Spirit power to destroy a city
Requires several things to reach a nexus, because of the way magical physics operates. Here is what we know about the spirit powers:
- Powerful effects take centuries to mature
- Individual items have limited power on their own, and have never been known to perform "physically impossible" feats such as burning through solid stone.
- No one has ever recorded any sign of intelligence behind the spirit power, in fact the power seems to blindly obey certain people who master the art of manipulation.
The only way to have a city destroyed by this force is to have many items act in some coordinated way to undermine a fundamental law of physics in that city. I am going to draw inspiration from my own story which used a simple change to make all electronics on earth fail without directly hurting an living thing.
What is the something?
- It is not a something, because no one something could do this. It has to be several somethings—thousands of somethings, likely.
- We also know that many of the somethings have to be very old, because new items simply have feeble powers to affect their properties.
- And finally, we know that the somethings are not in any conspiracy or coordinated effort, because they are not intelligent. Their properties are manipulated by humans.
This leaves only one logical choice: A mass sociogenic disorder.
It is very simple. It will have to originate from your bad guy—the antagonist in your story. Go with the "selfish decision-making" scheme you picked out. I will call him Bob, because every crisis needs one.
Bob was a smart guy, really. He was able to see patterns where other just could not. As he walked around the city, looking for opportunities to get rich quick, he looked at different shopkeepers from every angle. How successful were they? What was their family life like (did they have to sleep in the shop to be a success)? What sort of freedoms did they enjoy. And in all of Bob's research, he found out that people just loved food. Not any food, mind you; good food. Specially prepared food that took skill and patience. But there were more gears turning in Bob's head, because he was very smart. He also noticed a correlation between the "good" foods, and the good smells coming from the shops serving it. Now, preparing good food is a lot of work. But changing a smell? Ah, that should be an easy trick with only a family heirloom 60 years old!
Bob took in the smell of the most wonderful meal he could find, walking around at dinner one night. Standing outside a stranger's window, he studied it, and committed it to memory. The savory sweetness, a little tang and spice, and the touch of smokey flames-broiled meat. It was wonderful, and his mouth watered for it!
Bob then purchased a freshly butchered chicken. He set out a table by the other shops and lit a fire with a spit. He focused intently on the fire, which was lit from an old disused chair that propped against the back of his house doing nothing but keeping firewood off the floor to dry. The chair was very old, from his mother's house. And it burned, flames licking up at the chicken. He closed his eyes, and remembered the smell at the house. His mouth began to water for it again, and he focused on the flames coming out of the wood. Now, as the chicken had turned on his spit for 20 minutes, he could smell that delicious meal filling the air. A few people walking by took notice, and asked what he was making.
"A very special family recipe, my friend!" He answered with a smile.
"I'm sorry, but that smells wonderful! I have been hauling these pots for the whole morning. Might I bother you for a leg of that chicken? How much would you ask for it?"
Bob obliged the gentleman with a price, which he was paid. Bob knew now what to do. He turned his spit carefully, pretending to sprinkle some of this or that on it as it slowly turned in the fire. He thought intently of the scent of his meal, and also looked to the old shops around him, to alter their smell as well. It seemed the air filled with his delicious aroma, and as people walked into the nearby shops, they looked for whatever was cooking. Bob was all alone with is chicken. He turned several people away before securing a price that could buy a full hutch of chickens.
And so it went that Bob gathered up as much old, dry wood as he could find. He asked the woodsman for the largest cured wood he had, which came from a very old, large tree indeed. He then went to tearing up garden fences, and old stairways (claiming they were a danger, and he would repay for them). And when his house was filled with the oldest, dry and rotted wood he could get, he spoke to the butcher, and set up his shop just before market day.
Bob focused on his stolen aroma as he turned several chickens over the old wood flames. He watched the bright yellow flames lick the chickens with their magical essence. The wonderful recipe was born on the air again, and filled the market square. He carried it out again, concentrating on masonry and ancient stones used to make the shops. They all came alive with this aroma. And Bob called the hungry market-goers over to a well-deserved meal.
But Bob was not the only purveyor of chicken and meats to the shoppers. In fact, there were several other cooks who had built quite a reputation at the market. Their simple fire-broiled cuisine was not up to this tender, carefully seasoned masterpiece he was making, however. Bob started taking money out of their pockets, they felt, and this was not proper.
We will call the well-known market chef "Sam." Sam was not a spiritualist and had no power over items. He only knew of the power from family—a brother, specifically—who had been studying the control of it. Sam could not do anything about this new upstart, but his brother just may have an answer to this problem. The solution, said Sam's brother, was,
"You must simply pull back the curtain on this cretin. We can expose the fraud, together. Let's go to the market together this week."
Sam and his brother did return to market, and his brother watched the spectacle closely. He noticed when the chicken began to get its sweet seasoned arome, and saw that no spiced at all were being applied. And what else was odd, was that his clothes seemed to have the smell of chicken as well, while he was dozens of yards from the fire. No, it was not on his clothes, it was in the wall he was leaning on! The stones in the wall themselves smelled like a savory meal.
"Sam, I know what we must do."
Sam's brother went to the apothecary and asked about some of the tonics, sampled some morphine and a liniment at the tip of his fingers. He concentrated of the bitter taste, the tang, and the numbness on his tongue. And he remembered these with intense focus.
He then went to Sam's home and put his hand on the bricks in his wall. He focused intently, and then did something odd. Sam was startled to see it; his brother gently licked the wall, and turned toward him with a wide grin.
"Sam, I need you to do something for me, and I will give you knowledge of the spirits."
"I don't want anything to do with that voodoo, you know that!"
"I know, but you need to trust me for this one time. You will only have one item to control."
"Is that all? Will I get my business back?"
"You will, just trust me. But first, I need you to do something."
Sam looked suspiciously at his spiritualist brother. "What's that?"
"I need you to lick this wall."
In time, Sam was able to create the taste and effect of morphine and liniment in older items, especially stones, because they were the oldest and most powerful. His brother had Sam create the taste in many bricks from the yard. When it was all done, the two of them took a large hammer and smashed the bricks back into powder, and filled two small bags with them.
On the next market day, Sam approached Bob and made conversation. He asked about the recipe, and got the answer he expected. Nonsense. Some made up herbs and waiting some days for this or that.
"Ah, I see. It sure smells wonderful!" As another customer came to talk, Sam stepped aside, and reached behind the pit. He sprinkled his powder on the chicken waiting on the rack. He sprinkled it on the chicken in the fire as well. And he poured the powder into the fire.
After that day, several of Bob's patrons fell ill. As small villages do, they tried to trace the cause, and they all shared in Bob's chicken.
It was not long before people who had eaten Bob's chicken in the past, also felt the symptoms. Only a couple at first—starting with Sam's brother claiming as much. The power of suggestion took the village, and all who had the chicken became nervous.
Sam's brother decided that this was not quite enough. In fact, he thought this would be a great opportunity to be a town hero. This was a problem he could fix, because after all, he did create. Sam's brother was known to be a spiritualist, but not particularly good or powerful. And he decided to use this as his advantage.
"Look, I have found out what was in the chicken, and only the spirits can cure us! I am cured, after a day in bed, I am now perfectly well!" He had gathered several other spiritualist acolytes together for this announcement, and to reveal his plan.
His plan required powerful magic, and this means old items, again. Stones are the oldest items possible. They hold absolutely the greatest magic in the right hands.
And so the plan was unfolded, that the secret to Bob's chicken would be announced: it is rotten old wood, and it has poisoned us! They will spread rumors of people going blind, and loosing their fertility even. Now, the town needs a remedt—they are hungry for the cure.
Sam tells the tale of how he had no spiritual power at all, and his brother was able to teach him the simple art of making a spiritual remedy from the stones. "My brother can teach you all! You all can cure yourselves!" And so all the pieces were in place.
"Many of us fell to this spiritual sickness. Too many for our medicines to provide for. For the effect to work best, you each have very little power on your own. But this village has many who are afflicted, and we can only save ourselves if the spirits are with us all. And so we must all together rid this illness in one call to the spirits in harmony!"
Sam told them that the cure was in lime from the mortar of these city walls. That was how he cured himself, by changing the lime to the remedy.
There was an agreement that they would all focus on the stones of the wall, and change the lime in the mortar into a remedy for their poison. At this time, every sniffle and cough was being blamed on Bob's chicken. Every headache put a house in a panic. The mass sociogenic disorder had the village in a near panic, and Sam and his brother were about to become heroes.
The townspeople gathered round for their spiritualist lessons, each with a small chip of mortar in their hands. Most tried their best to pay attention, but the instructions were not perfectly clear. Just the same, they really didn't know how to even ask questions about spiritual manipulation. So all but a few just nodded along.
The day came when the town was to multiply their remedy power. The instructions, from what they think they heard, was to transform the wall, or something in it, into an astringent vapor, and inhale it. This made sense to no one, but Sam could be trusted. He always had been, so they trusted his brother. And so at the toll of the church bell, most of the townsfolk were intensely concentrating on their city walls. Some touching it, others licking it as Sam said he had. Some smelling it closely.
The walls of this city, it appears, have something of a history. They are no a cluster of stones gathered around a pit over years. They were formed of the scree from the mountain on the East. They were all of one spirit; the spirit of the mountain. The ancient, ageless, prehistoric mountain that brought the earliest settlers to this valley and marked their first fires. The mountain gave them their shelters, and their walls, and their roads. And the town was now asking the mountain to change its chemistry.
The mountain obeyed.
Some intents were coordinated together, asking the stones themselves—the granite which once belonged to the mountain's sturdy frame, holding it together—to turn to powder so they could take it with water. Others intended the lime (calcium carbonate) to become a vapor that they could breathe in to cure them. But the intent came not to the one stone, it came to the many stones together; and so they came to the mountain all together. The intent came not to the lime in their mortared walls, it came to the limestone holding the caves and soil on the mountain.
And the mountain all at once, heard the intent of this town. The mountain transformed into powder and vapor, by millions of tons. A thick, dry and stifling cloud of dust plumed just beyond the city walls and rolled angrily aver the forest, and over the farmers' fields, intending to swallow up the town in several feet of spontaneously powdered stone and silica and calcium.
When all was settled, the village needed to be dug out of the dust, which looked like volcanic ash, but much denser. Houses with sturdy roofs kept survivors alive until their air ran out, or they dug out. All crops and livestock was buried alive. The ages old fertile valley was now 6 feet below them, and nothing could possibly grow here for hundreds of years. Their fresh, sparkling river that gave life to the community was now underground; the mountain that provided it now lain flat over tens of miles of wasted farmland.
Several surviving nomads wandered away, dusting off their robes, with nothing at all to claim as their own.