According to the latest census by the Summersalt Ministry of Commerce and Security—it makes sense in Summersalt, but nowhere else—the city-state is home to more than 700.000 beings, with humans being the majority. This census is the most accurate report on Summersalt population, if you forget that it ignores all mutants, saltbabies, horrors and aberrations born in the depths and slums, most of them from exposure to some form of raw salt.
Twenty percent of the population make up the upper neighbourhoods, where the Trade Princes, nouveau riches, big merchants and old school nobility live. But among them is a family with enough skeletons in their closet to beat the census by at least twice its reported amount, and enough secrets to burn the city itself a few times over.
They have their fair share of enemies, from jealous pretenders and competitors to some directly victimized and conquered by them in generations past, but the Allen family remains the most respected in the city. Every generation claims it’s because of their hard work in keeping the Summersalt running, or how wise their council is to the ruling bodies, all twenty of them. But the truth is much simpler and one they hate to admit: they are the Exalted Artificer’s family, his descendants. And with the man’s reputation past legendary and bordering on divine, it carries weight even centuries later.
Despite their reluctance to accept this fact, it’s no secret that the Allen family does whatever it must to keep the family standing intact, not just for the family pride but because the vicious Summersalt society would never forgive them for besmirching the name of their legendary patriarch—a fun note considering he never had children and the today’s family descend from his brother and sisters…mostly the middle sister, but that’s another story, not one meant for sensible people.
Every generation produces some overachievers, some just happy keeping the status quo and of course, the miscreants, those dedicating themselves to innovation in the arts of debauchery and hedonism, a difficult task considering how weird some of the upper social circles in Summersalt run. “Behind closed doors,” is not just a saying, but a warning.
Julianne “Tracer” Allen is a bit of an oddity in her family, the sharp mind of the overachiever, the desire to keep the family name of the status quo jockey but the passion of the miscreant, combined with an unparalleled talent in saltcrafting and meta-engineering, the family’s trademark.
From childhood to her early teens, Tracer crafted devices and magic formulae that baffled her seniors as much as it worried them how many tended to go in catastrophic direction just for the sake of discovery. Though they tried to steer her into safer lines in inquiry, she often took a tangent that resulted in a startling new discovery about the properties of salt and its interaction with other chemicals and forces…and the left wing of the house partially incinerated. New discoveries and new construction became a daily thing for the Allen.
Every Allen goes to the Exalted Artificer’s university, the most prestigious educational institution in Summersalt, even if it’s to flunk out or pass with a mediocre grade. Julianne decided it wasn’t for her and skipped it altogether, focusing on more experiments, new and wild theories that had as many government departments scared as merchants and technologists excited. From salt refinement and detection discoveries (deposits, mutants, etc.)—the origin of her nickname—to metagenetics on salt-exposed subjects, Julianne worked it all, drawing money from faithful supporters.
The admiration brought on another side of Julianne: pride. To feed it, to know she was important, to know she was perhaps becoming someone much larger than the family patriarch, she delved into deeper experiments until she devised the manasalt engine, which according to her calculations would not only power the entire city, salt devices and magic items included, but housed in the lower reaches of Summersalt, it would also deal with some of the wilder radiomagical energies bouncing around the place—the government had promised to deal with the random portals into the future but could never lower the energy levels to do so.
But if the manasalt engine failed, there were no contingencies for it, no plan B, no simple failure and placid shutdown. If the engine malfunctioned, or something in it didn’t work as planned at some point in its execution, it would take out the entire city, not the structures, but the 700.000 plus inhabitants, turning the most powerful (and only) city-state in the world into an irradiated necropolis.
Thanks to one of her mentors reporting her experiments and plans to the Summer Knights, they managed to stop the manasalt engine a few minutes into its lengthy start up process. When they found Julianne, she was in her containment suit, frantically working on the pipelines and controls, trying to divert and control a sudden power surge from the lower reaches, something she hadn’t counted on even in her worst-case scenarios.
For anyone else, this would mean a death sentence but not for someone of the Allen family, as it would irrevocably destroy the good reputation they spent centuries keeping. So, Julianne “Tracer” Allen became Julianne Tracer, and was given two choices, exile from Summersalt, with some jail time in a neighbouring country, or pay her dues as a Salt Regulation Agent, a Summer Knight, a chance she jumped on.
As with every difficult case, troubled child and general annoyance, they decided to make her work under Fuse, not only the meanest agent in the business—from their view and that of most people—but also the agent who stormed the manasalt engine’s room and took it and its creator down, before the ignition sequence completed and the city ceased to exist. No one else could survive the radiation.
Tracer’s colleagues describe her as distant at best and flippant most of the time, except with Leona and Blankface, with whom she’s something approaching cordial. She designed and built Blank’s blocking sunglasses and a few things for Leona, with convincing paperwork claiming they were from the R&D department and not hand-made.
Though she may not tell anyone, she’s happy Leona stopped the engine and terrified of doing something like that ever again. The thought caused her nightmares for the first few months, tormenting her with the sounds of non-existent victims, men, women and children dying in an irradiated inferno.
It’s gotten better, she just doesn’t sleep anymore, using increasing amounts of stimulants to stay awake, then taking some tablets that block out dreams.
It’s unhealthy, but it keeps her working…for now.
(Featured Image Credit: GMorts Chaotica)