration of personality. Forbidden.
    • Lyuds: unknown for females; root extract unlocks magic abilities in Lyud males while causing Rapid Aging. Forbidden, caches kept as last resort.
    • Khvans: Flower and leaf extracts used as mild relaxants, commonly used as an additive to vodka. Root extract is exported, but not consumed. Root extract likely with destructive effects.
    • Chels: Flower and leaf extracts are mild relaxants without pronounced addiction potential. Root extract replaces cravings for other drugs with cravings for Golden Root, causes glowing eyes of solid gold without pupils, causes happiness and euphoria and greatly enhances physical and magical potential. Long-term abuse causes mutations.
    • Hyperboreans of Kadath: Mutated long-term Golden Root addicts. Golden Root is their Spice of Life. Withdrawal causes depression, inactivity, then death. Azag-Toth and his second in command are able to survive withdrawal.
  • Fantastic Racism: mostly against the Chel from Lyud', and against the Red Caps from almost anyone.
  • Fiery Redhead: Chood' are this, though only men. Their women are... less active. And, of course, Inga.
  • Fireballs: Common fire spell and one of the basics.
  • Fixing The Game: One of the creators of the Royal Cross was a Masan patriarch. True to Masan magic and mindset, the cheat available consists of bathing a closed card in the blood of an enemy, then turning it to reveal a card you need to advance the game in your favor. And then Santiaga got his hands on the artifact and added an enchantment of his own.
  • Foreshadowing: In fifth book, it's said that no magic is allowed near the Red Square and the Mausoleum. In the next book, it's revealed why.
  • Fragile Speedster: Khvan. A subversion: while their main advantage is their superior speed, they are still inhumanly strong. Compared to Navs, combat golems, Moryanas, Masans and male Lyuds, they are, indeed, Fragile Speedsters.
  • Friendly Sniper: Yana and Kortes are both skilled snipers, although Kortes may slip into Cold Sniper courtesy of his training.
  • Gambit Pileup: Among others, the situation with Galla's Heresy, where several independent fractions collide. Technical winners would be Galla, Kortes' mercenaries and a lucky Red Cap tomb raider.
  • Gambit Roulette: One of them is the plot backbone for two subsequent books, and held together by a professional seer.
  • Geometric Magic:
    • Navish tattoos work as prohibitively expensive permanent amulets. The best known benevolent ones are "Watchful Royal Hawk", which grants the carrier a danger sense, "Circle of Indifference" which works as a combat analgetic and "Erli's Cross" which acts as an emergency healing spell.
    • The "Fisherman's Net" spell can also be grafted as a Navish tattoo, resulting in a permanent Power Limiter.
    • A rare application uses Navish "runes" instead. The runes are technically closer to Chinese hieroglyphs, yielding permanent enchantments.
    • Geomancy and geomancy-derived spells can require elaborate geometric setups.
  • Glamour Failure:
    • An otherwise unremarkable junkie, when fixed with Golden Root, covers a street in shining illusionary flowers.
    • A Black Moryana is seen in her battle shape when retreating from a failed mission.
    • Another Black Moryana is forced to switch into her battle shape and slaughter a night club's visitors while avoiding damage to surveillance systems.
    • Kara makes the threat of a massive Glamour Failure up to breaking The Masquerade her bargaining chip against the Great Houses and succeeds at first.
    • During Chrysalis of Last Hope a Moryana is caught in a plane crash. She survives by changing into her battle form and is found in this shape, triggering the plot.
    • Red Caps often neglect proper camouflage, e.g. losing control of a salvaged golem.
  • Glowing Eyes: Heads of Great Houses when powered up, and with the respective color of their Source. In case of the Prince of Nav', the area around him darkens.
  • Golem: magically powered and animated constructs. Golems vary from small "flying eyes" to human-sized guards, housekeepers and maids to beast-like and humanoid battle machines. Combat golems mostly rely on strength and natural armor and weapons, but some sculptors provide golems with humanoid hands which will wield firearms as the situation dictates. Nav' and Galla are the fractions most likely to send golems into battle before their own people.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Nav' works towards maintaining The Masquerade, keeping the balance and preventing large-scale atrocities, but they are pragmatic, not nice.
  • Hammerspace: Objects, usually weapons, can be "packed" into much smaller items. For example, a SMG hidden in the watch or a grenade disguised as the false tooth. Nav' signature spells are pulling swords from thin air and "unfolding" small knives into swords.
  • Healing Factor: Navs, metamorphs, Tats, Moryanas, Masans. They can even regenerate missing limbs and occasionally disregard the Chunky Salsa Rule.
  • Healing Hands: signature skill of the human Healer mages.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Inga, Anna
  • Hidden Elf Village: the Secret City itself. The Quiet Hermitage monastery from a muggle's point of view.
  • Hired Guns: Usual practice in Secret City. Interestingly, the revenge on mercenaries is extremely uncommon, because it makes as much sense as revenge on a weapon.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: Nav' children are unseen and unheard of.
  • Immune to Bullets: see Healing Factor.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: Choods have taken their bestiaries with them upon migrating to Earth. Today dragons and various other beasts are raised for prestige and combat, but also as pets and guardians.
  • Invisible to Normals: Morok (illusion) grants this.
  • Kill It with Fire: Spells of choice against anybody and anything from the Hyperboreans of Kadath.
  • Klingon Promotion: Red Caps.
  • Kryptonite Factor:
    • Golden Root is the only poison effective on Navs, but to devastating effect.
    • "The Basilisk's Eye" is the only spell effective on Moryanas, paralyzing them and inhibiting their Healing Factor.
    • "The Lamp of Oblivion" is the only way to subdue a metamorph in combat. It scrambles the brain activity.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Navs, Masans and Moryanas are basically species of Lightning Bruisers, virtually able to chase down a car and rip it open like a tin can.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters.
  • Loads and Loads of Races: In the world of Secret City, all sentient races, or "families", as they are called, arrived on Earth from other worlds. Some families did not migrate to Earth while keeping trading and traveling routes from their homeworlds. Shortly before the connection, known as the Grand Road, was cut, several races must have completely evacuated. During each epoch a prominent family, usually having a Source artifact, took power over some lesser families, forcing them into vassal treaties; each such formation was called a Great House by other world-faring races and named after the chief family. The head of each Great House relies on extremely high amounts of magic energy taken directly from the Source.
    Each Great House ruled the world for millenia, only to be eventually overthrown by a younger race (who, in turn, established its own Great House) and to seek sanctuary. Said sanctuary is a unique location which by means unknown is protected from searching spells from outside. It is now known as the Secret City.
    The latest dominant species / family are humans, or Chels (short for "Chelovek" - "Человек", "human" in Russian). The outnumbered remains of most other families and Great Houses, each severely reduced in population, hide in the Secret City, which was later swallowed and surrounded by the growing city of Moscow. The Great Houses accepted the loss of the world and blended into the mostly technological Chel society (using its achievements as well), but still intrigue and struggle for more power within the city. The Churches, mostly the russian orthodox church, know of this and to some part maintain the balance.
    In the Secret City, families are sorted into Great Houses by the type of magic energy which they use. Energy is provided by the Sources - energy-generating artifacts. By now, several Sources are publically known, and some exist in secret. These are such Great Houses and families:
  • Great House Asur. Asur were the first sentient race created by the setting's God and the first to arrive on Earth (nearly 200000 years ago). They preferred the power of light and were overthrown by the second species created, the Nav', and founded the Secret City to hide in. They were later completely exterminated by Navs, although some Asuran artifacts remain. Known surviving Source - The Spark of Eternity. Further knowledge on the Asur is held in secret by the Navs.
  • Great House Nav', the Dark Court. The extremely secretive Navs followed the Asura to Earth. Their magic prefers darkness. All known Navs appear as males of hispanic origin and mostly disguise themselves as descendants of spanish communists. All Navs are powerful MagicKnights and show no signs of age for millenia. Enraged Navs show minor uncontrolled shapeshifting - their ears become pointed. Navs value their lives very highly, exhibiting Species Loyalty and Disproportionate Retribution for their kin. Nav is ruled by the Prince as an absolute monarch, aided by three Advisors and a Commissar (who is effectively the whole cabinet rolled into one person). Both the Prince and his Advisors forsake their names upon ascending to the office. Nav's symbol is a black squirrel; the headquarters is called "Citadel" and their Source is only known as the Nav's Source. Details on it's nature and power output are secret.
    Nav's vassal houses are:
    • Shas'. Shas are the traders, artificers, merchants and bankers of the Secret City, including occasional artists and fences. Shas appear as descendants from middle Asia. They are in charge of the masquerade-maintaining Utilization Service, including the Shas'-Print, a massive enterprise dedicated to forging any sort of data for The Masquerade. Shas reproduce as regular mammals of unknown cross-fertility with other families. Headquarters - Money Tower. The Shas govern themselves as a plutocratic Trade Guild with strong tendencies of nepotism.
    • Erli. Erli (Ärli, russian Эрли) are the second best doctors and main biologists, biochemists and pharmacists in the Secret City, combining magic and technology in their work. All Erli are male, their organization superficially resembles a monastic order with ranks of authority. No reproduction details are known. HQ - Erli Monastery, known as Moscow Monastery outside of Churches. The Erli enforce an absolute armistice between their patients.
    • Masan. Earth offered a nasty welcome to this family - sunlight burns them and wood spikes paralyze them; food offers Masans no true nourishment. To survive the Masans need blood, preferably from humans. As Navs are among the few species equal to Masans in combat and the only species whose blood is poisonous to Masans, Masans were given under the jurisdiction of Navs. Nav' issued the "Dogmas of Submission" designed to integrate Masans into The Masquerade. This caused a civil war splitting Masans into the Nav'-loyal Camarilla and the Nav'-hating Sabbat. Nav' is running a centuries-spanning gambit to reunite the fractions, not least due to the success of vampire depictions in urban fantasy. Masans obviously contributed to the vampire myths, but there are several important differences. Masans don't fear garlic, holy water or religious symbols, and most importantly, they don't carry The Virus. Masans reproduce as normal mammals who are neither cross-fertile with any other family nor can they "turn" anyone. Masans are organized in clans with no overarching structure. Their Source is blood and they use unique spells, which make them Nav's stealth and shock troops.
    • Os' dwell in Moscow's Absurdly Spacious Sewer, where they farm mushrooms and hunt with packs of domesticated giant rats. While far from technological advances, they have a complex religion and are developing their unique culture. Os' are a disconnected Bee People with the last surviving Hive Queen and King kept in suspended animation by the Nav' since their survival is required for the Os' to procreate. Santiaga is working towards severing this link and emancipating the Os' who are as of now obviously not cross-fertile with any other family.
  • Great House Lyud' (The Green House). Lyuds eventually defeated Nav' and took its place. They are blonde beautiful people, men tend to be very large and muscular. Their signature color is green, since their magic comes from Nature. Only women of Lyud' are capable of magic, so Lyud' society is matriarchal; lesbian relationships are reasonably common. Male Lyuds possess great physical prowess and often take human mistresses. Lyuds reproduce as mammals and are cross-fertile with humans. Their genes likely contribute to the increased amount of Chel mages. The territory of Lyud' is divided into several Domains, each controlled by a Baron. All barons obey the Queen, who is aided by the council of Priestesses, the most powerful sorceresses. Priestesses elect a new queen from their ranks if needed. The Queen is an absolute monarch, but strong opposition can form from priestesses. The currently stable setup resulted from the inofficial leader of the Baron's Council becoming the Queen's lover and then husband. However, ascension to authority is based on personal power and political support, hence direct succession on the throne is rare. Due to overall similarities in appearance, bastard children are common among the Lyud'. This results in a Deadly Decadent Court and Thicker Than Water situations. Lyud's symbol is a dancing crane, their Source is the Well of Rains, and their HQ is called the Green House.note 
    • Moryanas are a genetically engineered race of shapeshifting women, who can switch between human and monster forms. White Moryanas retain their mind under transformation. Black Moryanas were designed to be controlled by Mara's Amulet; after it was lost, they simply fall into Unstoppable Rage. If this item would come into Moryanas' hands, they would be free. Black ones are discriminated against and killing them counts as self-defense. Black Moryanas are slightly slower and weaker, but their fangs and claws carry a unique venom which, possibly by design, also smells like peaches. The venom is not available by synthesis, hence Erli monks will pay for a Black Moryana's head, where the poison sacks are, its weight in solid gold. Moryanas give birth only to other Moryanas, whoever the father was. White Moryanas are capable of telepathic links among their kin, which can also include Black Moryanas and circumvent standing orders issued by Mara's Amulet. Both the details on creating Moryanas yielding one Moryana from two chel females and the required artifact known as Basin of Rebirth were lost, although supposedly not destroyed. Due to the difficulty of distinguishing Moryanas from humans and their instant transformation, Moryanas became Lyud's stealth and shock troops. Moryanas have contributed to various shapeshifter myths. Shared Black and White HQ - Deceiving Girls' Pavilion.
    • Kontsy are the showmen of the City, they own all the clubs and restaurants. They forgot their family name, so "konets" ("the end" or "The prick") is their nickname. All kontsy are bald, short and fat but extremely jovial and charismatic. They possess innate seduction magic which is effective on all females, possibly including Masans and Hyperboreans.note  Kontsy most likely beget kontsy with human women. No dedicated HQ known.
    • Red Caps are savage halflings ruled by the Great Fuhrer. They are at the lowest social position in SC and serve as constant annoyance, source of trouble and cannon fodder. Their brains run on alcohol, so the more sober a Red Cap is, the dumber he is. A smarter and cunning Red Cap is on the verge of a whisk(e)y-induced coma. Other beverages also increase the intelligence, but enhance different traits of character. Red Caps reproduce as mammals who might be cross-fertile with humans. Red Caps are notorious for liking big guns and explosives. Their innate magics are an extreme alcohol tolerance, an also extreme smell and superhuman accuracy with pre-gunpowder projectile and thrown weapons. This obviously didn't adapt to modern technology: Red Caps are bad shots going by "Spray and pray!". They likely contributed to goblins, kobolds and halflings in mythology, including the Red Caps of myths. Red Caps' HQ is the Southern Fort.
    • Pristavniks (the Assigned) are 8-feet-tall, somewhat slow-minded people whose business is the protection of hidden and lost treasures. Whenever a treasure is unearthed, a pristavnik takes 10% of it as the payment. While innately capable of estimating monetary worth, pristavniks can be coerced. No reproduction details are known. No dedicated HQ known.
  • Great House Chood' (The Order). Red-headed, hot-blooded, utilizing the power of Fire Chood knights ruled the world after Lyuds. Only their men (and not all of them) can use magic, so they live in a patriarchal, militaristic society (greatly resembling medieval knights' Orders, hence the name). Chud' males often take human mistresses while females are easily susceptible to seduction by kontsy. Chud genes likely contribute to the increasing number of human mages. The Order is ruled by Grossmeister and divided into several lodges. Multiple lodges have been lost over the millenia, and only some names and occasional artifacts or data remain. The conflict between mages and non-mages resulted in the foundation of Galla's Heresy. Chood's symbol is a red unicorn, their Source is the Carthagenian Amulet and their HQ is called the "Castle". Choods have two vassal families:
    • Khvan are four-armed, extremely fast people who mostly live outside Moscow, in Siberia. Khvans reproduce as mammals, obviously not cross-fertile with any other family. The society is patriarchal; males travel the world as mercenaries, assassins and all kinds of hired guns. Females, the adolescents and the elder farm the Golden Root in Siberia, while the warriors on home leave guard the area. Assignment to farming is a popular punishment for warriors who botch up a job. The Golden Root justifies being under guard by a nation of warriors by being a potent pharmaceutical ingredient, an even more potent drug, and a unique poison. Khvans themselves use Golden Root's leaves and flowers for a mild tonic with minor relaxant properties, which is brewed with vodka and is safe for humans. The dangerous effects stem from a small part of the root which gave the plant its name. Khvans are the Chood's stealth and shock troops, filling the same tactical niche as Moryanas and Masans.
    • Daykini are immaterial spirits who can technically possess any female body. This process either destroys the host personality or submits it to the daykini; daykinis follow a common agenda regardless of host species. After the daykini conspiracy was discovered, they were somehow limited in their actions. Since daykini-possessed prefer red mana, they were submitted to Chood' jurisdiction.
  • Great House Chel. The human race, technically a Great House since the Atlanteans possessed a Source, currently lost. Currently under the rule of Lyud' because most Chel mages use the energy from Lyud's Source. All Chel mages would be able to use the lost Source. The Black Book is rumored to be either a Source itself or a proxy of the lost one. Half-Choods can use magic from all three sources. Several other kinds of human mages are known. Metamorphs can use any Source. Church-styled mages and Inquisitors can use personal and communal faith for power, while geomancers don't need a Source at all. Chels provide technology to the SC. A particular example is T-Grad Communications, or TGradCom, a corporation which provides communications, news, television and Internet to SC.
  • House Kadath. Hyperboreans of Kadath are a genetic offshoot of humans who discovered a new Source - the Golden Root. Their signature magics involve ice and cold, pain, torture and hate. The Hyperborean ascent to power caused the other Source fractions - Nav', Lyud', Chood' and atlantean Chel - to unite efforts against them. Under this conditions, Hyperboreans retreated into a pocket dimension, while four of them remained outside and in hiding, seeking a supply of Golden Root. A mafia-paid chemist who by chance synthesizes the compound sets the events in motion.
  • Great House Tat' . Tats were the third species to arrive after Asura and Navs. The three races hate each other instinctively and are involved in an untranslated divine prophecy known as "Key of Three Races". Tats are human-like in appearance, but possess a Healing Factor and are excellent spellcasters. They can't scry into the future, but also mess up any prophesy which involves them. Tats are hence limited to predictions based on logic and rational thought, making them masters of various gambits. Tat' once conquered half the world but lost to Lyud' due to their inability to make a compromise. Their Sources are living beings called Divine Lords of Tat'. These are nigh immortal, but sterile. As Tat' faced extinction at the hands of Nav', the Divine Lords agreed to let an entire generation of half-Tats be born with human parents. While the pure-blooded Tats likely died and the Divine Lords went into hiding, Tat' genes were dispersed among the human population. The surviving Lords are trying to rebreed the bloodlines while integrating powerful Chel mages.
  • Long Lived and The Ageless: Nav' age extremely slowly. It's theoretically possible for Nav to die of old age, but their natural lifespan seems to span millions of years. The same likely applied to Asura and Tats. Others inhabitants of SC can live for several centuries, with the added bonus of slowed aging. Human mages also tend to live longer and age slower.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Most common spells have 4 levels. Each level effectively describes the effect / mana input ratio. Further mana can be used to increase area and duration, but not the power of the spell.
  • Magic Knight: Nav's garkas and Masans, Lyud's females' warbands and Priestesses, Chood's ranking battle knights. Commonly supported by respectively golems and mercenaries, by Lyud' Barons' warbands and by lodge infantry, cavalry and occasionally khvan units. According to a short story, all Navs are garkas - this is not a caste.
  • Magitech: From enchanted bullets to GPS-integrated search spells.
  • Mana Burn: Specific blades, such as "Crane's Beaks" or any Nav Steel weapon.
    • Mana Drain: "Nav's Noose" and "Fisherman's Net". The latter can be integrated into restraint devices.
  • Man Behind the Man: Kara, Lord Noor, Marina, Yarga and Santiaga.
  • The Masquerade: premise of the setting. Magic is real and millenia-old legends walk unrecognized among humans.
  • The Medic: Erli Monks and human Healers. Neither act as CombatMedics though - Erli monks provide emergency teleporter artifacts instead to treat patients at their monastery, and Healers don't treat anyone who has spilled blood.
  • Megaton Punch / Power Fist: "Blacksmith's Mallet" drastically increases the force of the blow.
  • Mind Probe: The "Inquisitor's Needle" spell provides the user with needed information, but is almost always lethal. There are lesser spells to this purpose, but they can be resisted.
  • Mugging the Monster: Lot of.
    • A bunch of thugs try to rape a Black Moryana in her human form.
    • Skinheads who were ordered to trash and burn down a magically defended library or a bar where Hoof & company were drowning their sorrows.
    • A couple of overconfident mages trying to beat down Artyom. Twice. Cue humiliating Curb-Stomp Battle.
    • Never ever try to rape a metamorph, even if you are a powerful gangster accompanied by mooks. Or just intercept her on the run, even if you are a powerful vampire. Anna probably has all her life consisting of this trope.
    • Zorich "kidnapping" Inga.
    • Everyone hitting and/or scaring Viktor Krohin.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Modus operandi of Khvan assassins and mercenaries.
  • Mundane Utility / Utility Magic: There are far more mundane spells than actually combat spells.
  • Muscles Are Meaningful: Big, bulky characters are usually much stronger than meek ones (except the really powerful mages). Lyuds and Tats are the whole races of this. Inverted by average-built Masans and tall yet skinny Navs, but the former are vampires and the latter are BigEaters with an extreme Healing Factor, which suggests Hyperactive Metabolism.
  • Naming Conventions:
    • Navish names always end with "-ga": Santiaga, Ortega, Boga, Yarga, Parga etc. A short story suggests that all Navs are members of the garka, their warrior caste, and full names would be Santia-Garka etc.
    • Lyuds have old-Slavonic-like names, with one or more Slavic roots: Vseslava ("all"+"Glory"), Mecheslav ("Sword"+"Glory"), Volepolk ("freedom"+"regiment").
    • Choods use germanic / scandinavic names: Leonard de Saint-Care, Frants de Gir, Nelson Bard.
    • Erli names end with "-us" and sound like pseudo-latinized decriptive nicknames: Lyapsus, Dinamus.
    • Kontsy invariably have their first name end with "-ciy" (maybe "-cius" in English translations) and last name with "-ase" (pronounced "-eiz"): Murcius Chase, Pticius Hase, Incius Swase.
    • Red Caps are named, oddly, after some mundane object: Hoof, Container, Needle, Rock, Sledgehammer, Saber. Justified, as they are "savages".
    • Two surviving Divine Lords of Tat' (of five) are called Nar (Нар) and Noor (Нур). Another, deceased, was called Neer (Нир). Guess that other two were Nor (Нор) and Ner (Нер).
  • The New Russia: on the background.
  • One-Man Army: Every mage powerful enough, but Cortes' mercenaries also count.
  • Panacea: the eponymous Chrysalis of Last Hope can cure any trauma or illness, although it works by Equivalent Exchange. Each Chrysalis is produced using a sample from the intended recipient, and upon activation will kill a member of the same species. Navs have never purchased a Chrysalis.
  • Physical God: Galla, the zeroth being created by the Sleeper, setting's God.
  • Portable Hole: Inga uses one to steal a Faberge Egg from the museum. It's actually called "Technical Hole" and is an artifact which creates two portals on the opposite sides of an object up to 2.5 m thick.
  • Power Limiter:
    • The "Fisherman's Net" spell can be rendered into a permanent effect by grafting the image into a tattoo.
    • The daykini-developed "Lockdown" spell suppresses both the magic and the aura of the afflicted, making them show up as muggles for scanning spells. At least two "Lockdown" users were able to disable and reenable the spell on their own.
  • Public Secret Message: Navish is effectively unknown outside of Nav'. Santiaga uses Navish messages spelled out in Russian letters on e.g. advertising trucks.
  • Racial Remnant: Technically all families in the SC except humans due to being survivors of dominance shifts on Earth.
  • Randomly Gifted: human mages and other special abilities in the population. While Lyud', Chood' and Tat' genes contribute, the original Atlantean humans already had mages.
  • Razor Wind with Make Me Wanna Shout: "Leviathan's Howl" spell which causes extreme damage from resonating air in enclosed areas, effectively reducing everything in the room to dust and Ludicrous Gibs.
  • Reality Warp: "Arcane of Desires" is an exceptionally powerful forbidden ritual which grants one wish to performer.
    • Geomancy, which "Arcane of Desires" was based upon, is the art of Reality Warping through well-timed and apparently unconnected mundane actions.note  An epitome of Difficult but Awesome, geomancy requires an innate ability to "sense the world" and find what will alter it in the desirable way, hence the name. The rituals take time and efforts to perform, but once it fires, it is unbeatable.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: While wealthy Kontsy own their clubs, the younger and less successful are assigned to certain locations. The second least popular is the "Failure's Tankard", which is mostly frequented by human mercs of all kinds. The absolutely least popular is the "Dandruff Remedy" located in the Red Caps' HQ in the Southern Fort.
  • Red Shirt Army: Human mercenaries and Red Caps.
  • Religion Is Magic: Monks and Inquisitors of the Church power their spells by a mixture of willpower and faith. Inquisitors require a crowd of believers to trigger their signature effect.
  • Sealed Army in a Can: Hyperboreans of Kadath in the Deep Bestiary.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Azag-Toth and Yarga.
  • See-Thru Specs: sold as "distinguishing glass", very common artifact.
  • Set Bonus:
    • The "Ethnic Eggs" when combined with the magical map form an artifact which shows worldwide locations of treasures.
    • The Dragon Needles split the recharging ritual, so each owner independently performs his part. The full effects of reuniting the Needles are unknown, but their power should be on the level of other Masan clan artifacts.
    • While both Throne and Chalice are Sources in their own right, the reassembled Lesser Throne of Poseidon is needed to introduce new Wanderers and open their personal ways between the worlds.
  • Single Specimen Species, Uniqueness Value, Living Relic and Super Prototype: Galla knows firsthand that there never was, is, or will be another of his kind. He was created before the Asura and his creation influenced the setting's demiurg to tone it down for the following families.
  • Spice of Life: Golden Root for Yana after revealing her heritage - she will not die from withdrawal, but loose access to magic.
  • Squishy Wizard: Shas, Erli, Kontsy, often human mages.
  • Super Mode: Leaders of Great Houses and potential leaders, like the Messenger or Franz de Gir can pull this off when they are infused with the Source energy.
  • Super Serum:
    • A potion made from "kill-grass" temporarily multiplies already formidable physical capabilities of male Lyuds.
    • Golden Root is even greater one, able to induce great magical powers in Lyud males and Chels, but at a price. For Lyud it works as a Deadly Upgrade by Rapid Aging, for Chels it invokes an absolute dependance on the substance while slowly mutating them.
  • Super Speed: According to the in-universe statistics, combat mages are able to move at speeds from 68 km/h (female Lyuds) to 87 km/h (Navs). Choods and vampires are somewhere between. Even faster Khvans reach 92 km/h, yet still are outclassed by Moryanas, whose speed, while not specified, is at least 120 km/h.
  • Take That: Since author is an anticommunist, the series is full of Take Thats to communism. The biggest is that Lenin is the hatred personified and the immortal Sealed Evil in a Can.
  • Taking You with Me: an innate ability of Tat' Lords. Upon demise, the entire power reserve of the Lord, i.e. a living Source, detonates in a single explosion. The last time someone killed a Tat' lord on land, the resulting blast laid the foundations of the Grand Canyon.
  • Technical Pacifist: Shas, Erli, Kontsy, who will use amulets, golems, mercenaries and finally call in troops from their Great House should the situation escalate. Human Healers will not directly heal any patient who has ever spilled blood - but their most powerful spell works by Human Sacrifice.
  • Teleporter Accident: A weaponized version: a mage powerful and/or skilled enough can crush another mage's portal mid-teleport, grinding anything passing through to Ludicrous Gibs.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: portal spells are common and most mages can manage short-ranged portals.
    • The Erli Monastery provides "Life-Holes" - emergency teleportation amulets.
    • The Wanderers use personal teleports between worlds. The spell takes the appearance of a door in the air, which looks differently for each Wanderer.
    • The spell to travel between worlds known as the "Big Road" / "High Way", although none of the Great Houses remember how to activate the spell again.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Nearly all Red Caps. Some Chel, Lyud and Chood Red Shirts also are this.
  • Translation Convention: all conversations are given in Russian, including Navish, English and a second layer conveyed by gesticulation between Masans.
  • Trial by Combat: used among the Choods and the Lyuds. Even the Chood's Grossmeister is not exempt from such challenges. Occasionally used among the Masans.
  • True Sight: The Chair of Wanderers occasionally seeks new out new Wanderers. They are chosen for specific skills, e.g. the Navigator creates pathways between inhabitable worlds by imagining them. The Wanderer looking for a Navigator carries a small enamel which appears blank. Those capable of becoming a Navigator see a landscape there. This gift is related to true creativity and can be lost. An individual who was capable of becoming a Navigator but went for money, fame, power etc. instead will see a damaged picture in the enamel.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifter: Moryanas switch between human and monster mode. Metamorphs are somewhat limited by their mass and otherwise by time and imagination.
  • Up to Eleven: Tat's Divine Lords can optimize spells one step above the 4th level. Tat's 5th level spells are the next step in power to mana ratio.
  • Was Once a Man: Moryanas and Hyperboreans of Kadath.
  • Weaksauce Weakness:
    • Obsidian weapons negate Nav's Healing Factor. This includes obsidian dust on common steel blades.
    • Masans are paralyzed by wooden stakes and burnt by sunlight and sunlight spells.
  • We Sell Everything: Trade Guild.

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