Having recently finished SMEN, I will now take an extensive break from Fallen London. I’ve been playing this game since late 2010, and have spent a likely unhealthy amount of time pondering Neathy lore. The Masters in particular have always held a strong fascination for me ‒ probably because they represent "one of those boxes of neatly arranged colours that are so irresistible to the geek mind", as Alexis put it ‒ and I’ve analyzed their characters down to an absurd degree. So I thought it was only in-character if the Professor once more shared some of his dangerous and subversive theories with fellow Londoners before leaving for a long scientific voyage. ;)
What’s wrong with Mr Spices?
You’ve probably noticed: Mr Spices fills the role of nervous, fidgeting paranoid amoung the Masters. Even its voice is a panicked shrill. Why is that? I think it’s afraid. Afraid of being "the next Eaten".
It is my theory that Masters have been sacrificed ‒ or "lost", or "usurped" maybe ‒ twice before (on other planets). When that happened, one of the others took over their role and personality. Thus Apples/Hearts and Cups/Mirrors. Maybe this is due to the original contract between the Bazaar and them requiring the number of 12 Masters, I don’t know. Only, when Candles was sacrificed, something went wrong: there were two Masters interested in taking over its role: Wines and Spices. Apparently, there was no way to settle the dispute ‒ and now we’re stuck with only 11 Masters, two of them in eternal opposition over who rules Dreams. While Wines seems to have some allies among the other Masters ‒ plus is apparently solely responsible for negotiating the contracts for new cities*** ‒ Spices appears to be isolated. It would probably be the one all the others could agree on being replaceable, in the event of such a replacement being necessary.
My theory is that 12 Masters are needed somehow for travelling Between Stars. Meaning there’s no real hurry right now, but they will definitely have to increase their ranks again before leaving Earth behind.
*** Why Wines, anyway? Only because it’s the one Master humans find most easy to get along with due to its friendly façade? I’ve said it before somewhere that of all the Masters (maybe excluding Veils), Wines is the one I like the least. It’s like the prototypical suave movie villain: smalltalking you over a good drink while behind the scenes everything is being prepared for your gruesome murder later on. There are only two things Wines ever cares about: Power, and Having a Good Time. In that order; don’t let its jocular manner deceive you.
Stones and Fires
There seems to be one other open conflict between two Masters; however, this seems to be mostly a conflict of characters. Stones is a single-minded conservative, completely bent on its one interest (Stones) and the fulfilling of the contract. Fires is a progressive, seriously interested in humanity’s technological advances (not in the humans themselves, though). It seems completely happy in the Neath and shows no desire whatever to fulfill the contract and leave Earth behind anytime soon. Funny enough, this actually increases its dependance on Stones if we’re correct to assume that diamonds, and other rare gems, are what’s needed to keep the Stone Pigs tranquil (maybe it’s what they eat). This puts them at something of a stalemate, especially as I can’t see Stones showing any inclination of taking over Fires’ role (or anybody’s, for that matter).
Something else about Fires: I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been the most outspoken advocate of making London the 5th City. The country where the steam-engine was invented, the kickstarter to the Industrial Revolution? London’s Fall must’ve been a wet dream come true for old Fires ‒ whose name is already something of an anachronism, incidentally. "Steam", "Gears" or "Brass" would fit better. Curiously, it seems to be the only one among all the Masters with any inclination towards machinery and engineering ‒ only inclination though, no particular talent.
Indeed, one could argue that Stones is the only truly gifted craftsman among the Masters. Cups certainly collects a lot of things, but I don’t see it making any pottery or crockery itself. Most of Wines’ creations are unpalatable, the odd success here or there not withstanding. Pages’ attempts at literature are hilarious. They are talented at selling things, not making them ‒ with Stones being the notable exception.
But of course, what we all really want to know is…
Whatever happened in the Second City?
The flashbacks we see here and there suggest that life in the 2nd City must’ve been good ‒ peaceful and prosperous. Indeed, Amarna seems to have been the only city which ever really prospered in the Neath. How was this possible? Due to some loophole in the contract, probably, which the Duchess ruthlessly exploited. Whether Candles was actively helping her, or just generally sympathetic, I’m not sure. Anyway, the Masters were certainly unable to wield the kind of power we’re used from them in Fallen London. They were just businessmen, no more, no less. Which seems to have hurt their pride something fierce. All the Masters? Maybe.*** There might’ve been a few who were quite content ‒ Spices and Fires would be my guess. Candles, definitely.
*** Usually, we see Wines, Veils and Apples/Hearts as the driving forces behind the Betrayal. I suspect that Spices was the closest Candles might’ve had to a "friend" or ally. Which would provide another explanation for its fierce opposition to Wines… If my judgement of their characters is correct, then Wines just wants more power ‒ but I’m not so sure about Spices. It might see an obligation to take over its friend’s mantle; or maybe it’s truly convinced that Wines’ approach to Dreams is incorrect ‒ their dispute might be actually philosophical, not just a power struggle.
The Third City was a slaughterhouse
Usually, the Masters buy a city to "farm" love-stories for the Bazaar. The Third City’s contract was unique in that, by this point, (most of) the Masters must’ve been so desperate to escape their "prison" that they were willing to agree to any kind of deal. Thus the God-Eaters…
I don’t think the Bazaar itself agreed with the whole thing ‒ but apparently it was powerless to do anything against it.*** The Bazaar was probably as fond of the 2nd City as the Masters despised it. When you take the air at the Sundered Sea, you’ll see melancholy flashbacks of 2nd City memories. Also, stones from the Salt Lions ‒ an obvious 2nd City relic ‒ are very precious to the Bazaar. I think the Bazaar still sees the 2nd City as the best time it had down here.
The Third City was probably a nightmare for the Bazaar. Love stories? Not a great lot, I’d wager; at least not the pleasant kind. I don’t believe the inhabitants of the 3rd City changed their way of life, or the structure of their society, after they Fell ‒ especially considering how the deal was sealed to begin with. Just the opposite: what could be more motivating for a warrior society than knowing even Death is not necessarily the end of fighting? There seems to have been a war between Tomb-Colonies, even (maybe there still is). No, their time in the Neath was probably filled with warfare, both internacine and outward-reaching, constantly urged on by the mad, power-driven God-Eaters… but war is always good business, so the Masters were probably happy.
*** There’s another hint to this peculiar powerlessness in The Seventh Letter, where (as I understand it) the Bazaar makes it clear that it does not like Veils’ "hobby" but is unable to stop him ‒ "I owe him his hunts." All this is probably down to the original contract between the Bazaar and the Masters, which must have been a particularly mean one, with no way out for either party: the Bazaar and the Masters are chained to each other… until the contract is fulfilled.
I’d like to add that for me the moment of the 3rd City’s Fall ‒ and the 2nd City’s destruction ‒ is the most tragic in Neathy history. I realized a while ago that it would provide the perfect ‒ and only at least half-way reasonable ‒ motivation for my Seeker, Dr Kvirkvelia, an archaeologist. In his words:
"I bet there were centuries ‒ long centuries ‒ when she must’ve thought it was all worth it. Maybe she still does; her city was the only one that really prospered down here. It would still be here today, if not for the Betrayal […] It must’ve been a sight, ruled by the Pharaoh’s Daughter and her Court of Cats. But the three Betrayers had hungers which needed to be sated. Eventually, they found three others with similar hungers, on the Surface. A deal was struck, a trap was laid, the God-Eaters feasted, and a Third City came crashing through the Roof, smothering the beautiful old city to dust […] I’m not such a fool as to believe I can bring it back; this is only about revenge. One that has been postponed for far too long."