Net Witch Profession in Ethnis | World Anvil

Net Witch

A netwitch is a practicioner of Witchcraft who is also skilled as a hacker. Their combined skills, mixed with their dataspirituality, make them soothsayers and seekers of the modern age. Their methods often inhabit the grey area of the law, as they swim between the different Æthernet networks—often without a license—and build illegal Data Dupes to communicate with in search of missing or hidden persons.

Net Witches have a way of finding out all the things you'd do better to leave alone—including mysterious deaths.

Æthernet Dependency

What sets a Net Witch apart from a standard net user, aside from their spirituality, is that they are often so integrated into the virtual space that they struggle to return to what we would consider reality. So much of their identity has been offloaded into subroutines and data caches that to be without it is to be stranded in a silent world with half their limbs missing—at least that's how they would describe it.

Vapor trailed infinitely from her slack jaw as cooling pipes ran in and out of her skull. In her eyes—her gaze was distant as she watched a thousand data streams coalescing at once—I saw the reflections of images and videos and text all interwoven and interspersed, a network of data which boggled any mind but her own.

Her hands twitched, each little motion of muscle a command that sent her careening to another corner of the net, or passing through one portal and into another sea of data. The tick of a knuckle and she was delving through Syndicate articles, the narrowing of her brow and she was comparing it against clandestine Somnacy logs.

She did more in a facial expression than I did in a week. It was only by comparing myself to her destitute living situation that I felt better, and even that was fleeting and replaced by guilt. Nobody deserved to live in such squalor.

Hiring a Net Witch

Despite their ability to move through the nets, a Net Witch rarely has much liquid wealth, and many are denied basic rights to food and home. As such, they are always looking for work, and avoiding drawing more suspicion to themselves by illicitly ganing money—such as by hacking or thievery.

They are viewed with some suspicion for this, but are still employed to try and answer hard questions, as they tend to be able to dig through parts of the net that most people cannot afford a license to.

Covens often form to help look after each other in the physical space, and will split commissions so that their overlapping expertise means more money and survival for all of them.

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Summary

Type
Arcane
Witchcraft
Tradition / Ritual | Jun 4, 2024

Crystals, rays of light, the taste of orange peel Open the mind, change the mind, that's how we achieve. Can't hurt to try right? It's what we believe.

The Ætherial Coven had set up shop in exactly the sort of place befitting such a cadre: a ramshamble home on the underside of a migrating sky park.

Nobody could say who made the house, but they all agreed that it was beyond the skill of the witches themselves to have built it on the topside of the park, let alone on the underside, where gravity plating held it perfectly inverted. Roots of some tree inside the manor pushed up through the topside of the park and wove up and down across it's overgrown lawns confused about which direction was up or down thanks to the plating.

I followed the park on foot for the better part of the day as it drifted between the stratoscrapers, quietly raining pollen down on unwitting (and soon thereafter miserable) walkers. It skipped most of the standard ports, ignoring apartment buildings, schools, and businesses. Nobody paid it any mind. I assumed the city had taken down most of its ports, and forgotten its existence. Left for years its power stores would deplete with time, and it would sag closer and closer to the streets. Andresh had told me the park had been some few hundred feet higher when the city had been founded.

When at last it stopped at a port—towards evening in a rundown and forgotten district of the city—I took my chance, braved rusted and moldering fire escapes, and clambered up thirty stories of an abandoned residential block to get to it.

Andresh had told me that to get to the coven required a bit of faith, I didn't realize what sort he meant until I was standing on top of the park, and it was clear that there was no easy way to the underside.

The coven did not like visitors, it seemed.

Towards the edge of the park I at last found a rope fastened to the bole of a willow tree and hanging over its edge. When I pulled on it, I found it to be fastened at both ends, secured to something on the other side.

"For Lyta," I said, taking a deep breath, gripping the rope, and leaning forward over the edge.

There was a half-instant of dizzying freefall followed by a sensation like plunging into water—none of the water, all of the resistance of breaking the surface and sinking into a weightlessness as the gravity buffer of the park's Meissner engine caught me in its antigravitational vortex.

I used the rope to pull myself across the side of the ten foot disk, and as I reached the other side felt my weight returning. I panicked as I felt gravity pulling at my feet and looked... 'down?' to see only endless sky above me. For a moment I imagined that if I let go I'd be flung into space and lost.

Looking up did little to appease this fear, as above me I saw the sprawl of the city threatening to push my skull down (up?) between my ass cheeks should I fall in that direction instead.

Instead, I closed my eyes and steadied myself, reminding myself that the gravity buffer extended outwards from the disc of the park quite a ways, that it was almost impossible to fall off without one hell of a running start.

With eyes clenched shut I pulled myself onto the other side, and lay on my back, panting and catching my breath for longer than I'd care to share. Heights weren't my thing.

"A creature comes to this upside-down; is it seeking adventure, or witches renown?"

I sat up with a start, crawling backwards on hands and feet and expecting some figure hunched over me. I looked around and saw nothing but foliage and craftware. The trunks of the trees grew upwards towards the city below, but their branches grew back towards the ground, leaves forming a dense greenery lanced through with tall glass and flowered ivy. Totems of wood, pottery, and woven wire lurked among this inverted forest, eyes glimmering with gemstone gazes that no doubt held enchantments. The hairs on my neck prickled. I was certainly being watched.

"It looks around with eyes of fear, not realizing 'till now that the speaker is here."

Ahead of him, slunk low in the murk and positioned between two totems, a creature law. He let out a startled cry at first—and a gasp when he realized what he was looking at.

The cat was massive and covered in a dew-touched pelt of fleshy velvet instead of fur. This velvet hugged to its too-lean body and too-long limbs, ending only where its empty eye sockets began. A small cybermantle connected to its spine and wrapped around its shoulders and down its back, and speakers set into it allowed the cat to speak. In the center of its head rolling in all directions in its socket, was a crystal eye.

"Can you take me to them?"

The cat stood, and I drew a sharp breath, quick to clamber to my own feet as I realized it was taller standing than I was sitting. I didn't like being eyes to socket with such an alarming creature.

It turned and walked away, tail low and swaying. It was difficult to keep up with—I couldn't push through the foliage nearly as easily as it.

It was a short meander to the house, but with my racing mind, pounding heart, and growing uncertainty it felt like a maze into the heart of darkness. The trees were thick enough now that I barely saw the city when I looked up. I was on an alien world, or a forgotten plane.

Seen upsidedown and from below, the house tucked between the trees looked shoddy, but reasonable. Seen rightside up, it was a wonder the building stood at all. New wood stood out among the old, signs of repair and disrepair in constant contest over whether the hovel should continue to stand.

Fearing that the balance between the two was as tenuous as it looked, I knocked lightly on the door so as to not jolt it from its hinges. When I heard no response, I knocked louder.

"Try a little louder," a voice said from inside. And so I did. With some confusion. I heard the house sigh as I slammed my fist on the door.

"Oooh, we've got visitors, have we?" The same grumbling voice said. Dust trembled from the shell of the house as bootstomps—uneven and with a strange rhythm of whump-thuddy-pitter-patter.

An Aen answered the door, a gritty specimen with gnarled fangs and splotchy, off-color fur. He was either a very unfortunate younger man, or one who had aged well beyond his expiration date. His face was disfigured—his natural snarl began up somewhere near between his left eye and ear, and meandered down over his face until it nearly ran off his chin.

"Who's this," He spat, flecking my shirt with spittle and snot as he looked me to head to toe.

My heart and my memories goaded me to act while everything else was locked up in rapt confusion, fascination, and terror at this thing before me. I patted at my backpack meaningfully.

"I've come to speak to the Coven, I have a—"

"Online requests, ONLY," the Aen snarled. He threw his body into the act of closing the door, presumably because his shoulder appeared to be a single fused mass with no rang of motion.

I planted my hand on the door to stop it, and felt anger rise in me for the first time since the night Lyta had gone missing. I opened my mouth to shout, but the cat spoke before me.

"You'd do well to listen, at least; upon this stranger I smell a feast."

"I-" I looked back at the cat. "Yes, I brought offerings."

This gave the Aen pause. His nose throbbed as he tried to smell what the cat smelled. One nare gaped and drooled, the other half of his nose was dotted with holes that looked infected.

"Good offerings?"

"The sort the ad asked for. Spices. Dried meats. Rice wine. Vodka. Fruits, veget—" but he cut me off.

"Cheeseburger? With fries?"

"And a thermos of raspberry soda."

"Mmm.. Ughn!" He growled, throwing the door open by throwing his shoulder against it as he turned and walked inside. I saw at last the origin of his strange gait—his remaining leg was swollen and clublike, the other was a cobbled-together prosthetic made of many drones, and terminated in the locomotive bits of all of them. The weak mechanical leg of a service drone, the hexapodal, sharp-tipped legs of a groundskeeping drone. The sharp tips were meant to be used like cleats to aerate the earth, and he had stoppered them with rubber balls of various sizes. Even still, the wooden floor was pocked with where the needles punctured through now and then.

The cat walked past me and I followed. It closed the door behind us with a prehensile tail as long as I was tall.

"Are you a Hiserabi or a—"

"I am Cat, and that is that" the cat said, mechanical voice taking on a tinge of annoyance. It leapt up to sit at the table, and I made to sit as well.

"Don't sit," the Aen said. "You brought all the offerings, yes? Not just the food?"

"A hammer, seeds of worlds beyond this one, food—"

"Rukta?"

"Of sapph."

He grunted, then nodded his head at the table as I held up my hand and the hologrammic sapphire orb appeared in it.

"Leave the stuff. They get the money, I don't have an account."

"No account?" I asked. This was the most surprising thing about him yet. Everyone had an identity and an account."

"I don't exist," he said, turning away towards a stairwell so narrow I'd mistaken it for a broom closet.

My shoulders brushed the walls as we climbed the stairs. He had to climb wideways, with his arm braced against the wall, so that his mechanical leg could balance on landings barely as wide across as my arm.

I placed my hand on his hip to help him, and he roared at me "I've got it! Don't ever touch me."

The three stories up passed arduously slow in the silence which followed. I kept my gaze averted, stomach in knots as I heard him weeping and gasping with each step. Pain? Sorrow? Something else?

As we climbed I felt lighter and lighter. As first this discomfited me, as I couldn't place why this was happening, but soon I remembered that this whole hovel was being secured to the underside of the park by the grace of it's meissner gravity field. My stomach did a somersault as I realized we were reaching the edge of the field. I pictured out combined weight rattling the house apart, and us being flung from the underside, plummeting to the street hundreds of feet below where we would burst like melons upon the pavement.

Smoke cascaded down the steps, thick and pungent. We followed it to its source: a pair of one-luxurious double-doors whose maroons and golds had long since been plastered over by the grime of smoke.

"You'll want this," he said, reaching up onto the wall by the door and handing me a gasmask from it. My breathing already felt restricted, but I put the dreadful thing on.

He opened the door with a trident shaped key, and an oily smoke billowed out, high as our chest and split into chunks and strata by the intersection of conical and directional lights that lit the room beyond.

My breath caught in my throat, and bile rose after to push it out in a whimper. I swallowed down the slop and maintained my pride, but only barely.

Pushing up through the floorboards was the trunk of a thick tree. The longer I looked at it, the more grotesque it became.

The bark was not wood, it was dried and flaking flesh, hardened over and pocked with growths of coral and fungus. Veins throbbed under the surface, carrying bloody sap out to bushels of digits which flexed and twitched to an unheard rhythm. From these digits sprouted leaves all the color of autumn and all the appearance of glass. They closed down around fetal figures cocooned in wires and orbited by empty snack wrappers, dishes, and other detritus.

The Aen began to clean up, arm wrapped around metal poles spread throughout the room to keep himself from floating in the null-gravity. He took the dishes, and grumbled to himself about how filthy the coven was.

My gaze ran back along the limbs of this 'tree' I recognized the telltale nodes of Sensate implants and data jacks. Was it a person?

The dreadful answer looked me in the eyes as I returned my gaze to the trunk. A gaping, tooth, lined pit gurgled at me, and above it scores of eyes embedded into the trunk had opened and were staring at me. I saw the barest shape of a skull amid this, and from the brow ran wooden antlers.

A druid.

My feet went out from under me and I gripped my head, whimpering as I felt it suddenly assaulted by the minds of many others. Of the coven.

<We do not consort offline. You have brought the offerings we listed, so we will listen to what you have to say. Why are you here?>

"I couldn't afford asking online, I think I'm being tracked, by the Sorrows!"

Unseen hands gripped me around my limbs, and I was once more oriented to the floor. When I opened my eyes there was nobody around me, but I still felt the hands. A cold sweat ensued.

<What do you seek?>

The Aen floated over to the tree and pulled from its gaping maw a pipe. He replaced the glass tincture in its belly and put it back in. Thick opium smoke rolled out from its mouth a moment after, and I felt the painful grip on my limbs soften.

"I-," I tried to reach for my pocket but the arms held me fast. "Please, I have a picture. It's my sister."

My arm was released, and I reached into my pocket to pull out my most prized possession: a physical photograph of Lyta.

<Closer. Our eyes are not strong.>

I was released, and I gripped one of the poles the Aen was using to pull myself closer. I held the photo in front of the tapestry of eyes. A few looked to me, the rest at it.

<Not your sister. No resemblance. Who is she.>

"My sister," I said firmly. "Just not in blood. Can you find her?"

I was pushed back, and floated across the room to crash gently into a pile of physical print books. Dust plumed around me, obscuring my vision.

The tree was moving now, fat droplets of honey-thick blood welling up from the lesions of its implants as it let go of the witches in its grasp. They murmured to themselves, singing what sounded like a hymn. Underneath twitching eyelids their eyes glowed, and their weak limbs contorted and twisted. Their motions reminded me of drowning.

The fit lasted all of a minute, during which I watched in terror as these frail figures nearly shattered themselves to pieces in their movements. Even the Aen sat back and watched, eyes wide behind his mucked-over gasmask visor.

When they stopped I was again pulled in. When the presence in my mind returned, I felt sorrow emanating from it.

<You have a long road ahead of you, Astra Nolai. This is deeper than you will ever believe. We have found Lyta>



Cover image: The Wheel before the Wayhall

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