Edge of Enlightenment: Insights on the Arcane

Summary: Doctor Cyrus Pencroft combines magic and science to unravel the secrets of a hidden, supernatural side of our own world.

Beyond Materialistic Empiricism

Greetings, pupil. I am Dr. Cyrus Pencroft. My academic career started as a mechanical engineer specializing in manufacturing technology, but it has taken me to strange places. I managed to reach a faculty position at a currently undisclosed university, but should you follow my name in the publications on my CV, you should be able to deduce it.

These notes are strictly off the record. My articles already have a hard enough time being accepted into academic journals without any further stigma attached. As you may know, I spend my free time operating the makerspace near my campus, Hephaestus' Forge. I spend what time remains practicing martial arts and single action shooting. It is prudent to keep in shape, should one ever encounter a hostile supernatural entity.

There are a number of metrics I could give, examples of how I have tried to quantify the supernatural. Many of them yield wildly inconsistent results. For example, a thermoptic metamaterial only allows one to hide from such entities part of the time. The strains of bacteria taken from various lycanthropes and undead react in wildly different ways to silver coated nanoparticles. Undead only sometimes appear on thermal imaging. There are significant changes in body weight caused by a lycanthropic transformation, as if matter appears and vanishes from the universe. Our own brains literally filter out any sightings of such things, and the taking of physical metrics to quantify their behavior is always a risky proposition.

By definition, supernatural forces operate beyond the boundaries of nature. This does not mean they are completely unbound by natural laws and constraints, however. Electronic and mechanical sensors often malfunction and break in the mere presence of such forces. The confusion is further compounded by the phenomena of even "genuine" monster sightings resembling cheap special effects. Many such creatures and entities have a sort of "scrambling" or "white noise" about them, with even they being largely unaware of it. Many baseline humans who have prolonged exposure to such "scrambling" gradually grow immune to it, but others do not, and still others report increased symptoms of mental and behavioral disorders.

Despite this, certain well-reported measures existed for countering supernatural influence. Silver weapons are an effective (if expensive) method to dispatch a hostile entity. Edged and blunt weapons with silver, cold iron, and/or certain historical significance or "enchantments" may be the most definite ways to damage or disable a variety of foes, including phantasms, lycanthropes, fey, and undead. Firearms with bullets made of or coated with the same materials (or holding enchantments or "significance" themselves) have identical effects. This is true for other types of ranged and thrown weapons, such as bows, crossbows, air guns, throwing knives, and blowguns. "Significance" seems to be an unpredictable metric, as many antique weapons owned by ordinary people hold the power to damage the supernatural while a number of antique weapons held even by "famous" figures lack this ability. Some weapons may even change over time, but there is no way to ensure this, save "enchanting" it by adding runes or glyphs (a procedure that must be done with the utmost care, lest the weapon be reduced to a worthless decoration).

I prefer to avoid engagements with the supernatural whenever possible. However, I have had some hostile incursions into my lab and residence I would rather not detail. The weapons I utilized for defense were pressed into service from single action shooting: a pair of Ruger Blackhawk revolvers, a custom Archimedes lever-action rifle, and a pump-action Winchester shotgun. The advantage of the lever-action rifle and the revolvers was utilizing the same cartridge in both. It was only due to familiarity and practice with the single action Blackhawk that I managed to fire rapidly enough to drive off the danger. In the future, I have a set of double action Nagant revolvers and an HK USP semi-automatic pistol for just such an occasion.

That said, manually cycled firearms (pump action, lever action, and bolt action), revolvers, and some robust semi-automatics fare better than others. A New Zealand soldier reported that the Steyr AUG, Sig Sauer pistol, and Benelli M3 shotgun worked even after being covered in ectoplasm. Previous reports cite the ubiquitous Kalashnikov rifles, venerable Browning designs (such as the BAR, M1911, and HP), and humble Glock as very reliable under similar conditions. The AR15 family of weapons (with the notable exception of the AR18 and its short-stroke piston based descendants) tend to fare poorly due to ectoplasm and dust clogging the direct gas impingement mechanism. Of the truly antique firearm designs, percussion cap and flintlock guns likewise fare well, although wheel-locks and matchlocks may be fickle under such conditions.

The study of the supernatural through the lens of science is a complex process. However, supernatural forces seem to operate under their own rules and constraints, for reasons even many of the entities cannot fathom. To paraphrase Clarke and Heinlein, our magic is someone else's engineering. It is highly unlikely a human mind will ever comprehend this system in its entirety, but it does not mean such discoveries cannot improve the lives, welfare, and safety of others. While the scientific method and methods of the Enlightenment may be less applicable here, humanity has still had centuries of exposure to such forces. As such, I will detail many of them in greater detail in the sections to come.