A novel by David Holmes
Edited by David Harper
Magic is all around you. Most of you don’t see it and will never see it, not without some very expensive and large scientific apparatus. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist of course, just that most people aren’t equipped for it. We call it magic. I guess a scientist would call it something else.
“He’s definitely there?” the well-dressed woman in hat, gloves and a shaped over-dress with bustle asked the two cowering creatures. “Only I detect nothing.”
“Neither do I,” her partner, an equally well-dressed man in a calf-length frock coat and top hat, added.
“He’s definitely there, Great Ones. My life upon it and he’s killed again. We must hurry before he escapes… again,” the male of the creatures with them replied in frightened tones.
“Relax, Richard. Your life isn’t on the line here.” The man spoke calmly.
“But you killed our Țepeș and the Varney, how will the Clan Juwes survive?” the female creature asked. “Already the Clan Carmilla circles, looking for weaknesses.”
“If we deal successfully with the creature, I will ensure your clan survives,” the woman replied. “One day I may even offer the hand of friendship to you, Richard, Nell. After all, you were the only two willing to assist.”
“This was clearly the fault of the Juwes,” the one called Richard replied. “It was hubris of the Țepeș to deny this.”
“It was, and for that I extinguished his life and that of your Varney and other leaders,” the woman answered sternly. “The compact we hold with your clans does not allow for any other action in such circumstances.”
“This I know and I warned them,” Richard sighed.
“Hence you will be the next Țepeș of Clan Juwes and Nell, your companion, will be your next Varney,” the woman confirmed. “If necessary I will speak to the Thalaba about this. Clan Carmilla will not be permitted to dominate London. They’ve caused enough trouble in the past with their depredations.”
“I would be honoured, Great One,” Richard replied with a profound bow.
“Now let us go,” the woman said, causing a lambent violet glow to appear in a doorframe and then stepped through it into Miller’s Court, just off Dorset Street, Spitalfields, London.
“I still can’t detect him, though he’s made a hell of a mess of that poor woman,” the man stated as he created a shimmering globe of energy that surrounded the dwelling at number thirteen.
“He is trapped in the process of changing to one of my kind from his humanity. All he thinks of is death and blood,” the creature called Nell spoke up. “It clouds your ability to detect him, Great One.”
“Apparently so,” the woman nodded. “The Council have had me tracking him for three months, most of which were spent gathering evidence that your clan was involved.”
“He was a failed candidate who escaped us, Great One; the Țepeș forbade us to speak of it. I approached you after the writing on the wall was found,” Richard replied. “He has killed many more than the four investigated.”
“I know. I had a hand in removing some of the evidence that had been deliberately set up to implicate other creatures of magic,” the man replied.
“He knows,” Nell vouchsafed.
The woman stepped forward, noting the broken window and the rag stuffed in the crack. She then appeared to concentrate on the door, this was followed by the sound of the door unlocking and slowly opening to reveal a scene of madness and carnage. Yet, other than the body that lay partially dismembered on the bed, there was no sign of anyone in the room.
The man then concentrated and suddenly a crouched form appeared, the glamour stripped away from his surroundings. There was a hissing snarl and the creature leapt forward, pointing a long thin-bladed weapon straight at the woman. She gracefully, despite her apparel, stepped aside and planted a solid blow with her fist on the skull of the creature, skewing it to one side, though having little other effect on it. A searing ball of flame erupted across the room from the proximity of the man to hit the creature, but that also seemed to be shrugged off as it leapt again at the woman.
The blade, which was within an inch of the woman’s throat, toppled from the hand of the creature as it stiffened and collapsed, struck by the blade of a sword-stick held by the man.
“Often wondered at your fascination for those toys,” the woman commented in a morose chuckle.
“I like them. Jemima hates them, but today it paid off,” he shrugged as the woman incinerated the body entirely, leaving not a trace on the ground, not even a scorch mark. Afterwards the man relocked the door having made sure there were no traces of their presence or interference.
“Do you need me to speak to your clan?” the woman asked the two creatures.
“No, Great One. They will obey me now, knowing your Council will support me,” Richard replied.
“The term is Mage,” the woman informed him.
“I’m sorry, Great One?” a puzzled Richard queried.
“It’s not Great One, it’s Mage.”
“I will remember that, Mage…” he began.
“Morgana, Mage Morgana. We will speak again soon,” she replied as she and the male Mage simply winked out of the sight of Richard and Nell.
Magic is all around you. Most of you don’t see it and will never see it, not without some very expensive and large scientific apparatus. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist of course, just that most people aren’t equipped for it. We call it magic. I guess a scientist would call it something else.
‘Equipped’ you ask? Well, your average human only uses about one tenth of their brain, those who can use magic use the other nine tenths as well, which is a pretty good analogy, though not the entire truth as I was to find out later.
You might as well ask the usual, why aren’t people who use magic in charge of things? Well, mostly it’s because they can’t be arsed, though there are a few who do desire it, I’ll come to those later in this narrative. The other reason is numbers; mundane humans outnumber the magical humans by a factor of almost a hundred thousand to one. We’re powerful, but not that powerful and humanity could take us down if they so desired… assuming they knew who we were and where we were of course.
Most major monotheistic religions also have problems with what they consider to be ‘magic’, so we tend to hide. Admittedly we hide in plain sight, but we still hide. By the way, I'm not using mundane in a pejorative sense, simply as a way to describe those who can’t use magic, as we call it, to differentiate from those who can.
Do the mundane governments know about us? Well, the politicians and rulers don’t, but pretty much every administration has a department or office which monitors magical users and beings; plus, it makes sure a few rules are kept.
Rules? The main one is ‘do not use magic on ordinary people’. The second being 'do not interfere', meaning we have to grit our teeth and weep at times at the occasional horrific episodes in human history and development. There are exceptions to both rules of course, but in general we tend to stick to them or face certain consequences that I'll mention later. There are lots of others – summoning Demons or Angels, raising the dead, creating gold from lead (basic economics), stuff like that – but all mostly affecting the mundane world, not the magical one.
No, it’s not like Harry Potter; there are no schools of magic for one thing; nor do we use wands. The powers we use are controlled by the mind and released in various ways by the way we think, not by sticks of wood with esoteric cores. Fully qualified Mages are expected to take on the occasional apprentice when they detect an untrained magic user. This is often more difficult than it sounds as one of the first things an untrained magic user will do is kill themselves, inadvertently. The evidence is all around you, tales of people just appearing in front of traffic, self-immolation and even weird heart attacks. We even suspect the occasional case of sudden infant death syndrome might cover a few cases, but we’re not sure. The gift usually, though not always by any means, manifests itself at puberty. As if kids don’t have enough problems. Spotting one is easy enough, they give off a kind of glow that magic users can sense with our third or inner eye. We try to get to them quickly before they either try to use magic in a way that will get them killed or attract the attention of something which will kill them.
It’s not like the film Constantine either. Yes, there are Angels and Demons, (probably) a Heaven and hell, though they aren’t saying and will, like as not, kill you if you’re stupid enough to get in the way of their eternal war, but there are also Faerie, dwarves, gnomes, goblins and all the other denizens of the old fairy tales, which, if you check back, were not written for children at all, but as warnings. You don’t want to get on their bad side either, though with Fae, Sidhe or, as some people mistakenly call them, Elves, it’s impossible not to. Tolkienesque they aren’t. But they are spiteful, angry and bitter. They are former Lords (and Ladies) of creation with a massive inferiority complex against the various Mage Councils who won’t let them play with humanity any more.
The group on my Earth is known as the Council of the Wise. They’re the government of the majority of the human magic users on our Earth, such as it is. They are very powerful and secretive; they keep knowledge of the existence of magic from the mundane world and come down hard on anyone or anything trying to change this state of affairs. I work for them as an enforcer, or rather my boss does and I work for her. Other Earths have their own Mage Councils, but I’ll get to some of those later.
Magic? Well, that’s tricky. There are various kinds, and various sub-groups too, with a lot of overlapping disciplines. The words we use are only descriptive, sometimes interchangeable too. Transfiguration is magic that works on living objects; internal is on yourself; external on others, people or animals. Though you cannot easily affect what they really are; unlike spells used upon yourself. Sure you can turn people into (very large) toads, but they're still people and another Mage would know this. We do have a large team of Mages now working in the bio-medical wings of several universities, pharmaceutical companies and military research on DNA and genetics, in an effort to aid us in transformation spells. But it's complex stuff, even the changes necessary to turn someone from blonde to brunette requires an in-depth knowledge that is daunting and that's the simple stuff. For instance, you can transform an old person into a young-looking one, but they’ll still be old and die at the same time. Resetting a body clock to eternal youth is incredibly hard when you have to do it to anyone other than yourself as the number of factors involved are immense. The only reason it works on us, individually, is because our bodies do a lot of the work automatically. For anyone else, hell, it's complex (in most cases). It’s also part of necromancy, as a dead body is just a changed state of living. Though bringing the dead back to life is simply gruesome, the brain breaks down after a certain amount of time and the result is… unpleasant.
Transmutation works on inanimate objects; the classic earth, water, wind and fire if you wish. Alchemy, or potions, form a part of this and also includes elements of transfiguration.
Thaumaturgy, invokes supernatural powers, whilst its opposite twin Theurgy, invokes divine intervention and both are pretty much the purview of the established religions. Either way, you need to be a believer or follower of some god or other or the forces involved will kill you (and possibly eat your soul).
Mentalism involves control of various kinds by the mind; it includes telepathy, tele-empathy, telekinesis and precognition of a sort, more to do with calculation of odds than actually seeing the future.
Another one of our rules is ‘don't mess with the time-stream’ (it bites back) as the Higher Powers will get involved and repair the damage as well as removing you from existence.
Yes, we use charms. They’re just a way to access magical energy for instant use. They're just layers of symbols that our minds can access to tap reserves. Yes, we have spell books, though a spell isn’t quite what you might think it is, merely a way for words, sounds or symbols to unlock the potential of the mind, to open doors within as it were. Same with scents and potions (it's to do with the subtle tones within, not what's in them). They’re just a means of focussing the mind, the better you are, the less you need them.
In essence, magic is just quantum manipulation of sub-atomic particles by mind-control. The only real limits being those which we impose on ourselves by training or ignorance. It works very much on believing you can do something and then using your mind to do it; if you have the training to control the forces and energies involved. Of course, we often do what would be described as very complex things, but we don't necessarily see it like that. In the same way, you don't need to understand how the brain interprets scents; you just use your nose and know something smells of violets.
I suppose in the end it comes down to belief. If you can imagine it, believe you can do it, then you can. The only limits being what we put upon ourselves and the control we have of the power involved.
Me? My name is John. I was born in 1901 in England and I still have another 21 years to go as a journeyman Mage. That’s the other good thing about magic. Get enough control and you can effectively live forever, though you are by no means immortal. There are Powers and Principalities out there who can kill the strongest Mage with a glance, and are best avoided. Fortunately, their interests seldom cross ours, which is just as well for humanity in general.
My Boss? Well, she’s Mage Morgana, and at the time of my emergence (became aware of my magical abilities) she was the head of the Department for Investigative Studies, and was the liaison for the Council of the Wise to the UK administration, as well as the European continental administrations when they weren’t at war or changing from one state to another. She and the other members investigate any and all incidences of suspected magic use and abuse which fell foul of the Norwich Accords of 1701 signed by William of Orange and his wife Mary, the reigning monarchs at the time, after the damage done to the kingdom as well as the colonies by a rogue Mage acting in his then role of Matthew Hopkins, aka the Witchfinder General. Pretty much every country has something similar to the Accords, including those where Mages do not abide. Even the likes of North Korea has a small office which is supposed to monitor our activities, though as far as I'm aware there are no Mages in that country.
I became Morgana’s apprentice in 1915 after my latent talent became emergent and manifested itself in a pique of anger. I was lucky. My friends and I had been playing in the woods – the usual teen stuff of fighting the Hun just before we’d have to find real work, enlist or in my case continue my studies with an eye to extra schooling and university. My parents were upper middle class, typical of their type at the time, loyal to King and Empire and I was part of a fairly large family who lived in reasonable comfort. I was lucky because my talent manifested itself on a thorn bush which had trapped my jumper and left me unable to break free easily. In my frustration I turned and used my mind rather than my physical strength to make the bush splinter into fragments. Had it been against another human I would probably have died from the powers I’d invoked, overloading my body due to lack of control. The human tenacity for staying alive is quite strong compared to an immature Mage’s talent, hence the reason so many emergent Mages manage to kill only themselves. It's also why female Mages make up a majority of the magical community, despite more latent male than latent female Mages becoming emergent, as a lot of males will attempt to use their minds to do violence and kill themselves in the process. Females simply scream in frustration and don't. As it was I frightened myself quite badly as my entire body seemed to be on fire and I found it difficult to breathe. My journey home turned into a nightmare too. The woods were suddenly full of all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures that definitely hadn’t been there before and it was fairly obvious that now I could see them, they could also see me. In the end I raced home filled with dread and foreboding and terrified I was losing my mind, only to find a visitor sitting in the parlour next to a motionless mother and father.
“Hello, John.” the Lady said. “We need to talk.”
I kept looking at my mother and father, who simply sat motionless, a slight smile on their lips.
“They can’t hear or see us at the moment,” the Lady said. “Now sit and listen.”
I sat, or was made to sit, and listened as my future was spelled out to me, literally in this case.
“You’re special, John,” she said. “You’ve developed a latent talent today which few people can manage or control. It’s become what we call emergent. It brings benefits and dangers and you need to come with me to train in its use.”
“Talent?” I squawked.
“Magic,” she said. “You can use magic.”
“I can?” I replied.
Her eyes rose in a why me gesture.
“Obviously,” she replied at last. “It shows all over you and you made enough ‘noise’ when you tried it.”
I looked confused until she produced a small mirror out of thin air and showed me my face which was glowing with an inner light.
“First thing you’ll need to learn is how to hide that,” she stated. “There are… people and things out there who can see that and will hate you for it and who will try to kill you for it. I can protect you and train you, but there is a price.”
“Price?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied solemnly. “You’ll have to leave here, never to return, otherwise your family could be used to control you or destroy you.”
“Why?” I asked confused.
“There’s a war going on,” she finally replied. “Not the one against the Kaiser, though it’s intertwined with it; but a magicians’ war of those who want to control humanity against those who want to simply live our lives amongst them. It’s been waged over the last 1400 years or so, possibly longer, and shows no signs of ending yet. My side wishes nothing more than to be left to live our lives alongside humanity in peace, in the hope that one-day humanity will blossom fully into magical talents. The other side want to enslave humanity and live as Gods amongst them. If you won’t join them, they will kill you.”
“But suppose they find my family anyway?” I swallowed, feeling very fearful.
“Unless they get very lucky, they won’t,” she replied. “There are none of them in England that I know of at the moment. They are few in number and mostly in Russia, Germany and Austria, trying to worm their way into influence in those lands. It's also why from today you'll never use your surname, at least until the ties that bind have become remote.”
“Is it worth it?” I finally asked.
“Oh yes,” she said with a smile. “Oh yes.”
“Can I say goodbye?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “But they won’t remember.”
“I will though,” I replied.
It was incredibly hard. Mother and father were confused, but the papers the Lady had from the Home Office Ministry had initially quieted their fears somewhat. Same with my brothers and sisters; all they were told was that my country needed me, which kept them from asking too many awkward questions until the Lady acted.
What happened next is confusing if you’ve never done it or seen it done. The Lady simply willed me out of their lives as a memory only of a child's cot death, along with memories, of family photos, documents and not just those in the house, my grandparents too, along with aunts, uncles and cousins, school friends, neighbours. Anyone who knew me remembered, if they ever did, that the me in the photos was simply a distant cousin. The Lady did it within seconds through my own thoughts and of those around me, each mind’s memories linking to another and sought out by the Lady, even the limited paperwork of that time was adjusted to suit. There may have been a few missed links, but not many and nothing of any importance.
We then walked out through the front door of the house into somewhere else.
“Please sit, John,” the Lady said. “My name is Morgana. You may call me Mage Morgana and I’ll be your master until you complete your apprenticeship in magic.”
“How long?” I replied. There was a very long pause and a stern look before I thought to add, “Mage Morgana.”
“20 years,” she said matter-of-factly. “Followed by another 100 years as a journeyman in which you’ll work to pay off your debt of training and build up power and an income to allow you true independence.”
“120 years!” I gasped. “I won’t live that long!”
“Yes, you will,” she smiled. “That’s one of the benefits.”
I find it hard to recall the first twenty years; I spent a lot of it at what I thought was a small country Manse, training. It was mostly defensive spells and incantations, learning when to run and when to simply vanish. At the time I wasn't even sure which country the Manse was in, or even which world, though I soon realised it was our Earth. I did learn that magic operates below the sub-molecular level in the realms of quantum physics, though at the time certain of the concepts were only dimly understood. Even now we’re pretty sure that there’s a lot more going on that we simply just don’t understand. I also learned a lot about cause and effect, as well as the laws of conservation of energy. Magic follows certain rules too; it requires energy which is either tapped from within or from our surroundings. The more powerful the spell, the more energy it takes. But the energy levels at the sub-molecular boundaries are immense. Tapping them requires training and practice. Get it wrong and you tend to fly apart in a haze of fiery atoms. Mage Morgana was a good and patient teacher and for what trouble I did get into she was able to repair the damage easily. That’s not to say she nurse-maided me or was particularly gentle, part of the learning process was learning the consequences of a mistake, either an error in thought or a miscalculation in focus. She kept me from killing myself and repaired me at the end of the day or week depending on how badly I was hurt. You soon learn to be damned careful if there’s any chance of pain, or a great deal of pain if you get it badly wrong. Not that she was my only teacher by any means. She had her work and was often away for quite some time. At these times I was taught by various other Mages or journeymen whom I grew to know quite well, though few were from Morgana's place of work.
Morgana never spoke about her past either. I knew she was a lot older than she looked, though I was far too polite to ask. Nor did I learn too much about the history of the Mage war, save only that a small cabal led by a rogue Mage calling himself 'Elymas' was determined to rule humanity with a rod of iron. There were other leaders too, in the cabal, one currently called Gilles de Rais who took over from Djadjamankh whom the Council captured and executed just before I became emergent and another calling himself Merlin. I guessed these weren't their real names but aliases to prevent other Mages from tracing their roots. I did know that I wanted to join the fight and it seemed that I had an aptitude for it.
After my ‘apprenticeship’ I settled into a post at the Department for Investigative Studies. Don’t bother trying to find it on a list of government departments though; it’s strictly need to know and not part of the British political establishment as it operates under a Royal Charter. I spent that time mostly getting to know a few fellow Mages and the very few ordinary people who were seconded to the Department for a strictly limited period and reading through reams of reports on the activities of magic users in the UK and abroad. Most of them were not connected to the Department and tended to live transient lives. If you stayed in an area too long the fact that you didn't age would be noticed. Most just followed their studies in various magical disciplines and a lot tended to be in academia or scientists, simply moving to a new job with a change in appearance every so often.
Soon enough though I knew I’d be allowed to accompany my boss on a ‘real’ mission.
It was in late 1940 that we began our first mission together, slipping into occupied France from Spain and hence into Nazi Germany. Yes, we do mostly use mundane forms of transport, for all we can teleport and use portals. We avoid using magic because the energy exchange can be detected from great distances and is a dead giveaway to other magic users. We were ostensibly looking for the ‘Spear of Destiny’, which we believed had been used by the Powers behind the Nazis to enhance the ability of their armies.
Was it the actual spear that pierced Jesus? I doubted it, as did Morgana. But it was an object of power, plus it was being used to empower one of the most evil empires that mankind had subscribed to.
Objects of power? Well, they're quite rare and have been touched or crafted by one of the Higher Powers; they can also be used by normal people, if they know how. We tend to keep a close eye on them; now they're mostly in museums or locked vaults. The Vatican has supposedly got the largest collection, but they don't generally approve of Mages as such. Few of the major monotheistic religions do, relying on their own small coterie of Theurgists to manage the extra-spiritual nature of the world.
Higher Powers? Difficult that one, we’re not talking about God, rather beings with godlike powers who are technically subordinate to God. We have been told that God is commander-in-chief of what we think of as the Hosts or Armies of the Almighty and some of these Higher Powers are subordinate to him. Others are the Host of the Enemy, who is not a god and is technically under God’s control as one of his creations, yet has a big army which fights against the Host of the Almighty and has done since the split between Heaven and hell. There are also neutrals who are often worshipped as gods, but aren't God. So, Higher Powers are senior Angels or Demons, though try to call one by either name and kiss goodbye to your existence. We don’t know why they make objects of power; every time someone asked them, that someone died. We finally took the hint and now keep out of their way. They presumably have a plan, but revealing it is not on their agenda...
On our journey neither of us spoke Spanish, French or German of course, but as magic users it was easy to read the mind of anyone speaking to us and give them the impression we’d replied to them; same with any papers requested. Thus it was we arrived in the Holy City of the Nazis, Nuremburg, in the Third Reich. Which is where we suspected the Spear had been hidden when the Nazis grabbed it during the Anschluss of Austria. Nuremburg was a city full of people under a regime that had almost reached the pinnacle of its power. Its armies had swept all before them; arrogant doesn’t even begin to describe the self-belief of the city’s populace. Finding the Spear though was another matter entirely. Nuremburg was a fair size and whoever had hidden it, knew exactly who would be looking for it.
It took us weeks, but it was becoming obvious that the object of power was to the north of Nuremburg, in the castle.
It was December the 18th that we finally found the vault where it had been hidden and broke through several defences, both magical and physical. As we stepped inside it became obvious that we weren’t alone.
A young man sat waiting for us, his face calm, his poise assured, yet there was also the impression of a great weight of years in his eyes.
“Hello, Morgan le Fay. I’ve been expecting you,” he said.
“Merlin Emrys,” she replied.
I was feeling a tad confused here. I’d read Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, it couldn’t possibly be, surely? And was I fighting for the wrong side? Yes, I knew that a Mage called Merlin was part of the cabal who fought against the Council, but 'The Merlin’? Plus, was my Morgana actually a living legend of the evil kind? No wonder she wouldn't answer questions about her past. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I should have guessed, but at the time, yes, it was a shock.
“Your young journeyman here seems confused; our fame precedes us it appears,” Merlin said.
“He knows appearances can be deceptive,” she said.
“He knows the legends too, I can see. Along with the villain.”
“He also knows I’ve never lied to him.”
“Save by omission.You never told him you were the 'actual' Morgan le Fay, now did you?”
“I sought to demonstrate by example that I could be trusted, rather than have a name get in the way,” Morgana dismissed Merlin’s criticism.
“I swore a bond,” I spoke to Merlin, nodding my assent to Morgana.
“We’ll speak of this later, my Mage?” I enquired of Morgana.
“Yes, John,” she replied.
“You’ve trained him well,” said Merlin. “Not well enough, but well.”
What hit me next was a powerful spell of immobility, freezing every muscle in my body, including my heart. I nearly died in the first few seconds, but my training and a little native talent came to the fore. Instead of trying to fight the spell, I cast another, mentally forming the glyphs and sigils in my mind, so causing oxygen from the air to be bonded to my cells and carbon dioxide removed in lieu of my circulatory system and lungs. Normally such a spell would be decades of training beyond me, but needs must and a body desperate for air will find a means if one is there and believe me I was desperate. The spell I cast didn’t stop my body’s attempts to draw breath, but it did keep me alive to witness my first magical battle.
To an outsider looking on there would have been little to see, a few pyrotechnics by way of hellfire perhaps, though any outsider would have died in an instant had they been there. However, unlike a mundane, I watched titanic forces being arrayed by both Merlin and Morgana as each sought to overcome the other. My own efforts to free myself were of no avail as I had no idea how the spell against my body worked, though I suspected it had to do with nerve impulses, still the ‘cure’ I’d come up with had possibilities. I reached out with my mind again, not to attack but to affect the air around Merlin, to draw off his supply of oxygen and hopefully weaken him, though not suddenly, just gradually enough in the hope he didn’t notice what was happening. Did it work? I’m not sure but he was labouring to breathe until with a glare he simply winked out of the room leaving behind a small thunderclap as air rushed into the area he’d been standing in. The spell that had me paralysed released at the same time and I collapsed as various muscles rebelled for a second leaving me sprawled on the floor.
“That was impressive,” Morgana said. “I’m sorry about that, John. I’d hoped to protect you better than I did. I didn’t expect him to simply lock all your muscles. I’m sure he didn’t expect you to survive it either.”
“Was that really Merlin? And are you the real Morgan le Fay?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied angrily. “I am and we’d suspected he was behind the Nazi regime for his boss, Elymas. This is the first confirmation we had of it.”
“Isn’t he supposed to be one of the good guys?” I asked.
Morgana said nothing at first, merely picking up the Spear from its case. She produced a duplicate from her pack which she then forged with her mind into a perfect replica, identical in every way save one, it had no power.
“We’d best go,” she said. “He’ll send reinforcements to slow us down when he recovers a little. I’ll explain everything once we’re safe.”
We left in a hurry, unseen by any of the guards. Well, they saw us; they just forgot they did at practically the same instant.
Leaving Nuremburg and Bavaria was not as simple as getting in. We managed it by heading South into Italy and thence to Spain, carefully shielding our minds from several attempts to track us down mentally. There were also several internal security checks which were time consuming but not really any danger to us, merely a means to slow us down. I did suggest teleportation or using a portal, but Morgana did not want to use that type of magic in enemy territory. It would just require one of Merlin's compatriots to detect such a spell in order to affect its outcome – we might arrive turned inside out. En-route Morgana filled me in on what had really happened with Merlin, Arthur, Mordred and herself.
It happened just after the Romans had withdrawn from Britain. The land itself had split into warring factions, some bringing in Saxon mercenaries to help defend their frontiers. Yet there were still several large Roman towns and in places the land still prospered. The fly in the ointment had been Uther, a hill king from the Welsh marches. An overweening ego and a desire for power had brought him into the court of Vortigern, a British warlord, and into the clutches of a young talented Mage called Merlin, who sought to use Uther for his own ends. Following Vortigern’s death and a failure to get Uther into a position of power, they headed west away from the invading Saxons and insinuated themselves into the court of Morgana’s father, Duke Gorlois of Duntagell in Cornwall. Uther and Merlin, using the lessons they’d learned earlier, had proceeded to usurp the crown by dint of using mind-control so that Uther could seduce Gorlois’ wife, Igraine. They took the eventual child of that issue, Arthur, into the care of Merlin after which Uther had killed their host, and his men killed off all Arthur’s half siblings and rivals to the throne of Duntagell. Uther then tried and failed to unite other kingdoms and territories under his rule. Morgana, Igraine’s daughter was the only one to escape the slaughter by means of using a new found limited magical ability, set off by the trauma of the events, to avoid the treacherous guards seeing her. Her sisters, Elaine and Morgause, were caught and slain. Sadly, she was unable to conceal her escape from Merlin who, noting her inner glow, captured her and took her as his concubine. Those were tortuous years, not helped by the fact that she soon fell pregnant with Mordred, her only child. He was whisked off to be brought up by other women in Uther’s harem, she was also a virtual slave to Uiuiane, Merlin’s other concubine, and had to nursemaid Brianna, Merlin and Uiuiane’s spoiled brat of a daughter. Whilst she had a natural talent for magic she learned very little from Merlin, a few healing spells was all he'd deign to teach her, mostly to repair the bruises, wounds and contusions his abuse had occasioned her. She hated him to her very core, more so for his constant sexual demands which she was powerless to prevent, such was his mental control over her. Nor was she aware of any other magic users she could appeal to.
Uther’s eventual death left the way open for Arthur’s ascension to power at the tender age of seventeen and if Uther had been a brute, Arthur was far worse. Shrewd, charismatic and intelligent, he was what psychologists today would have recognised as a classic sociopath. Re-uniting the former British kingdoms, he led them against the new Saxon kingdoms in a dazzling campaign, leading to the final battle at Badon Hill which settled the new borders in his favour. Unfortunately, it left a kingdom wrecked, towns destroyed and a displaced populace under his direct rule. Still, peace of a sort lasted for ten years as the people came to terms with their new king and kingdom. Merlin had sought to control Arthur as he had Uther by feeding his desires for power and sex, marrying him to Guinevere, the ward of Duke Cador of Camelide, who had then, after she caught Arthur committing adultery with Brianna with Merlin’s tacit approval, had tried to have Brianna executed. Then, in retaliation for Arthur not slaying Brianna, owing to Merlin's influence, she had gone on to have sexual relationships with most of his Generals along with several men-at-arms. Wracked with jealousy and intrigue, the court had fallen apart and two factions emerged – one led by Morgana’s son Mordred, the other by Arthur, who simply rid himself of Guinevere by murdering her and the unborn child she carried. The civil war wrecked the kingdom, leading to a final pitched battle at Camlann, where Arthur died upon Mordred’s sword, only for Mordred himself to fall a few days later as the Saxons swept over the last vestiges of the British kingdom to take the land for themselves. Merlin himself fled, his plans in ruins, having no influence at all as yet over the Saxons. The collapse left Morgana and the few retainers and ladies to the not so tender mercies of the advancing Saxons. Morgana herself escaped to the Northern kingdom of Dál Riata where she became one of their Elders due to her gift as a healer, using what little her talent allowed. She was approached by a representative of the Council of the Wise and brought to answer their enquiry as to Merlin’s actions. The enquiry itself was inconclusive because Merlin's faction, led by a Mage called Elymas, blocked and watered down any real attempt to discover what happened. She was then taken under the wing of the kindly Simon Magus and trained as a magician proper until she was able to start taking the fight to the small but powerful faction of Elymas in the Council and the world.
There was more to it of course; the historians, as ever, got it wrong, seeing only the substance and not the facts, and history became myth which became legend. Nor at that time was there open war between Elymas’ cabal and the Council. That happened much later as Elymas' faction grew ever stronger. They used the Vikings in attacks around the British Isles and Europe to seize any objects of power they could get their hands upon. Whilst in the south, Djadjamankh’s influence upon Muhammad drove the Arabs out of their crowded desert quarter to conquer half the Mediterranean lands by the sword along with the ancient Kingdom of Persia. They were burning, slaying and converting the survivors to a cruel and barbaric religion in which the Cabal tried to control matters for their own purposes. Other activities that we know of involve their founding of the Tang Dynasty in China, followed by the rise of Ghengis Khan and the Mongol Empire.
Elymas and his faction always worked behind the scenes, always seeking to unite humanity under some form of tyranny with Elymas pulling the strings. He and his followers were eventually expelled from the Council in April 1204 when his coterie had been caught red-handed in the machinations that led to the sack of Constantinople. This had been a cover to stage a coup against the Council of the Wise who met there at that time. Since then a time of covert yet utterly deadly cat-and-mouse war had been engaged, with both sides seeking to destroy the other without mercy.
Who are the members of the Council of the Wise? At that time, I didn’t really know. I have since met them all and now count Simon Magus, Rowenna and Julia as good friends (no, I don’t know Rowenna’s or Julia’s surname and come to that, Magus isn’t Simon’s surname either, any more than Le Fay is Morgana’s; they’re descriptions or titles). They do tend not to get involved with apprentices or journeymen who aren’t their own. At the time I suspected that Morgana was a member, though she did not say one way or another. It’s a bit like an odd film I sat through some years ago called ‘Fight Club’, in it the first rule about the Fight Club was you didn’t talk about the Fight Club. It was the same with the Council of the Wise.
Does it bother Morgana to be the villain of the Arthurian legends? She says not, but personally I reckon it bugs the hell out of her. She went off in a sulk for days after watching the Disney film, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the one with Nicholas Cage in it.
The good news about our mission is that we grabbed the Spear on the same day that Keitel signed the go ahead for Operation Barbarossa, the planned invasion of the Soviet Union. I believe they’d have won despite Hitler’s meddling if we hadn’t. After that the days of the Reich were numbered and Merlin moved on to mentally dominate Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the NKVD or Soviet Secret Police. He was seeking yet again to create the ultimate control over humanity for his boss. Not that we had any real proof of this, simply Beria’s obsessive depravity with girls and young women as well as the rumours about Stalin’s daughter Svetlana which matched Merlin's modus operandi to a T.
It took me a while to take all of this in, though I never even considered walking, such was my respect for Morgana. She had never asked me to do anything dishonourable, nor had she ever been anything but a good and honest teacher, if not always forthcoming as to why we did what we did. There was also the fact that the Nazi regime was utterly vile and anyone seeking to support it was highly suspect in my eyes anyway.
The other thing I knew I had to work on was some form of defence. It had been obvious from Merlin’s attack on me that there was no way I had the kind of raw power (yet) that he and Morgana were capable of throwing around. Yet it did strike me that I would only be in danger if the power were focussed directly upon me. Were there to be no easily found target, I might at least survive long enough to run for my life. A careful study of some old charm spells soon had me making a small medallion. It was very unobtrusive, yet it would, in the presence of magic, give a false reading of my position in the same way that the image in a mirror is not the same as the reality. I broached Morgana with the finished article and she was for once impressed with the idea. She could locate my position eventually, but in the heat of a first cast, it was almost impossible to land a heavy blow on me. It had a few drawbacks, were I to use a strong enough spell myself it interfered with the mental focus required, but, using subtlety with some form of indirect attack, it was ideal.
Our next mission was not so simple. It required a visit to Tír na nÓg, the heartland of the Fae, humanity's (mostly) forgotten overlords and the Unseelie court of the Sidhe.
Forget all the folk tales of good and bad when it comes to the Fae. Yes, there are two courts, but it’s not good and evil, they both hate mankind with a passion. It’s the difference between lava and liquid nitrogen, both will kill you quickly and unpleasantly. There was no middle ground. You were either powerful enough to defend yourself or you were dead and either of the courts would take their time and stretch your agony for as long as possible. The courts represent differing Sidhe factions whose policies are ever fluid though mostly to do with reclaiming the lands of men and others as their own.
The Sidhe ruled various versions of Earth from about 250,000 years ago. They were slavers who used their power to keep hominids (men) and others as docile sheep for various tasks, including food. Yes, the Sidhe eat people, they aren’t carnivores by any means, but they don’t see people as being anything other than toys to torment or walking snacks. About 45,000 years ago though, there was a mutation and homo-sapiens burst in on the scene and were taken through various portals to the other Earths, far more aggressive than homo-neanderthalensis upon whom the Sidhe preyed at that time. Eventually they were capable, via their shamans (an early form of Mage we think), of defending themselves from the Sidhe glamour and mind-control. The war was long and bitter and eventually led to the extinction of Neanderthals on our Earth at least and drove the Sidhe into areas mankind either didn’t want or couldn’t reach. The Sidhe held on tenaciously in those areas as old legends will tell. Their real end though came when the people of the various Earths they'd settled on began to develop iron weaponry, the Sidhe are… allergic is not the right word, but deeply affected by magnetism and iron is both magnetic and poisonous to their flesh, though not fatal as some tales tell. It pierces their glamour and exposes them to real danger, something they hate. The Sidhe finally left our Earth in about 500 AD, when the Christians gained a foothold in Ireland; though there are suspicions they lingered longer in the America’s. Either way, they still attempt to draw people via their glamour through portals into their realm. Needless to say there are no survivors unless a magician can get there quickly; even then the mental damage to their victims is often extreme. Many commit suicide, or have complete personality changes with often severely erratic behaviour, severely traumatised, occasioned by violent psychotic episodes, is probably the most accurate description.
Mages generally were safe, our minds work differently from mundanes and we aren’t easily fooled by visions or the Sidhe glamour. Doesn’t mean we can’t get into trouble, but there are Accords between the two Courts and the Council which the Sidhe mostly abide by if they think there’s a chance of getting caught. Other Earths and their Mages have similar protocols, it's one of the few areas we co-operate in, no one wants the Sidhe back.
Morgana and I were there to check on a breach of the Accords which seems to have happened in the death camps of Poland where the Sidhe were opening portals in the gas chambers thinking the Council would not notice.
Getting into Tír na nÓg is easy enough for a magician. We just stretch out our mind between the borders of our reality until we locate it, a parallel Earth in which mankind does not exist. It tastes of Sidhe, which isn’t a totally accurate analogy, but it’s the closest I can come to in the written word. Once we have it, we open a portal, often enough using a modified door frame and step through. Oh yes, we also carry cold steel, magnetised bladed weapons, as the Sidhe have a word for an unarmed man, it translates as ‘prey’.
Morgana stepped through first, scanning with all her senses including several magical ones for any dangers in the real and unreal world before beckoning me through. I stepped through at the base of a hill topped by what a mundane would see as a towering city of marble and glass, it’s beauty both unearthly and awe inspiring. To my inner eye it was a jumble of crude huts and tents surrounding some sort of natural amphitheatre, the home of the Unseelie court.
We were of course spotted the instant we emerged; the Sidhe can feel the presence of anything not of their own moving about near them and they are very dangerous predators on their home turf. They came riding at incredible speed from the surrounding area on their steeds, all glowing armour and wickedly spiked weapons. They may not have architectural skills, but they could make fine weapons of something they call adamantine, but which is just a form of artificial sapphire. This, along with their talents of creating images and mental dominance, is why they’re so dangerous to normal mortals.
We, however, were not normal mortals and Morgana simply spoke a series of syllables causing the Faere steeds to go berserk and start throwing their riders. It wasn’t magic as such, simply old commands that the Fae steeds were programmed to respond to. The Fae consider it cheating, but we aren’t Fae.
“Nice one,” I said with a smile.
“The old ones are always the best. Now let’s go and see Oberon.”
We wandered up the hill to the amphitheatre through packs of flailing, panic stricken Fae steeds all avoiding Morgana as if she were deadly poison and their helpless, hapless riders. At the entrance to the town we faced a single warrior barring our path.
“Who dares call unwanted upon the Unseelie court!” boomed out at us. “Speak now or suffer the consequences.”
“Emissaries from the Council of the Wise, seeking an audience with Oberon, king of the Fae,” stated Morgana in even tones. “As if you did not know.”
“What care the Fae of prey?” came the contemptuous reply.
“Small wonder they lost control of our world if they cannot even recognise how dangerous it is to insult a Mage,” I murmured.
“They never learn,” Morgana replied. “It’s like a flow chart with a set of arrows that always point to the box marked ‘make serious error of judgement here.”
I walked forward a step.
“Out of the way, Elf,” I demanded, feeling Morgana’s wince without needing to see it. Elf is the equivalent in the Fae world of calling someone of colour a ‘nigger’ in our world. It worked though and the Sidhe lost control and charged at me, swinging his barbed sword with blinding speed towards my head. I simply raised my hand and the metal buttons on my greatcoat cuff did the rest, they were iron and I’d made them highly magnetic and, combined with a zone of increased inertia in front of them, interfered with the Sidhe’s mind-control running through the weapon causing it to explode into a cloud of corundum dust when it got within a foot of me. It left the Sidhe warrior collapsed on the ground with what appeared to be severe burns along with a very badly charred hand.
“Did you have to be so rude?” Morgana asked.
“I didn’t want him trying anything clever.”
“He’s a Fae warrior facing a human. Clever wouldn’t enter into it.”
“I prefer not to take chances,” I replied with a grin.
“Men!” muttered Morgana and led the way into the amphitheatre.
The Lords and Ladies of the court ostentatiously ignored us as we moved towards a raised dais where I presumed Oberon sat. At a certain distance, which to an untrained eye would have looked totally random but simply felt right to us, we stopped and simply waited.
It didn’t take long; the presence of Mages couldn’t be ignored for too long in a Fae court.
“Who seeks audience with Oberon, High King of the dark Fae, undying monarch and joint liege of the Sidhe, ruler of Elphame, Annwn, Avalon, Afallach, Emain Ablach, Brú na Bóinne, Cnoc Meadha, Cnoc na Teamhrach, Inis Vitrin, Mag Mell, Niðavellir and Rathcroghan,” came the stentorian tones of what I presumed was some sort of seneschal.
This was my cue; it wouldn’t do for Morgana to introduce herself.
“Lady Morgana, last Chatelaine of Duntagell, Elder of Dál Riata, forsworn of England and the Isles, keeper of the Spear of Longinus and speaker for the Council of the Wise,” I boomed out in return.
“A human,” came the contemptuous reply.
“Aye!” I mocked. “A human Mage of the many Earths from whence you were driven out, your tails between your legs!”
The seneschal reached for his weapon.
“Go ahead, little Elf,” I said coldly. “The last one to try lies outside this court, his body ruined.”
The court murmured in shock at my language, but at least I had their attention.
“You may address us, Lady Morgana,” said a figure seated on the Dias.
“Your Majesty,” Morgana replied. “It has come to our attention that once again Fae are breaching the Tara Accords and interfering in the lands of the Council of the Wise. Specifically, Poland and certain Nazi camps there.”
“You have proof?” Oberon stated mildly.
“Yes. Your people are not as subtle as they would like to think.”
She held up a crystal and a projection started showing a room filled with terrified naked people packed almost shoulder to shoulder, men, women and children. Above them was what appeared to be pipework for a shower system. Just as a hatch opened above them and some pellets were dropped into what appeared to be a bucket of some liquid which rapidly produced a murky vapour several portals opened and Fae stepped through to grab unwilling victims before the pandemonium in the room reached a crescendo leaving only a pyramid of twisted bodies.
The Unseelie court stirred a little, seeing man’s inhumanity to man gives them a sense of superiority, though their own tales of betrayal and murder far surpass our own.
“Why should we care for the opinions of prey?” came a voice from the far side of the court.
“Do you want us to take this world too?” I asked him. Recognising him from the projection and taking note of the stark hate in his eyes.
“Who might you be, mortal, to insult the undying Fae?” he spat at me. “I challenge this… guronět to face me in a contest of will! I have that right.”
I glanced at Morgana.
“Be careful, John,” was all she said, knowing this was all part of an elaborate ruse to distract from the mission.
I shrugged off the greatcoat; the challenge now was to be a battle of will, magic rather than physical prowess.
I gazed at my challenger, wondering what he intended. There was a flickering to my right and a creature formed and leapt at me, impossibly fast, all fangs and claws and very deadly if I chose to believe it was. You can simply will these creatures out of existence if you want; the clever if harder way is to take it over and send it right back at its creator which is what I did. The Fae had to dodge to one side sprawling in the dirt as the creature lunged for him before he could will it out of existence. I raised an eyebrow quizzically at him, mocking his ineptitude. Illusion and mental dominance are where the Sidhe have always thought themselves to rule supreme. I’d just kicked over the anthill of their pride.
Flames roared up around me, just another illusion, and deadly enough, again if you believed it was real. I took hold of the illusion and drew the flames into my hands, compressing them into a ball and then threw it towards the Fae. He caught it in his hands laughing at my ineptitude until he realised he couldn’t let go and that the flames were spreading and very much real. I still have the occasional nightmare of that Fae, as the flames consumed him and the seemingly endless screams, though I console myself by knowing his victims were avenged.
There was a stunned silence in the court, before Oberon’s voice boomed out. “This session is closed!” The Fae vanished abruptly, leaving only Morgana, myself and Oberon.
“Your cub has teeth,” Oberon said to Morgana. “I can’t thank you enough for removing D’zillath’s faction from power though, every hundred years or so the young fools try to relive the ‘glory’ of our past without understanding why we lost. Your cub just gave them the stark answer, you’re better at magic than they ever will be.”
“Most of them,” Morgana said, looking quizzically at Oberon.
“Well, yes,” He said showing his teeth in what might have been mistaken as a smile. “But if I put them down it just breeds resentment, if you put them down it scares them shitless.”
“So these raids will stop?”
“Yes. They wouldn’t dare now and I have a stick to beat them with as well.”
“Always games within games,” stated Morgana.
“It’s all they have left. We’re a dying race, not enough born to replace our losses, though you should beware the return of Queen Oonagh who’ll lead us in our last war with mankind. Uniting both courts and leading us to our destruction.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“Unless you can figure out a way to get the Fae to start breeding again then, yes, it does,” stated Oberon. “They’d rather play stupid mind games and petty rule breaking, than keep our species alive.”
“Nothing stopping you and Titania setting an example,” I said.
“Other than Titania,” he replied.
“We should go,” said Morgana. “There’s nothing left for us here.”
“See you in about 100 years’ time,” said Oberon. “When we’ll have to go through the whole ghastly business again.”
We walked out of the court in silence to where the portal had been. There was no sign of Sidhe anywhere, ignoring us probably and pretending the events of the last hour had never happened.
“Have you done this before?” I asked.
“Yes,” she sighed. “Though it's the first time Oberon has come flat out and stated the real issue.”
“They have an entire world to expand into, yet obsess about ours,” I murmured.
“They have no-one to dominate here save themselves. It's warped their civilisation into one of perpetual blood feud and petty spite,” Morgana stated. “Not that we don't have our own moments. You did well today, though you still need to work on your control.”
“Thank you, my Mage,” I replied formally. Morgana rarely praised, so any compliment you got, you knew you'd earned it.
“You also need to get your body chemistry and biology under stringent control, John. I can't have my journeyman looking much older than I am,” she said with a smile.
She was referring to the fact that competent Mages can 'force' their bodies to remain static at any age they choose, or indeed alter them to suit. Not a glamour illusion, but actual ageing control.
Morgana herself looked to be late twenties, early thirties, I was now in my mid-forties and looked it, she was right though, I needed to learn. It wouldn't suit her purposes for me to die of old age before my training had run its course.
I spent the next two years in a gruelling extended study period, learning the disciplines involved in controlling every aspect of my body from hair growth to cell regeneration. It's something you have to be careful with, get it wrong, it will kill you, get it right, you will live more or less forever, assuming someone or something doesn't kill you.
I finally set my body clock at 25, becoming Morgana's young assistant again. It felt and still does feel good. You never realise just how many aches and pains your body picks up as you grow older unless you turn back the clock. It even rejuvenated my sex drive, though again that's an area where Mages in Council territory have to be careful. Our control of magic will allow us to mentally dominate, should we choose to, any normal human. We can fool them into seeing us as someone else i.e. their partner, or even just switch off their inhibitions and cautions to bed them and have the power to simply make them forget. We are also, once we have control over our own biology, completely immune to any disease and have control over our own fertility. It's almost a license to run riot in promiscuous behaviour, save only that part of the training we go through involves a moral code which tries to prevent a Mage going down the paths of self-indulgence and debauchery. If you see people as objects, then you're no better than those we oppose, it was as simple as that. Not that Morgana didn't insist that I deal with my urges (no, not with her, there's this whole boss/servant training thing in the way, plus if Morgana has a love life it's news to me). She just suggested I used prostitutes at least until I found someone in the magical community to become my sexual partner, as becoming involved with a mundane considering our long lives was a non-starter. At the moment though I was simply too focussed on my studies to even realise there were several journeywomen working for my Section or in the Department who might be interested. Nor with prostitutes was I allowed to use my powers to get something for nothing, Morgana made sure that I paid the going rate in any transaction and also made sure that I made sure the woman got the money, no one else. She doesn't like pimps at all.
Economically, the magical world is a bit of a powerhouse, owning shares in a lot of profitable companies along with various properties. After all you can take the long-term view with regard to investments when you know you’ll actually still be young and healthy to take advantage of them so real world money was never an issue. As for finding a suitable magical person as a sex partner that was unlikely until either I finished my training or actually took a bit of notice of what was going on around me as quite a few journeywomen were there, but there's none so blind etc. Other Mages didn't tend to be interested in someone not trained and with outstanding obligations to their Master. Yes, it was complex, but it worked. Yes, I was occasionally tempted, but that's life and Morgana would have come down severely on me to say the least had I strayed from the code of not using our magical powers on mundanes, save only in specific circumstances.
It was very late in 1946 that Morgana and I went off to the Dead Sea region of the British Mandate of Palestine. Seems some locals had found a cave of artefacts and unknowingly triggered an object of power, according to our Seer group. Normally Mages avoid the Middle East. It’s just too unstable and the religious problems and its culture are generally not conducive to any Mage’s welfare. If we detect any emergent Mages, we tend to snatch them out of the area as soon as we can, though there are any number of cases of emergents being killed for ‘witchcraft’ or being a spawn of Satan, along with a deeply unsatisfactory number of them simply dying in the process.
I was deeply uncomfortable. I’d yet to learn the trick of controlling my own temperature, also of creating some sort of ultra violet shield from the rays of the sun. Morgana was no help either, she said the discomfort would enable my growth in such areas (she was right, but it was bloody uncomfortable nevertheless). She did ensure that my fluid levels were kept topped up and she got rid of the agonising sunburn I picked up on the tips of my ears. Morgana herself looked cool, calm and collected whilst I sweated buckets as we probed the area around Khirbet Qumran about two kilometres west of the shore of the Dead Sea.
“I can’t detect anything my Mage,” I sighed after we’d crisscrossed the area several times.
“Neither can I, John. Which suggests the object is well shielded,” she replied.
“Well, that spearhead isn’t detectable by me either,” I snorted, before having a coughing fit due to the dust.
“Are you sure?” she asked, producing it from thin air.
“I can detect the spearhead, just not the power,” I shrugged.
“Well, you are rather new at this, despite the training you did as an apprentice,” she said thoughtfully as the object vanished again.
“Only another eighty-nine years to go,” I chuckled, seeing her answering smile.
“You’ll get there and there are a few things you’ll discover on the way, but I’m not going to spoil the surprises,” she replied. “Now, put your hat back on and let’s continue the search.”
Two days later and terribly frustrated, we finally got a break when we spotted a group of young Bedouin shepherds rooting around a cave mouth near the top of a steep slope.
“Is it in there?” I asked.
“No, but it’s close,” Morgana confirmed as we waited for the shepherds to move on.
“I can only detect a lot of pottery and scrolls,” I shrugged.
“Well, it’s unlikely to be one of them, but if it’s been shaped by a Higher Power, it could be anything,” Morgana replied. “So don’t rule it out.”
“Yes, my Mage,” I nodded.
Soon enough it was night and we could approach the cave by the simple task of levitating ourselves up to it under the cover of dark.
“Lot of crockery,” I commented, looking around at the jars, some with scrolls strewn about the cave.
“All no doubt will be of value to archaeologists at some stage,” Morgana nodded. “But not what we’re here for.”
“I’m picking up a few magical creatures of some type,” I added.
“Amphisbaenae,” Morgana confirmed after a quick scan. “A sort of worm lizard, you’ll note the tail looks like it’s got a head on it.”
“Weird looking, but not intelligent?” I asked.
“No, just able to cast a glamour to hide itself from its enemies,” Morgana nodded.
“It has enemies?” I asked somewhat bemusedly.
“Ah, right. That sort of enemy,” I sighed.
“There are other caves I can detect. Let’s look at them,” Morgana stated.
“Yes, my Mage,” I agreed as we floated out of the cave in the direction of the area Morgana had indicated.
There were far fewer artefacts in the second cave and we chose not to disturb any, though Morgana did scan them all to ensure there was nothing controversial to be found. At that time though, I hadn’t a clue as to what Morgana considered controversial, but it seemed that basically it boiled down to any mention of the Sidhe and their interactions with humanity as fact, rather than as myth. She was also looking for ‘visitations’ by other Earths too, if only to see what they had been up to. All this she would hand on to the mysterious Council who kept the majority of Mages on the planet safe and, if necessary, in line.
“It’s got to be here somewhere,” Morgana sighed after we’d trawled through the twelfth cave in the area, again finding nothing in the way of an object of power. Though I’d noted that most of the fragments we’d found had traces of power, or the effects of power upon them, slowly decaying away.
“Don’t recognise the power used here,” I mused.
“Shamanism. It’s partly theurgical, which is why it seems odd to you,” Morgana explained. “There was a major shift in the way magic was used about two thousand years ago when the religions… matured, for want of a better word, and Mages developed along a separate path. There were still a few around though and they’d often imbue objects with power to prevent decay, or, in the case of the Romans with their standards, to protect against illusion and fear.”
“Never met a Theurgist, so their power wouldn’t be known to me,” I shrugged.
“I try to keep away from them myself. Some in the monotheistic religions are quite intolerant of Mages,” Morgana replied.
“I’ll add them to my list of things to avoid, along with were-wolves and Coalition Mages,” I said with a chuckle.
“The list will get shorter as you gain more experience,” she replied with a smile.
“Well, I’m supposed to have nothing but time now,” I mused.
“Unless something kills you,” she replied with a grin.
“Well, so far only Merlin has come close… other than you in your training regime, my Mage.”
“You won’t learn unless you know the consequence of failure, though we’re past the stage where you need constant supervision.”
“I was just relieved to get past the setting fire to myself constantly bit.”
“I preferred it to the setting fire to my house stage,” she laughed. “You were quite the pyromaniac, John.”
“Seems so easy now, controlling the energy stream for the simple things, yet at the time I was quite lethal, wasn’t I?”
“All apprentices go through it, though before the Council guidance it also used to kill a good few off.”
“How did you manage, my Mage? Particularly in regards to the fact that Merlin refused to train you.”
“Damned carefully, John. I was nowhere near as adept as you were at the end of your apprenticeship by the time Simon… my master, found me,” she replied. “I did have a small talent for healing, which helped though. Spent the first five years learning longevity and age control before I started any sort of regular training.”
“That must have been tough,” I said thoughtfully, knowing how difficult my training had been on the subject of age control.
“It was, though it was a lot more rough and ready in those days; a lot more fine-tuning goes into it now,” she replied.
“Rough and ready?”
“We could more or less hit the decade, not the year,” she replied with a wry smile. “Also, too young and you weren’t taken seriously.”
“And women not seriously at all?”
“Mundane women for the most part, yes. Though female Mages usually managed fine. Mostly we posed as nobility.”
“How did you fight off suitors?” I asked out of curiosity. “Unmarried landowning women being a prime target… I’d guess.”
“Correct, but only if they thought we were unmarried,” Morgana chuckled. “I could easily get friends to pose as a husband, or even just fool their minds. However, this isn’t getting anything done. I can detect a few more caves, though they’re sealed off but we might as well look into them.”
“Yes, my Mage,” I replied as we set off.
We hit the jackpot with the next cave, the entrance had been deliberately sealed and it contained a crudely carved altar upon which a metallic codex had been placed.
“Do not, whatever you do, touch that thing,” Morgana declared.
“Yes, my Mage,” I replied, attempting to study it via the array of senses available to me.
“Hmmm, tricky,” Morgana murmured after a number of minutes had gone by.
“Any ideas?” I asked.
“It’s an object of power,” she said with a chortle and a glance at me.
“Ha ha,” I replied. “I meant, what does it do?”
“No idea… yet.”
“Is there some sort of manual of operation on these things?”
“Not that I know of,” she said with a grin.
“How does the spear work?”
“You just carry it at the front of an army… I think,” she shrugged.
“Does anyone know how they work?”
“Theurgists and Thaumaturgists and we don’t ask them unless we absolutely have to,” she replied with a frown.
“Well, I can see the power, but I can’t sense it,” I shrugged.
“That’s pretty standard too. The tricky bit is knowing if you can handle it. In the case of a good few of them only someone of the same faith can,” Morgana admitted.
“I have a rucksack and a walking staff; I can try and scoop it,” I suggested.
“It might come to that, but first I’m going to try and read it,” Morgana replied, climbing gingerly onto the altar.
“Can’t you float?” I asked.
“Do you think I didn’t try?” she replied with a quirk of her lips.
“Dumb question, sorry, my Mage,” I chuckled ruefully.
“No such thing as a dumb question,” she replied with a grin.
“But that one tested the limits,” I finished her quote with an answering grin.
“Hmmm, an apocryphal Gospel,” she mused after reading the top layer.
“One that didn’t make it into the top twenty-seven?”
“Clearly,” she said thoughtfully.
“Anyone we know?”
“Judas Thaddeus. He’s still alive, last I checked so we’d better leave this well alone,” Morgana replied, climbing carefully down.
“Thaddeus from the Bible is still alive?”
Well, it’s a bit obvious, John,” she laughed. “He hasn’t died yet.”
“Theurgists are like Mages. They can be killed, but they don’t die,” Morgana patiently explained.
“We’ll have to send out for help. Can’t have it falling into the hands of the Coalition… assuming they noticed, or worse, a mundane archaeological dig,” she sighed.
“Er, my Mage?” I questioned.
“Um, how do we get out of here? Some of my powers don’t appear to work anymore.”
“I can still see OK. Looks like it affects anything outside my body,” I added after a couple of seconds.
“It looks like it’s an effect of the object, but I doubt that’s what it’s designed for,” Morgana replied after a few seconds.
“Wonder what the range is?” I mused.
“Try around the edges of the cave, see if you can get anything to work,” Morgana replied as she sat herself down at the base of the altar, deep in thought.
“Here,” I finally said, my hand deep in a crack.
“Try sonic waves to break down some of the substrate,” Morgana suggested.
“Yes, my Mage,” I replied and focussed my power around the tips of my fingers.
“Anything?” she asked, a little amused by the sight of me now covered in fine dust.
“Bigger hole,” I replied, before sneezing.
“Can you direct the vibrations inward?” she asked.
“I think so.”
“Try to widen the arc of the vibrations too,” she suggested.
“Enough for us to crawl through,” she replied.
“Good, I’ll take over if you can’t do it, but give it a go. It will be good practice for you,” she encouraged.
That statement very much described my early apprenticeship and journeymanship with Morgana. She always allowed me to have a try at any task first in order to learn about my abilities and limitations for further study and practice later. I’ve absolutely no doubt she was ready to step in and deal with the Sidhe who had challenged me in my previous adventure on Tír na nÓg, but chose to wait and see just how well (or badly) I was going to do. Things changed naturally in later years as I grew more experienced, but I always knew that I had back-up available if I needed it.
Sweat was now pouring off my brow and my fingertips felt cooked as I used them to focus a wave of sonic emanations back towards the wider cave until finally the rock crumbled to the side of me in a heap of choking dust.
Fortunately we were able to filter the air passing into our lungs and the inconvenience was minor as Morgana stepped forward and ducked down to examine the hole.
“Good enough,” she nodded when she crawled back out.
“My fingers are numb,” I commented, looking at them carefully.
“Well, heal them, dummy,” she chuckled.
“I er… can’t feel them to heal them,” I replied a little shamefaced.
“Ah, right. I’ll sort it in a minute,” she replied with a wry smile, crawling back into the hole I’d made.
I’m not sure what she did next as I was inside the effect and she was outside, but it involved a lot of extreme heat and enough supersonic vibrations to set my teeth on edge, even though I was shielded by the rock face.
“OK, John, come on in,” she called out.
I crawled into a beautifully wrought domed chamber and felt the effect of the object cease to affect me.
“Nice,” I murmured as she examined my hand and tutted.
“You burnt out the nerve endings,” she commented.
“Sorry, my Mage. I wasn’t too sure of the process and didn’t want to fail you,” I replied.
“Next time monitor your health and keep the focal point away from your fingertips,” she advised as my senses were restored by a bit of mental effort on her part.
“Yes, my Mage,” I replied. “What now?”
“Well, now we have an escape chamber and I’ve informed the office where we are and what we’ve found. We’ll go back to studying the object,” she replied.
“Is that wise?” I asked.
“Don’t know, but we… the Council that is, have an obligation to investigate any object of power we run across,” Morgana explained.
“Obligation to whom?”
“Ourselves I think,” she chuckled. “First time I’ve ever been asked that.”
We both went back to the cave with the codex in it and Morgana approached it carefully, reaching out and flipping over a page to read. Nothing immediate happened and I went back in the new chamber to see if anything had altered there.
“Field has expanded to over half the new chamber, my Mage,” I called through.
“Hold on, flipping it back,” she replied.
“Yep, gone back to where it was,” I told her.
“Hmmm, wonder if it just doubles or grows exponentially.”
“How many pages in the codex?”
“If it’s linear, the effect would cover the Earth easily,” I said thoughtfully.
“Hmmm, think I’ll stop there.”
“Might be wise,” I replied with a laugh.
“Wonder why the Higher Powers would need a magic blocker,” I mused.
“Speculate all you like, but I wouldn’t ask one,” she replied.
“Yes, that’s in the ‘bumper book of things not to try’ too.”
“I tend to think of them as guidelines.”
I simply raised an eyebrow.
“For you at the moment, they’re absolutes,” she added.
“Yes, my Mage,” I replied, seeing her answering grin.
“Well, we daren’t open it. I’m loath to move it, so we’ll have to settle for some sort of screening ward coupled with an aversion module coupled to its cycle,” Morgana announced.
“Yes, my Mage,” I replied in lieu of nothing else to say.
“Well, off you go. Describe how you’d do it… and be precise, it’s not something you want to get wrong,” Morgana ordered.
This was typical Morgana, taking me right out of my comfort zone into coming up with a complex (for me at this time) spell and then getting ready to critique me on it.
Grabbing my notepad from out of my rucksack, I thought for about a minute and then started writing out a series of glyphs and sigils incorporating what Morgana had requested. I then spent a little time rearranging them on the paper using my mind until I came up with a solution.
“Not bad,” Morgana said when she looked at it. “Have you considered the parallax options when viewing it?”
“No, my Mage,” I sighed, plucking the drawings from the page and rearranging them in a 3D form in mid-air.
“See the problem?” she asked.
I rotated the symbols several times from several angles until I spotted the flaw in my drawing.
“Ah, someone could tunnel upwards through the zone, or indeed dig down,” I sighed and added another glyph to the combination to spread the effect horizontally and vertically.
“Always remember there’s more than one degree of access,” Morgana chided me mildly.
“Yes, my Mage,” I replied.
“Other than that, good work. You formed a pretty state of the art screening ward and aversion combination,” she nodded.
“Thank you, my Mage,” I acknowledged.
“When we get back, I’ll go over the variations and not so state of the art combinations that can be used and you might run across if dealing with a recalcitrant Mage in the field,” she added.
“I doubt it would keep a Mage out, my Mage,” I mused.
“They have to know it’s there,” she explained. “The aversion ward is to keep mundanes away.”
“Why not just contact a Theurgist?”
‘We don’t know who it’s meant for and although I believe the Higher Powers always get their way, I’d rather not start a squabble amongst a bunch of prima-donnas capable of throwing the power of God around without consequence to themselves,” she replied.
“There must be some good guys amongst them?” I questioned.
“Definitely. I just have no way to get in touch with them or have the time to waste finding them and I’m not traipsing up to the Vatican on the off chance that one of the milder ones is in residence that day,” she answered.
“Yep,” I nodded, seeing her point.
“Anyway, we’ve done what we can, let’s go back to the office and you can write up the report for me,” she stated with a smile at my falling face.
Yes, my Mage,” I sighed as we went into the area she’d carved out and ported back to the office.
As soon as the two Mages had gone, the shadows in the cave caused by the illumination of the object seemed to coalesce into first the shape and then the form of two men.
“Glad we didn’t have to step in,” one said.
“Morgana is smart enough to not try to pick it up, merely read it,” the other shrugged.
“They soon saw the folly of that too,” the first chuckled. “Smart move on extending that crack so they could get out by their own devices.”
“Yes, it’s too soon for me and Morgana to meet,” the second nodded. “Plus, I don’t like fiddling with memories, you know that, Thad.”
“You have it bad my friend,” the one called Thad nodded.
“Yes, destiny is a bit of a bugger in the timing,” the second said with a mild smile.
“True, but it won’t be long now, Jude,” Thad replied. “Now just let me switch this silly thing off and we can sort out the coming incident about to happen up North when it declares independence in the way our Lord wants.”
“You got it, my friend,” Jude chuckled as they went to work.