A novel by David Holmes
Edited by David Harper
Having been alerted by allies to a hostile culture the Council of the Wise has decided to take a look as to whether or not this culture is a threat. A team is being assembled and journeyman Mage John asked to go as aide to Mage Roxanne. The threat turns out to be very real, and, rather than just observe, the Mages and their allies are drawn into the conflict against a foe whose numbers dwarf humanity.
Dedicated to Jonathan and Taly, Son and Daughter-in-law respectively.
Along with those who encouraged me to write a sequel
Around a large table in what was obviously a meeting room sat a disparate collection of Beings. Beings related in some form or other to the Earth human woman who sat at the nominal head. In spite of their apparent youth (mostly less than 30 years of age) of most of them, each of those present exuded an air of competence and command. There was no one else present, no secretaries nor servants, these Beings had no need of such. Very obviously a highly secret discussion was in progress.
“Well, we’re about as ready as we can get, I think,” the tall redhead announced to the assembled team leaders in front of her. “We just need to decide on what we can do if we get caught.”
“Agreed, Mage Roxanne. Galadriel’s notes advise extreme caution and she’s from an extremely cautious race to begin with,” stated one of the young-appearing men.
“Yes, the Yr’ch cannot do magic; however, they can detect it, locate it and deal with it via their technology, Kordanta,” the woman addressed as Roxanne replied. “John’s gift looks good on you by the way,” she added.
“Feels good too, never ever thought to be in my twenties again.”
“Freya approached Morgana for you?”
“Yes, now all I need to do is find a woman like her.”
“Good luck with that,” Roxanne giggled.
“Can the Seer we have get us in?” came a question from a dark-haired woman wearing what appeared to be a Feileadh Mòr or great plaited kilt.
“Seer Melanie believes she can, Sinnead. They do not appear to be aware of phasing shifts or a few other tricks we use.”
“That’s a relief; they appear to be highly expansive compared to even the Æsir. Fifteen worlds so far and population problems like you could not believe according to the Maraú-Uxuí.”
“Expansive yes, but only when they need to in order to control their population. Their… government makes Falias look like a paragon of freedom and tolerance.”
“Falias at least have stopped the Tuathans from making merry in the affairs of other worlds. The Yr’ch invaded at least one of the worlds they hold and use the inhabitants… or what’s left of them, as slaves,” Sinnead grimaced.
“Our orders are to observe, our various Seiðkonur Councils and governments will make decisions,” a middle-aged man dressed in loose-fitting clothing patterned randomly in severely contrasting colours stated.
“Yes, Harmel, but this is to plan a ‘go to hell’ plan,” Roxanne replied.
“Yes, I understand, but I’m hoping we won’t need one.”
“Better to have one and not need it…”
“Than to need one and not have it. Yes, I understand, Roxanne. As does Seiðkonur Snorrison.”
“Which is why we have the Mazdani with us as shock troops just in case we need a quick get-away.”
“My people are interested as to how we’ll manage against the Yr’ch. They appear to be physically impressive,” stated the well-muscled humanoid with a very long face and mottled hairy exterior.
“Well, if it goes to hell, you’ll find out, Tu’tar.”
“Whilst it is tempting, we had best hope not as they do outnumber us by a fair margin,” Tu’tar replied with a rumbling laugh.
“280 billion of them at the last count, though they also do fight… or rather squabble amongst themselves somewhat.”
“That’s where I believe we can activate a plan of some sort. Distraction rather than confrontation is the key here,” stated a young female humanoid with dark skin and pointed mobile ears.
“Agreed, Teali. It must also direct their attention away from our cluster of Earths.”
“It is the opinion of my sisters that their civilisation will implode long before they reach us. However, that implies that they will act in a manner in which we expect,” a young-looking blonde woman stated.
“We cannot rely on should haves, might have beens and probably wills, Melanie.”
“Agreed Roxanne, my sister Seers are working on a solution to this, based upon them reaching us in one form or another.”
“For that we have the Journeyman Mage John option, Melanie.”
“What option is that?” she asked confused.
“He mixes up a batch of Mages from the special forces of all nations in time for us to train them and set them after the Yr’chs to buy us more time to do it to an army.”
“Oh… that option.”
“Yes, so inform your sisters to put their efforts on the back burner and come up with a solution for the here and now, please. Not saying we won’t need it, but there are potential solutions needed before the enemy is at the gate.”
“Of course, Roxanne.”
“Rakona of Loegria has confirmed that their special forces will be ready,” a slim intense young-looking woman added.
“That’s good, Brianna. Their tech isn’t as advanced as the Yr’ch… hell, let’s just call them Orcs, it’s easier to pronounce and they do look like them, a bit… but, it’s better than anything we have.”
“We were interested to learn of Loegria,” Teali nodded. “However, we understand why you won’t tell us where or how.”
“The Council… well, my Council, felt that the members of this exploratory group needed to know and that a level of trust has been built up enough to permit that.”
“Plus it would be difficult to hide what they are in this expedition,” a tall alien-looking pale-skinned male with delicate pointed ears stated.
“That’s true, Talshish.”
“You have our word of honour that our governments will not be informed,” Kordanta stated.
“Thank you, Kordanta,” Roxanne replied, seeing the nods off all the leaders assembled. “Now, back to business.”
Four years have passed since the victory at Myrkálfar and the peace in the Mage community had allowed us all to recuperate and heal. Our lives were greatly changed as now we had the laughter of children in our lives, yet the nagging feeling for us all was that this was but a lull in the tempo of life in general and new dangers awaited for us.
“This really sounds as if it could be dangerous, John,” Róisín stated as we went over the plans to essentially spy on the Yr’ch or Orcs as most Mages in the know were calling them.
“I know, my love. Roxanne is being as paranoid as possible, but the whole matter hinges on an assumption that they won’t be able to detect us.”
“They didn’t detect the Maraú-Uxuí.”
“That we know of.”
“That’s true, John,” she sighed.
“I did ask Jude if we were risking things,” I replied, referring to my Mage Morgana’s husband aka Judas Iscariot (don’t ask it’s a long story and things are never quite as they seem in the magical world).
“What did he say?”
“Apparently it’s time we had a look…”
“Not very helpful, but succinct I suppose.”
“Yes, Morgana believes we should go as well.”
“We being you and Brianna.”
“Yes, my love. You can’t because of Mark, and Morgana can’t because of Elaine and Mariamene and Abi because she’s temporarily filling in for Jemima on the circle of Seers in the London bureau whilst Jemima looks after Joshua.”
“Yes, Arch is going along as well, Jemima insisted. Why Mariamene? I never got that and it never seemed the right time to ask when we saw them.”
“Name of Jude’s daughter.”
“Yes, he loved her, but was forced to let her and the rest of his family go when he took on his great task.”
“Whatever that is…”
“Heh, true. Anyway, she married one of the disciples and was happy, he told me.”
“Nice of Morgana to think of that.”
“She loves him and he loves her; they do nice things for each other.”
“That’s true; you do lots of nice things for me as well.”
“And vice versa.”
“We all appreciate it,” Róisín replied with a smile.
“It’s easy for me. You’re all so lovely in your own way… with the possible exception of Jukar on occasions.”
“It’s just attention seeking with her, plus she likes the making up bit.”
“I know, but occasionally her timing sucks,” I chuckled.
“That’s true; Imelda has had to step in a few times to tell her to calm down.”
“I’ll miss you all.”
“We’ll miss you too, just be back for Imelda’s delivery of your daughter.”
“If it’s humanly possible…”
“I know, John; just try for once to be careful.”
At this point we were joined by Imelda and Jukar who had been going over offensive spells, Jukar looking a little singed and bruised from her training.
“My Ladies,” I greeted them as we embraced.
“Have you got time to give Jukar a fencing lesson, John?” Imelda asked, her pregnancy not showing yet.
“Of course, my love. Do you want to heal her first?”
“No, she needs to learn that defending yourself won’t always happen when you’re at your best,” Imelda said flatly and I guessed Jukar had managed to irritate her again in some manner.
“Very well. With me please, my Lady Jukar.”
Róisín and Imelda sat and immediately went into ‘conference’ mode as they began an intense conversation. Jukar followed me down to the Null circle where we practised our fencing and hand to hand combat.
“I… I didn’t mean to upset her,” Jukar stammered out as we pulled on the padding and face masks we now had to wear (well, Jukar really) to prevent injury to each other.
“I used to irritate Morgana all the time when I was an apprentice, still do occasionally, even now,” I said with a wry smile.
“Yes, but you never told her she should give up sex to protect her child.”
“Jeez Jukar! Imelda’s a medic Mage. And with regards to what Morgana would have done to me if I’d said the same, I think you got off lightly.”
“It’s what women are advised to do on Finias.”
“Sex doesn’t hurt an unborn child, Jukar, not even late in confinement… so long as a little care is taken,” I sighed.
“She thought I was trying to get more time with you… before you go.”
“I never interfere with your… roster, or whatever it is you use. You might consider doing the same.”
“Yes, John, I realise that now and it was silly of me to think my upbringing taught me what was best. I really was just thinking of what might be best for the unborn girl, but… well I was just wondering if, you know… you’d at least make the pain go away.”
“Do it yourself.”
“I… I don’t know how.”
“What? You sorted out the sex thing and your fertility and never took it to the next step?”
“I… er, no.”
“OK. I may get into trouble for this, but use your mind to focus on your ovaries and note their condition and how they are supposed to be. Next look at the bruise on your face with your mind and see how the cell structure is broken and your body’s natural repairs are taking place.”
“Ok, I can see that.”
“Right, use the same type of energy on your face as you use on your ovaries to accelerate the healing process in your face.”
“Oh my,” Jukar said wonderingly as the bruise on her face faded after about five minutes of effort. “Not as quick as you do it though.”
“Imelda’s even faster. Warning though, only do it on yourself. Your body regulates itself pretty well. Do not under any circumstances try to heal others until Imelda says you can. It’s a lot more complex than you’d believe and if you don’t know what you’re doing you can kill the one you’re trying to heal… trust me.”
“I will and thank you, John.”
“OK, now we’ll go with rapiers and see if you can keep the healing going whilst you try to prevent me landing a blow on you.”
We went at it hammer and tongs for a while. I, often correcting her stance and showing the correct parry, Jukar as ever not really getting that close, but definitely improving.
“Morgana’s agreed to come over and continue your lessons whilst I’m away with Roxanne and Kate,” I informed Jukar as we walked back to the deck where I could sense Róisín, Abi and Imelda.
“Oh, that’s great. Thank you, my love.”
“Been teaching the ‘brat’ bad habits, John?” Imelda asked with a sly grin using my nickname for Jukar in her annoying mode.
“She was ready for self-healing, I just added to your training, my love,” I replied with a grin.
“Yes, we’d have got around to it this year,” Imelda nodded. “Doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven her though.”
“She meant no harm, she was just thinking of you from the basis of her upbringing.”
“I’m not giving up making love with you just because I’m pregnant!”
“Well, you’ll have to once I’m gone,” I chuckled.
“I know, my Lady,” I replied calmly. “However, Jukar was only going by the advice in the femme chiffré that’s drilled into the heads of Tuathan women from an early age, not trying to pull a fast one.”
“Humph! Well, I suppose I can forgive her… just as soon as you and her have showered,” she muttered as Jukar scampered away to clean up.
“Any updates, Abi?”
“Still debating sending a second Seer for a ‘go to hell’ plan,” she shrugged.
“Why don’t they ask the Æsir or Craebh Ruadh for one of theirs?”
“Because…” Abi’s reply petered out.
“Because that would be common sense and Mages are just as susceptible to its absence as mundanes are,” I chuckled. “Even Seers.”
“Strangely enough the gestalt via Seer Melanie has just put that proposal forward,” Abi giggled.
“Oh, I’m sure they’d considered it before this.”
“Of course, my love,” Abi lied unconvincingly with a broad grin.
“That’s good,” I chuckled. “Feels odd being out of the loop on this even though I have an invite.”
“We keep you up to date as much as we can, John,” Róisín replied.
“I know, my love, but there are things you can’t inform me of too, Council seal and all that.”
“Roxanne offered you a job back at her Bureau.”
“Things are too quiet. Why do you think she engineered her selection to lead this expedition?”
“No more unrighteous left to smite,” giggled Abi.
“Yes, we were too successful and dinosaurs like me are getting stir crazy.”
“Well, the only ones left causing trouble are the occasional Thaumaturges,” Róisín observed.
“I’m not suicidal, my love,” I replied with a grin that was matched by her own.
“Glad to hear it,” she giggled, before insisting that I showered.
Upon my return I found we had visitors in the shape of Morgana, Jude, Ketty and Niras along with their various broods who were all splashing around in the pool along with my son, Mark. No, they were in no danger, we all were very aware of their location and ‘doings’ at all times, even if occasionally we were worlds away.
“Greetings, my Mage,” I stated with a formal bow followed by hi and hello to the others.
“Just came over for the kids to socialise,” Morgana replied with a relaxed smile, the stress and grief having vanished from her face and stance in the four years since the bitter victory at Myrkálfar.
“Can’t think of anywhere better,” Jude added with a relaxed smile.
“Might be the last chance we’ll have… at least for me, for a while,” I nodded.
“Yes. You will be careful, won’t you, John?” Morgana requested quietly.
“Still don’t need to see why you’re going,” Ketty added. “Seems like poking a hornet’s nest with a stick to see if they are hostile.”
Morgana and Jude shared a look before Jude answered carefully. “This is one of those things that must be, it’s not a destiny, but the Yr’ch civilisation is headed down a path where they will destroy themselves and the planets they inhabit, totally.”
“Plus taking a lot of innocent races down with them,” Morgana added.
“So we’re a Heavenly intervention?” I asked somewhat bemused.
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” he replied.
“Don’t they have Thaumaturges?”
“Yes, they do, but that’s only part of the problem; we believe that a powerful Higher Power rules the roost.”
“Higher Power, singular?”
“Yes, singular,” he nodded, yet looked slightly evasive.
“You aren’t telling me everything, Jude, are you?”
“I can’t, John. I’m skating right on the edge here as it is.”
“Fair enough, my friend. We’ll do our bit and hope we can avoid casualties.”
“Just be careful.”
“I don’t see why God doesn’t just click his fingers and resolve it?” Niras questioned.
“God clicking his fingers is how universes start,” a straight-faced Jude replied.
“Haven’t a clue,” Jude answered back with a grin making us all smile.
“Take it the rule about Theurgists not being able to use their powers in another universe applies?” Róisín asked.
“Yes. Only Marcus, Thad and I can use our powers elsewhere and we’re tied up here for the moment.”
“Won’t bother asking what,” she giggled.
“Bit pointless,” Morgana replied with a smile. “He can’t even tell me half of what he gets up to.”
“I can tell you what I’m allowed, the consequences of crossing that line would be horrendous, my Lady,” Jude replied solemnly.
“I know, my love. I wasn’t complaining.”
There was a flicker and Arch, Jemima and their son, Joshua, joined us; Joshua immediately being ‘ported’ to the pool.
“My friends,” I greeted them informally as other greetings abounded.
“We detected the group… well, Jemima did and took advantage of your open invitation,” Arch chuckled as Abi ‘ported’ a few more chairs in and Jukar returned from her shower and study period on hearing the laughter.
“You’re more than welcome, Arch.”
“Jemima wanted a word anyway and it’s so much nicer in person.”
“I’ve been giving some thought to schooling, particularly of our children as well as those of other Mages and our friends,” she began.
“Yes,” Morgana replied. “I can see a few reasons why.”
“Well, Arch and I were watching one of the Harry Potter films and the idea for a school for the children of Mages as well as the friends of Mages occurred to me.”
“Hmmm,” Morgana nodded.
“I like it,” Ketty added. “Frankly having you prevent Rosheen, Olmer and Simen from talking about what they know when in public seems a little onerous for you.”
“It’s no bother,” Imelda replied for us all. “But yes, I can see the advantage of a school for the children of Mages and others who know of them.”
“Besides, Niras and I are going to ask to be made emergent when they grow, along with them.”
“You are?” Morgana exclaimed with a delighted smile on her face.
“Yes, we were hoping that the New Zealand community could take us on as a block booking.”
“If that’s what you all want, I can see no reason to say no,” Jemima replied thoughtfully as there was another flicker and Rowenna and Benjamin teleported in along with Callum and, a few seconds later, Arwen, making Callum flinch slightly.
Friendly greetings were shouted out and the school for Mage children was discussed at length as I put the barbecue on being helped by Callum and Arwen.
“Relax Callum, she’s chosen you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it or her,” I chuckled.
“But John, she’s only twelve!”
“Thirteen,” we both replied. “And don’t talk like that about Arwen as if she isn’t here,” I chided.
“Sorry,” he replied slightly red faced.
“You need to remember that this lovely Fae Princess is pretty much a Seer and they can see destinies in people. That means that she sees a future for you and her together,” I replied seriously. “Plus, she’s also my favourite Fae Princess by a long shot and I’d be extremely… put out with you if you hurt her. There could be shotguns involved and a lot of screams for mercy,” I finished blank-faced.
Arwen shyly held her hand out to Callum and after a few moments he took it causing her to giggle before snuggling into him.
“Thank you, Uncle John,” she murmured as they both sat down on a garden sofa and began to really talk for the first time.
“Just behave until the right time to misbehave,” I chuckled.
“When would that be?” Arwen asked wide eyed.
“Pretty much when you can assume your Dad won’t butcher Callum with a rusty blade for taking liberties with his daughter,” I replied, knowing William was in on the running joke with Callum and Arwen as well and would do no such thing.
“Oh… that might mean never,” Arwen replied mournfully, spoiling it slightly with a sly wink to me.
“Oh, he’d forgive you I’m sure,” I laughed.
“Yes, but not my Callum.”
“Probably not, not until he’s sure he’ll treat you with respect.”
“I… I will,” Callum gulped.
“Good, now talk and try to get past your presumptions of Arwen being a little girl.”
“Oh, thank goodness, at last,” came Rowenna’s voice in quiet but happy tones.
“Timing Rowenna,” I chuckled.
“True, Callum couldn’t see the wood for the trees,” she nodded. “Just came up to inform you Xi volunteered to be the head medic Mage on your expedition.”
“Not you, Rowenna? Oh…”
“John! I haven’t even told Benjamin yet!”
“My lips are sealed. And I don’t think they heard.”
‘I did. Callum didn’t, but my lips are sealed too, Mage Rowenna,’ came a mental message from Arwen.
“Seriously, John, you really need to put a sock in it at times,” Rowenna groused. “But it’s nice to have a suspicion confirmed. I’m assuming he or she is healthy?”
“Yes, all perfectly healthy and happy.”
“Good, now keep quiet about it and the sex of it until I at least tell Benjamin.”
“Yes, Rowenna, sorry.”
Rowenna remained to assist with the barbecue as Arwen and Callum were now clearly in a world of their own in a very long, and long overdue, conversation where his attitude was clearly being adjusted into viewing Arwen as a young lady, rather than a kid.
Soon the food was cooking to perfection and Jukar along with Róisín brought out salads and other items as our guests wandered up to partake of the feast. Quickly the word got around to our friends and several other guests came through the portal to join the fun and add to the party atmosphere. Simon, along with the Theurgist Hilda, Julia, Simone and Dorry came through as a group. Followed by Xi and Galina from Loegria. They were soon joined by Sofya and her husband Alexandros, along with Alex, their son, and Cixi, Paul and Zola, along with the Bureau chiefs and their partners and children.
Soon enough there was a shout of joy from Benjamin who swung Rowenna around in an excited embrace as she shared the news that she was with child. The couple receiving heartfelt congratulations from the others when they found out why Benjamin was so overjoyed.
“Oh, this is so wonderful, John,” Dorry said to me during a quieter period.
“The spontaneous ones usually are.”
“Pierre sends his apologies, but he and Hengist are busy investigating a potential breach of the Accords in Lyon.”
“Nothing serious I hope?”
“No, my sisters tracked a possible illegal mind-read and needed feet on the ground to check.”
“Might just be a Mage getting careless or trying to find out who knocked their plants over,” I chuckled.
“More than likely,” she giggled.
“Verbal reprimand, kept on record for five years,” I nodded. “How the mighty have fallen.”
“It might be a lot quieter, John, but considering what the Coalition and the Daoine Sidhe were up to, it’s definitely preferable.”
“Can’t deny that. Which is why we were inundated with requests to go on this expedition.”
“Yes, the quiet life is definitely not for some,” she agreed as Mage Zola approached.
“We have a couple of candidates for you to assist, John. Before you go gallivanting off to see the Orcs,” she stated after the informal greetings.
“It’ll be a pleasure, Zola.”
“We’ll have things set up for this Friday.”
“I’ll be there.”
“Oh, and try not to get yourself killed on this expedition either. The Seers still aren’t ready to try an emergence on their own and appear to be quite some way off.”
“This is true,” Dorry confirmed. “Though I believe we are making progress.”
“So Abi told me,” Zola nodded.
“At least another fifteen years’ worth of study I’m afraid.”
“It is what it is,” Zola sighed before moving off to talk to Cixi.
“Nearly dropped yourself in it again John,” Morgana chuckled as she and Jude wandered up.
“I know, my Mage; I just can’t seem to stop myself.”
“I know, but don’t change, John; I like you the way you are.”
“I’ll try not to, my Mage. Not even sure if I’d know how.”
The following day I spent time with Mage Roxanne going over the various possible approaches to the Orc cluster of Earths. Each one had issues with the possibility of them tracking us and leading them back to our cluster.
“Melanie says there’s no evidence that they can detect phase shifts, but lack of evidence isn’t proof and my gut feeling is that it leaves us too exposed,” Roxanne sighed after we’d butted our heads against the various methods proposed.
“Just a thought. Why don’t we do a portal from Loegrian space as it’s off what Verenestra calls the realms of the single path and there’s definitely no evidence that they have discovered the side worlds,” I replied thoughtfully.
“That’s true and we can send scouts in to the parallax earth via a hidden portal to prepare a base for us and cross over to the back of their cluster from us.”
“The other method would be to do it from the home-world of the Fae and use a tachyon port to come in behind their cluster.”
“No, we don’t want to give them ideas, John, particularly if we’re underestimating them. I very much doubt they’ve their own version of Loegria, but I wouldn’t put it past them to be able to detect tachyons.”
“That’s true,” I nodded.
“As it is, their technology is formidable and we need to be wary of it.”
“Beats me how what are basically a bunch of barbarians have such high tech,” I mused.
“That’s one of the things on our list of things to find out. Certainly, according to Galadriel’s notes, the average Orc isn’t much above a barbarian warrior. But their overlord types have abilities that have the Loegrians scratching their heads.”
“Yes, they have a lot of classes from plain old mace-wielding grunts to a scientist class who seem to be very knowledgeable indeed.”
“I suspect a group consciousness or hive mentality, though there’s no evidence of them having telepathy or other Mage attributes,” Roxanne posited. “But it might be something else entirely.”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Still, the plan is to get in and out without being discovered and observe. Not to start a war.”
“Discovery would almost certainly start one.”
“Yes, so let’s be careful and go over the plan again.”
“Yes, Mage Roxanne,” I sighed.
“First off, we have a second Seer, Vǫlva Lagertha of the Æsir has been assigned to us. Our Seers are updating theirs in certain techniques and vice versa on the understanding that such information is not used against each other.”
“The Seers have a moral compass that makes the Mage one appear somewhat lacking,” I said with a wry smile. “Along with a disturbing sense of humour when questioned.”
‘I heard that,’ came a mental giggle from Abi.
“True though,” chuckled Roxanne.
‘It prevents silly questions. Mages should think for themselves.”
“Your boredom threshold is far too low,” I replied with a grin, matched by Roxanne’s.
‘That too,’ came her infectious giggle.
“Never alone when you’re married to a Seer.” I laughed out loud.
“True John, but you must be used to it,” Roxanne replied.
“Not even close.”
‘You love me really.’
“That I do, my love. That I do.”
“So Loegrian space,” Roxanne stated, bringing the conversation back on track.
“Best bet as far as I can see from reviewing the others.”
“Agreed, John, I’ll inform the committee tomorrow. We also need to sort out the numbers and what, if any, weapons we take.”
“Original plan was for fifty, take it that’s changed?”
“Yes, the more we study the Maraú-Uxuí’s reports the more the numbers increase, from study groups to defenders.”
“More numbers, more chance of discovery. Shame the Seers can’t scan across universes any better than we can.”
“Aye, but it is what it is. Currently we have two Seers; eight medic Mages, who are also there to study the Orc physiology; twenty Loegrian Special Forces for defence along with ten of their top scientists cleared for this mission; twenty of our own Mages in a study group; along with ten each of the Æsir, Murians, Azurans and Craebh Ruadh; ten wolves and ten Nosferatu. The Gorgons wanted in, but their power probably won’t work there, but we’ve permitted them ten as guards. In addition, Teali is bringing a sanctum along for defence as well as Tu’tar and nine other Mazdani. We also have a Rutasi Mage along as an imperial observer and four Veda who are curious about the Orc technology and willing to put up with humanity in order to examine it.”
“What of the Fae?”
“Talshish hasn’t given me any numbers yet, but probably not many, just some scholars and a few scouts.”
“Their scouts are good, particularly with maskirovka,” I replied using the Russian word for large scale disguising of items that you did not want observers to know what they were.
“Yes, I hope we won’t need it, but I have a sneaky suspicion we will.”
“Hope for the best…”
“And plan for the worst. Yes, John.”
“Make sure everyone knows where the emergency portals are to the hidden portals, is one.”
“Yes, though the biggie is going to be our first port onto an Orc World with the Seers for a gestalt scan.”
“Yes, squeaky bum time,” I chuckled.
“Tell me about it, the Council have given the go ahead, but are not happy at all.”
“Only way to do a Seer scan is to have them there physically.”
“That’s what eventually swayed them; there really was no other way around it. Only one to object in the end was Clarence.”
“Why, am I not surprised,” I replied with a wry smile.
“Because you aren’t an idiot, John, unlike Clarence,” Roxanne replied with an answering smile.
“I’m presuming he’s preparing his ‘I told you so’ position?”
“In spades. He’s telling everyone that if we ignore them, they’ll ignore us.”
“He might be right, but if he’s wrong, then I’d rather check on a possible threat, than have to deal with them from a position of where we simply couldn’t win.”
“The rest of the Council are more or less of that opinion too,” she nodded.
“Common sense really, not that Clarence is noted for his common sense.”
“He also got told by Simon that he was not under any circumstances allowed to pull a surprise inspection on this mission.”
“Ye gods! Do you think he would?”
“Wouldn’t have bet against it, no matter the distance. As it is, he doesn’t have a clue about Loegria, save the name so won’t be able to access our base camp if that decision to go from there is ratified.”
“Let’s just hope he doesn’t go looking on his own,” I mused.
“Aye, he might be an arse, but he’s no coward. Still I think Simon’s warning will prevent him from trying it.”
“So, about a hundred and eighty of us?”
“Yes, John, though I’m setting a limit of two hundred just in case.”
“Can’t imagine who else, but it’s a hell of a lot more than fifty.”
“Aye, but we need to know if they’re a real threat or simply someone to keep an eye on occasionally.”
The following day I was at the Council headquarters, an unusual happenstance for me these days. I was there to assist in the emergence of two people into Mages, though as yet hadn’t been apprised of any details by Mage Zola’s Emergence office. That I could still port in was unusual in and of itself as the ability was usually removed when the Mage involved no longer had the right to access the bubble under the Earth where it floated around on magma tides… for want of a better word. However, both Morgana and I still had access as a sort of thank you for services rendered in the past, despite the attempts of Mage Clarence, on a regular basis, to have this revoked.
Mage Zola was waiting for my arrival, along with her team, which included Dorry as the focal point of the Seer gestalt for observation and Benjamin to sort out any mental health issues.
“Doubling up?” I asked after the formal and informal greetings.
“Yes,” Zola replied. “Twins of good character who were about to be sold into slavery as the victims of a very brutal, if rich, man.”
“Are we doing anything about him… or the slavers?”
“Well, he’s no longer rich and has severe health problems now, tying down the rest of his cash,” Zola replied with a savage grin. “The slavers just happened to find themselves in the midst of a police raid in Los Angeles and were stupid enough to draw weapons.”
“Good, we don’t often get the chance to do the right thing on our Earth.”
“That’s true, damned Accords.”
“Mages Tom and Margaret have agreed to train them as part of their plurality in return for us emerging a child of the other partner in a few years.”
“Quid pro quo,” I nodded.
“Very much so John, though if they’d had children, it would be a right of theirs… not that they knew we could do it… officially that is.”
“Yes. Well, let’s see these young ladies and see where the pressure points are.”
Cara and Alexis were still fearful, though felt a lot safer than they did a few days ago. They were now dressed modestly and well fed, their health returned to them after being on the verge of starvation. Their history had taught them not to trust anyone but themselves, though they’d been powerless to prevent their seizure by a brutal gang of sex traffickers after the death of their father from alcoholism. They simply did not understand our people, though none had hurt or threatened them and they were amazed by the abilities we used in everyday situations, abilities that the young appearing woman who appeared to be in charge said we were going to give them. They suspected that this was but another plan to sell them on at a higher price to another bidder and the very thought made them shiver at times. Both flinched when the woman called Zola appeared again with a man and feared the worst.
“Relax,” Zola said soothingly. “Your torment is at an end, I promise. This is journeyman Mage John. He’s going to unlock your potential and allow you entry into a whole new world.”
Neither girl said anything, but their eyes betrayed them in the clear despair in them.
“No one’s actually told you much about us, have they?” I asked.
“No, asking questions before, or even speaking out of turn, brought punishment,” Alexis admitted eventually.
“Well, that’s at an end now. You can ask anything you want.”
“Where are we? How can you do these things? Are you going to just sell us on?” the questions poured out from both girls simultaneously.
“Well you’re currently in a waiting room of the Emergence Office of the Council of the Wise. They are the government of all the Mages… or magicians if you like… on this Earth. We are people who can do magic and we’re going to unlock your potential so you can do the same. No, we aren’t going to sell you on, though you will be bonded to a lovely couple who will train you into your powers. I’ll introduce you to them and a few others in a minute.”
“You can do magic?” Cara asked. “Like David Copperfield?”
“Not quite, he’s a very talented illusionist. We do the real thing,” I replied, phasing into and out of their view a few times.
“But why us?” Cara asked after the shock had worn off.
“We saw a chance to do the right thing without exposing ourselves.”
“So, we’ll be able to do magic?” Alexis asked.
“Yes, though it takes a while to train a Mage.”
“A hundred and twenty years, the first twenty being as an apprentice.”
“Um… won’t we get old?”
“That’s one of the benefits, Alexis. You won’t.”
“I’m a hundred and fifteen.”
“Wow!” both of them exclaimed.
“Oh yes,” I chuckled. “Now come and meet your sponsors.”
Tom and Margaret were delighted to meet the girls and further explanations were given. The girls were also introduced to Dorry, Benjamin and Mage Tamsin, who was the current medical Mage on duty.
“Ready?” I asked, eventually.
The girls gave a couple of hesitant nods.
“Try the two together, Dorry?” I asked.
“Yes, John. We’ll be looking for any differences. Just ask if you need help with the weave.”
“Thanks,” I replied and began mentally weaving an artificial world around the girls, slowly changing their perceptions of what was actually happening and looking for the necessary stress loci that would enable me to trigger their emergence. It was pretty clear that the twins had an inherent psychic link, though it was subconscious and the reason Zola wanted me to do the two together. Gradually the distress of both young women built until finally the ‘switch’ appeared in Cara though not, as yet, in Alexis. Then the astonishing happened as Cara triggered herself without my aid in a spontaneous emergence and caused Alexis to do the same.
Both girls screamed in shock as their bodies adapted to a new reality and the surrounding Mages were hard put to dampen down the energy spike flowing from their extremities before they could injure themselves or each other. Soon enough though the initial crisis was over and the medic Mages had the girls surrounded and were repairing any internal damage.
“Well, that was something else,” I mused as Dorry stood beside me.
“Yes, John. My sisters will be studying this one intently as Alexis was triggered by her sister and Cara managed it without you.”
“Any major differences?”
“A few, but we now know what the trigger looks like, though not how to press it… as it were.”
“Progress,” I nodded.
“Yes, it’s not a magical effect though, so we can’t just step in if a mundane exhibits them as we won’t spot it.”
“Pity, too many die as it is.”
“We know, John. It bothers us greatly too.”
“Pierre back?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Yes,” she replied with a gentle smile.
“He’s good for you.”
“I know. I still miss my Olmer, but not to the point of despair, simply a sad memory.”
“I’m glad of that. I suspect Olmer is too.”
“I hope so, though I suppose I could always ask Jude.”
“He said one day your heart would soar again.”
“He did, and it does.”
“There’s your answer then, my lovely friend.”
“Guess so. Ah, here they are,” Dorry replied with a beaming smile as Cara and Alexis were escorted back into the room, their bodies still glowing with an internal light.
Both girls were swept up into an embrace by Tom and Margaret, both looking a little nervous before they recognised the genuine love and affection the Mage couple had for them.
“What now?” Cara asked.
“Psychic evaluation and repair,” Mage Zola replied. “Don’t worry, we don’t remove the past, just make it liveable.”
“There are a few things I wouldn’t mind not remembering as it’s all suddenly very clear again,” Alexa said with a shudder.
“Talk with Benjamin about that. If he thinks it’s harmful, it can be removed, though we prefer not to.”
The girls went through to meet with Mage Benjamin who was currently chatting to Rowenna as they waited for the emergence to be completed.
“Good work, John,” Zola thanked me.
“Thank you, Mage Zola. That one was interesting.”
“Yes, a spontaneous triggering after you got one of them to the trigger point,” she nodded. “Plus the ‘twin’ effect.”
“Yes, I expect it will keep the Seers busy for a while.”
“Yes, it will, John,” Dorry confirmed. “We like events like these to pick apart.”
“Everyone needs a hobby,” I chuckled, getting a friendly punch in the arm from a smiling Dorry.
Soon enough the girls and their ‘sponsors’ emerged along with Rowenna and Benjamin, who confirmed to Zola that there were now no existing mental issues for the girls.
“So where will they be living?” I asked Mage Tom.
“Just outside of Centreville, Alabama. Near a little town called Eoline. We have a compound in the woods there, very private and secure.”
“No problems with the local religious types?”
“Naw, they mind their own and we adjust things to suit. They think I’m Tom the third and that we run a strict religious sect and retreat,” he chuckled.
“Novel approach,” I grinned.
“It works, plus we pay our taxes, help fund the occasional necessity for the town, so they don’t want to kill off the golden goose.”
“So how did Zola find you?”
“The other partner in our plurality works for Mage Helen in the Department for Magical Regulation in San Francisco.”
“Mind you, the rumours are out there that an emergence can be effected by the Council, even if the Council is saying nothing.”
“I suspect all the senior lady Mages getting pregnant might just have given that away,” I chuckled.
“Yep, and you know how Mages love to gossip.”
“Yes, it might be unofficial, but we have a baby boom on our hands from lady Mages worldwide and all no doubt wanting their children to be made emergent in due course.”
“Got it in one, John, though Margaret and I are going to wait till the girls come out of their apprenticeship.”
“Well, the Seers should have it figured by then. If not, it will be a pleasure.”
At this point Simon entered the room to congratulate the ‘new arrivals’ along with Hilda, who was now his significant other. Something of a surprise to all considering the fact that they were almost polar opposites in behaviour and opinions. Still, the pair were devoted to each other and at least Hilda had stopped boasting about the date my wives had set up for her with me. Fortunately Simon wasn’t the least bothered about Hilda’s past either and had joined in the good natured ribbing of me whenever the subject came up.
“Well done, John. Another successful emergence, that makes over two hundred now,” he congratulated me.
“Thank you, Simon; though there will be a little hiatus now as the mission to the Yr’ch is ready to go.”
“Yes, there was a debate on letting you go on that just last week. Got a bit heated when Clarence demanded you be secured for the good of the Mage community.”
“Er, as I don’t work for the Council, the rules state that a Mage, journeyman or apprentice cannot be held unless it’s for questioning on a criminal charge,” I chuckled. “Slightly different if I did, though, that would be along the lines of being work related in protecting an asset. Convocation of 1812.”
“That’s what Mage Sofya told them; apparently you got her into studying the Council rules, laws and past judgements for precedents.”
“Yes, originally it was to try and get around some of my more blatant attempts to stop the Amity Caucus from interfering in my job. But now it’s mostly because we’re good friends and she’s got my back on the Council.”
“Well, it worked and she got right up the nose of a small minority on the Council who want to wrap you in cotton wool in a padded cell.”
“Oh, and here was me thinking that they’d grown up… with the exception of Mage Clarence.”
“To be honest, they mostly have. It’s just this ability of yours which has them sweating on your survival.”
“The Seers will come through, otherwise the Council will owe me a fortune once the baby boom kicks into the teenage years,” I said with a grin.
“Too true,” he laughed. “Clarence also used that to try and demand the Council employ you to save costs.”
“Also illegal under the Convocation of 1724 where journeymen and women can only be employed by the Council if their Mage works for the Council. Brought in, I think, to prevent Vanguard exposing us to Amity’s machinations. It’s how Mage Tara can employ Róisín, because Arch works here. Mind you, I suspect Clarence might choke if he discovers he’d have to employ Morgana to keep me locked up,” I finished with a huge grin.
“Yes, there was some spectacular backpedalling when Sofya pointed that out,” Simon laughed.
“I honestly don’t know why someone hasn’t challenged the odious little toad,” Hilda added.
“To be honest, most Mages realise he’s a liability only to himself and any cause he’s supporting. A lot of Vanguard use him as a barometer as to whether an action is wise or not,” Simon explained with a wide grin.
“Well, I suppose anything can be useful occasionally. Oh, by the way, Athena says she’d like to come on your expedition.”
“Athena?” both Simon and I replied in utter shock.
“Athena? Why the hell does Athena want to come with us?” I asked out loud.
“Ask her. She merely informed me that she wishes to go,” Hilda shrugged.
Simon looked at Hilda, clearly decided she wasn’t telling him everything (as did I) then shrugged as we all made our way to the Council bar, where Athena was known to hang out.
Athena is… or rather was, a Greek Goddess or Higher Power. When she lost her followers and worshippers during the rise of the big monotheistic religions she resorted to becoming an entertainer in order to get the necessary adulation to keep herself from dwindling away. Currently she has her own show in Las Vegas and on Monday’s does a very, very popular set in the Council bar where she, also, as do the Mages and other guests, gets free drinks due to the magical creatures called Kikimora who staff it and can create any drink perfectly and on the spot in return for protection, food and lodgings. Since discovering the bar she and Hilda, after a rocky start, are now best female friends and, until Hilda’s relationship with Simon developed, were the scourge of any single (and not so single) male Mages. Add to this Hilda’s tendency to remove the normal Mage nullification of the effects of alcohol and starting bar-room brawls and you had some very lively evenings at the bar… for given values of lively… naturally. Even when not in Vegas, Athena could usually be found in the bar talking to all and sundry and made the atmosphere very friendly as she and the other visiting Theurgists who now had an open invite to the bar got along famously as the world was put to rights… or at least gone over in scandalous detail.
“Ah, Simon, come to finally sort out that threesome that Hilda so desires?” Athena greeted us as we strolled into the bar.
“In your dreams, Athena,” Simon chuckled as Hilda and I both grinned. “Hilda’s more than enough woman for me and taking on anyone else would probably kill me, Mage powers notwithstanding.”
“This is true,” murmured Hilda with her grin getting broader.
“So, you want to join our secret mission to observe the Orcs? And left me wondering just how the hell you knew about it?” Simon asked.
“Oh, Hilda told me. We don’t keep secrets from each other and no, I haven’t told anyone else who didn’t know, just discussed it with the Vatican mob when they were here yesterday.”
“Hilda!” Simon sighed exasperatedly.
“Had to be,” Hilda shrugged.
“You mean she has to come?”
“Don’t know, one of those weird feelings that I’ve come to trust and confirmed by Marcus too,” she replied, referring to Marcus Antonelli, the senior Vatican Theurgist.
“So why didn’t you tell me about this before?”
“What? And pass up a chance to go to the bar? Get real my love,” she giggled.
“You don’t need an excuse,” he snorted, clearly amused now.
“True, but I always feel better when I do have one.”
Simon shrugged then turned his attention back to Athena. “So, apart from certain powers you may or may not have in another universe, why do you think your presence on the Orc worlds will be of benefit to us?”
“Marcus passed on information that the Orcs are under the control of a powerful Thaumaturge and that he, Judas and Thaddeus will not be permitted to assist. As a Power, I can cover that missing link in the equation.”
“What about your own… limitations?”
“Got it covered by the energy drain I took from shutting down Pandora’s box,” she replied referring to the incident that got her an invite to the bar to perform.
“And what will it cost us?” I asked, knowing Athena never did anything for nothing in the way of favours.
“Well… I need at least one follower, as an anchor.”
“And what does being a follower of yours entail?” Simon asked.
“Worship, they would have to offer a prayer a day to me for the protection I’d give to their people.”
“No problem, there’s a small internet group that still worships you,” I replied.
“Yes, part of the Neopaganism movement. We can no doubt borrow one to come with us and be your Theurgist,” I replied.
“Works for me,” Simon added, looking at Hilda.
“We have an agreement with Athena and owe her a few favours, so no biggie,” she replied with a grin. “Besides, it’s not like she’s poaching one of ours.”
“Then we have an agreement?” Athena asked.
“We do, subject to us getting you a Theurgist,” Simon affirmed.
“Never considered that angle really,” I commented to Simon as I headed to the portal to take me home whilst Hilda remained with Athena for a drink and a chat.
“Me either, I was just hoping we could remain under their radar, but, this works out a lot better.”
“I suspect Athena has a bigger game plan.”
“Such as becoming the goddess of the Orcs? Yes, that occurred to me too.”
“Well, she’d likely be a better goddess,” I nodded.
“And friendly to us as well, though she’d be a big miss in the bar,” he chuckled.
“That’s true, your idea of allowing open Mondays in the bar went down well amongst the Mage community as they get to meet a good few Council members and Theurgists in person.”
“I thought so myself, though not all Council members choose to attend.”
“Gosh, I wonder who won’t,” I replied with a grin.
“I suspect you know, John. The Council’s own bête noire, Mage Clarence.”
“Following on in the grand tradition of Amity that was in trying to keep what the Council does as a secret.”
“Very much so, though much of what we do and how we do it is a secret, allowing the Mage community to meet us under less than official circumstances has increased our popularity greatly. The inclusion of friends from the other Earths as well as the Theurgists and demi-humans has raised awareness and lowered a lot of suspicions and hostilities amongst us all. Athena’s show was a big help in this, to be honest.”
“Need to find a new singer, of the Minor Power type,” I replied with a wry smile.
“Would be handy, but I suspect not easy,” he replied before we bade each other farewell as I stepped through the portal home.
“Hi, John. How did it go?” Jukar greeted me from the Null circle where she was going through various exercises to do with self-defence and muscle memory.
“Very well indeed, my Lady, though I’m going to need to talk to you all tonight.”
“Ooh, sounds interesting.”
“Might be,” I replied as I made my way up to the villa where I could sense my other wives… all of them.
“So you want to go hunting down a Minor Power to do a cabaret in the Mage bar?” Brianna asked with a bemused expression.
“Succinct but yes,” I chuckled.
“What makes you think any of them might?” Imelda asked.
“Well, a lot of them were either hunted down as far as we know or went into hiding save those in various areas where the big religions don’t have a major foothold. We suspect the Æsir gods moved en-masse from the Norse culture here to the Æsir worlds and fought it out with the local deities until a new equilibrium was reached. Though we know the Theurgists took down Loki at least. So, there’s a possibility that one of the ones that are left struggling along, having seen what a success Athena has made, might like to try to come up with a similar deal.”
“Any idea who or where John?” Róisín asked, looking intrigued.
“The Muses and no,” I replied with a wry smile.
“Okay… and how would we find them bearing in mind the Theurgists took years tracking Athena down?” Brianna asked, also looking intrigued.
“Well, the Theurgists were looking for an ex-Higher Power who had damned good reason to fear them, or rather thought she had. We have the Seer group and a few clues as to what to look for with regards to what the Muses can do.”
“Clues, John?” Abi asked, her forehead crinkling slightly in thought.
“They’re Muses, inspirers as it were, and will be attached to the entertainment/publishing industry. Probably not running them, but definitely thereabouts.”
“How many? Legends have it at either nine or three,” Róisín queried.
“Does it matter?”
“Well no… I guess not,” she nodded.
“So, can the Seers help, Abi?”
“We’re checking a few things, hang on, John.”
“Won’t these Minor Powers be dangerous to approach, John?” Jukar asked.
“Possibly, though they tend to be more wary of Mages these days than they used to be.”
“Can’t think why,” Róisín murmured with a sly grin.
“Well, shooting one with a Null bullet helped,” I chuckled.
“Yes, though that only appeared to make the more active ones a bit more cautious, the ones who work in the background… not so much as we usually take no notice of them unless asked anyway.”
“That’s true, my love,” I nodded.
“Los Angeles,” Abi finally said. “Probably associated with United Talent Agencies.”
“Seems like as good a place to start as any. Fancy a Muse hunt my Ladies? We can bring Mark along with us.”
“I’m game,” Róisín announced as the rest of my wives nodded.
United Talent Agency is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, talent agencies on the planet. They represent actors, writers, directors, producers, recording artists along with various ‘below the line’ talent such as the film and recording crews along with diversity into emerging technology and corporate brands. Hence it was also the ideal place to go looking for Minor Powers representing or inspiring the artists and feeding off the adulation they got.
Detecting a Minor Power though was another thing entirely. Sure, they weren’t as outright dangerous to Mages as a Higher Power, but they were just as capricious and unpredictable if not approached right and approaching one usually meant not sneaking up on them. However not sneaking up meant they could detect us and keep out of our way. That in essence was why I had my wives and my son Mark with me, it’s called protective colouration and was to lull the Muses, if they were there, into a false sense of security… not that we had any plans to irritate them, if I thought it would be dangerous, I’d have been there alone.
We’d been in contact with Mage Helen, head of the American Bureau to let her know where we were and to borrow the Seer group via Abi, so long as we didn’t interfere with their normal activities. After that, we portalled in via a ‘safe house’ and made our way as a group to the headquarters of the Agency and began a detailed passive scan.
“There’s this area that’s utterly opaque to my scans,” Róisín finally announced, being the most sensitive amongst us, except for Abi, who was in a class of her own as a journeywoman Seer.
“My sisters agree, the entire floor is shielded, though in such a way as to not attract our attention, except if we really looked closely. Also, the shield is only there to prevent scans, not defend,” Abi added.
“Worth a look,” I replied, getting nods from all of them, even Mark who, like any three-year-old, was into copying us.
Putting our mind-cloaks in place to make anyone looking out for Mages believe we were ordinary people we walked into the building and fooled the receptionists as well as bypassing the security in a low powered spell to get to the lifts. The next thing we found was there were no buttons inside, you had to use a pass system for the lift to get to the floor you wanted, another big hint that it was worth a look. Unfortunately for the security system, a key-box built into the lift permitted the cleaners to override the floor system and with a quick bit of mental lock picking we were able to select the floor we wanted.
The look of stunned surprise on the face of the ‘people’ who were lounging around the area was worth it. A clever use of the magical weave that I used to trigger an emergence in a potential Mage made it look like we’d stepped into the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology with wide vistas of plants, trees and flowers in a summer’s day setting.
“Greetings,” we all intoned with a formal bow before things turned nasty or they all bolted for safety.
“What do you want, Mages?” a young-appearing woman… actually they were all women, asked.
“To talk,” I replied, allowing Mark loose to run free, figuring there was nothing here to harm him.
“What makes you think we have anything to discuss?”
“Athena,” I replied, watching her frown as my Ladies wandered about to where there was a coffee machine, leaving me to negotiate.
“What about that sellout?”
“We would like to engage you to take her place as she has business elsewhere for a while.”
“I believe you heard,” I replied politely as I watched another one of the ladies lift Mark up so he could pick a peach from a tree.
“Why should we help take the place of a traitor to our kind?” the woman blustered.
“I believe introductions are in order,” I chuckled. “I’m journeyman Mage John; these are journeywoman Mage Róisín, journeywoman Seer Abi, Mage Brianna, Mage Imelda and apprentice Mage Jukar. The young man your compatriot is helping is my son, Mark.”
“It costs nothing to be polite, Mel,” the woman helping Mark called over.
“They’re Mages and you heard what they asked!”
“Doesn’t sound too bad to me, Athena has guaranteed protection from the Vatican amongst others. So let’s negotiate, it costs nothing, so long as the Mages here promise to not give away our home to our enemies.”
“We promise,” I replied, getting nods off my wives. “Er, who are your enemies?”
“Thaumaturges and the monotheistic religions mostly,” she replied.
“We can’t trust them!” the first speaker spat out.
“Our word is our bond and we can bring in friends from the Vatican… or elsewhere to confirm any deal reached.”
“Early days yet,” said the woman. “Name’s Nem by the way and that’s Aoi. We’re in charge; I’ll introduce the rest later if negotiations are productive.”
“So you are the Muses,” Abi murmured.
“Yes, we were called that once.”
“Nine or three?” I asked out of curiosity.
“Nine workers, three… management,” Mel replied. “Alright, we’ll talk, but you’d better be offering something worth our while, we’re not exactly in the poorhouse here.”
“What, a paying gig at the Mage bar with free drinks isn’t worth your while?”
“We don’t do paying gigs!”
“Oh, you work for free? That’s nice.”
“Let’s say we’re interested, however the offer from you isn’t enough,” Nem broke in as Mel looked about to say something undiplomatic.
“How about we negotiate a truce between you and the major Theurgical groups such as the Vatican, several major protestant groups, Buddhists, Hinduism, Chinese and African animists, etc.”
“More a case of live and let live… so long as you don’t cross their interests.”
“We don’t anyway,” the Muse called Aoi answered.
“Ah, but with this, you won’t need to hide or avoid them.”
“And you can guarantee this?” Mel asked.
“We Mages have an agreement with the various Higher Powers; we can ask our main ally, the Vatican Theurgists, to add you to this list.”
“So you can’t guarantee this.”
I handed over a copy of an agreement that Morgana had signed with various Theurgist groups and pointed out a specific paragraph. ‘Allies and friends of the various groups upon this list will not be interfered with in any shape or form should they not be in violation of the agreements we have with the Higher Powers. Refusal to add a friend or ally to the list must be justified by a specific legal reason* not simply an arbitrary whim. *see list of acceptable reasons in the appropriate appendix.’
I showed the Muses the signatories to the agreement and the appendix. “Have you any issues with the various groups mentioned?” I asked.
“No, most of these I haven’t even heard of,” Aoi replied.
“So none of them have a legal reason to reject your protection?”
“Not that I know of,” she replied, getting nods off the others.
“So, assuming that none of these groups have a reason not to offer you protection then would you be interested in arranging the entertainment in the Mage bar?”
“We’d have to discuss it, but it’s a compelling argument for agreeing, yes,” Mel replied.
“How long will you need?”
“Not long; have fun, there’s nothing here that could harm you, we’ll be about an hour,” she replied and led the ‘management’ group off to talk with the others.
For all it was winter in the northern hemisphere and we were indoors on the upper level of a building, it felt like a summers day in the weave. Soon enough we’d all changed our clothing and wandered down to a flowing stream to sit and chat whilst Mark paddled in the water. Yes, I know none of it was real, but what the mind sees, the body feels and this was as real as a weave got.
“Think you’ve convinced them John,” Imelda asked.
“Yes, the protection from Theurgists and the Higher Powers is compelling to say the least.”
“Will the Council let them in? After all, they don’t know you’re negotiating on their part.”
“The Seer gestalt does and hence Julia does and we have her blessing,” Abi replied for me.
“You’re never working in isolation when you’re married to a Seer,” I chuckled.
“Oh, you managed it once or twice in the Outer Realms. We can’t look there.”
“Aha, a place to hide,” I replied with a broad grin making them all laugh as no one in their right mind visits the Outer Realms since the destruction of Azurana. Though currently a Mage group was going over what data we had to see how the former queen Oonagh of the Daoine Sidhe had managed to build a refuge there. They, like others, were waiting for the Loegrian scientists to come up with a brainwave modifier to prevent Oonagh from doing magic so they could read and document her mind.
Finally a restful hour passed and the three Muses approached.
“We need a little more confirmation from one of the Theurgists, not that we don’t trust you, but it would be nice to get it from an official source,” the Muse called Nem stated.
“Can get one for you now if you want,” I replied.
“You can just call up a Theurgist?”
“Okay… call him up and we’ll talk.”
“Might be a her,” I chuckled and rang the number via my mind for the Theurgist headquarters in the Vatican.
“Office of Exorcism, Sister Francine speaking,” came a puzzled voice.
“Hi Francine, John here.”
“Oh, hi, John. What do you want now?”
“Can’t I just call my friends?” I chuckled.
“You know very well you can chat to us when we’re on site; you only call us if there’s something you need,” she chided me; though I could tell she was trying not to laugh.
“Well, Athena volunteered to help us and I decided to look for some new entertainers in the bar.”
“Go on, this should be good.”
“Well, I’ve found the Muses and they want the same protection as Athena. If they get that, they’re willing to provide our entertainment. However, they aren’t willing just to take my word for it.”
“So they’ll take the word of the Vatican’s Theurgical exorcist?”
“Well I’m free for an hour or so, so I can pop over and talk to them I guess.”
“Be obliged,” I replied, giving the Muses a thumbs-up.
A minute later, Francine, a nun, who had taken over from the sadly deceased Father LeFarge appeared in the ‘office’ and greeted us cheerily.
“Er…” Aoi began.
“Relax, ladies, we don’t go exterminating Higher or Minor Powers if we don’t have to,” Francine broke in when it was clear the Muses were struggling to come up with an opening sentence.
“You have in the past,” Mel replied.
“Loki, Hades and the South American Powers refused to change their ways in demanding souls as a sacrifice. We have an obligation to our Powers to stop that… with extreme prejudice if necessary. However, you ladies are merely encouraging human talent and abilities; hence you were left alone whenever we ran across you.”
“You’ve ran across us before?” Asked Nem nervously.
“Me? No, Marcus and Carlos a few times according to my source.”
The source was what Theurgists called their simply knowing some things directly from their Power, if they thought about it, they knew… in most cases, not all.
“Marcus and Carlos would be?”
“Marcus Antonelli and Carlos Franco.”
“Ah, those I do know, and they would permit our existence?” Mel asked.
“So long as you don’t act counter to our plan, yes,” Francine confirmed.
“Then consider yourselves under the protection of God,” Francine replied formally.
‘You persuaded the Muses to take Athena’s place?’ Simon asked telepathically, somewhat bemused after I’d contacted him via Morgana (even if you’re a friend, a journeyman does not contact the head of the Council directly).
‘Yes, they were quite keen. Seems they rarely get a chance to perform these days, too busy promoting others,’ I replied.
‘Athena OK with this?’
‘You know Athena as well as I do. It simply never registered with her other than a shrug.’
‘That’s true, she more or less embodies the concept of self-centred,’ he replied in wry tones.
‘Price of being a star,’ I mentally grinned.
‘True, and well done… all of you.’
It was later that week that my wives and I were suddenly involved in helping out in New Zealand. A massive earthquake had hit Christchurch, on the South Island, killing 185 people and causing a lot of damage. We were involved as Imelda was an emergency response volunteer and naturally enough we went to help her, Mages being more or less self-sufficient and no real burden on anyone else. Not that we were permitted to use our powers (officially) but we could at least physically help, all of us being trained first aiders. The other reason Róisín and I were there was to help Mage Gayle and her people with a search for a missing Mage who had been known to be in the area and who had gone off the grid, along with her daughter, who would be a candidate for emergence.
Róisín and I, with permission from Mage Adelaide, the head of the East Asian Magical Control Committee, were to help Gayle as we were close to the location and had known qualities. My other wives were to help with the search and rescue, though were available to assist us, if needed.
When we turned up at Gayle’s home I was surprised to find Morgana and Arch there. They had come along to assist as well, though like us, not in any official capacity.
“Hail, hail, the gangs all here,” Arch chuckled at our surprised looks.
“My Mage, Mage Arch,” I replied with a formal bow, one that Róisín copied.
“Just here to help,” Morgana added. “So what do we know, Gayle?”
“Well, the last track we had of Mage Lisa and her daughter, Jemma, was just outside Lyttleton, at her home. Problem is, that was the epicentre of the quake and both she and her two-year-old have vanished and aren’t responding to calls or scans. The Seer gestalt can’t track her either and, frankly, we fear for the worst, but we have an obligation via the Council to account for her,” Gayle replied, giving us a mental map of the area.
“We’ll take a look. We know you’re short-handed here,” Morgana nodded.
“Yes, bit of a backwater,” Gayle grinned. “The bulk of you live on the North Island, near Auckland.”
“We like it there,” I chuckled as we prepared to portal in to where Lisa had been seen last.
“It’s nice having you here, love the barbies,” she laughed. “Finally got to meet some of the mysterious Council at a few.”
“Yep, love them myself,” I nodded. “Plus, the Council aren’t all that mysterious when you get to know them.”
“True that,” she nodded.
“What do we know of the father of Lisa’s child?” Róisín asked.
“Lisa isn’t saying. So possibly a mundane, or a male Mage already in a relationship whom she can’t or won’t name. Either way, it’s not important. I just hope they’re OK, Lisa is a good friend and Jemma’s adorable.”
“We’ll do our best,” Arch nodded as the Seer gestalt confirmed the portal was open and hidden from prying eyes.
There was a massive feeling of tension in the emotional ambience of the area as we crossed through. In the distance we could hear sirens and the sound of helicopters as they criss-crossed the area looking for trouble spots and possible signs of survivors, whilst other groups were helping in the laborious task of clearing access into the area.
“Nothing on any magical signs,” Róisín commented as she scanned whilst I guarded her back, just in case.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Morgana commented. “Otherwise Gayle and the Seers would have had it sorted.”
“Yeah, she’s good alright,” Arch added. “Home is this way,” he pointed.
The house, typical for the area, was a bungalow occupying a quarter acre plot and was deserted, along with being undamaged, and did not look as if anyone had been there for a while.
“Done a runner?” I surmised out loud.
“Not known for it. This address is registered with the Magical Control Committee,” Morgana replied.
“Yes, doesn’t feel like that,” I nodded. “Plus, she was known to Gayle.”
“Gayle’s got her people looking at a few other areas she was known to frequent, including her place of work,” Morgana added.
“Time mirror?” I suggested.
“Not yet. Róisín, could you do a deep scan of the house and check for signs of last occupancy please, including any Brownies.”
“Of course, Mage Morgana.”
The scan took a while as Róisín sorted through various bandwidths and layers looking for anything that would leave traces of occupancy.
“No Brownies and no signs of any magical artifices,” Róisín finally told us.
“Thought as much. This looks like some sort of cover or front.”
“For what though? As far as I’m aware, Lisa had no ties to the Council, did not work on anything sensitive and merely taught at one of the local Uni’s, as well as running a small business creating artwork for the local business community,” Arch replied with a frown.
“Good question, one that we’ll do our best to find answers to,” Morgana stated.
“Gayle says she was definitely here three weeks ago,” I added giving a date and time.
“Right. Time for a time mirror. Let’s take a look at the past,” Morgana ordered, as, despite Arch being the official enforcer, it was obvious who was really in charge, retired or not.
It took a little while doing the necessary calculations, but soon we were looking in on a scene of domestic normality… or what appeared to be one, as Mage Gayle visited, stayed for a while chatting to Mage Lisa and cuddling Jemma before she left, presumably on business elsewhere. That’s when it started going a bit weird…
“I know you’re watching, but it won’t do you a bit of good,” Lisa stated, turning to look directly at the mirror, shocking us to the core as the sound came through, as well as her detecting a time mirror in use, something we’d never had happen before.
“You can detect us?” Morgana asked, clearly wondering if this was a two-way thing.
“Obviously. I was warned to watch out for tachyon scanning as we knew you’d developed a crude version of it and we had already developed a means to detect them as well as a means to influence their behaviour to permit sound centuries ago as you count things.”
“What are you?” Arch asked, eyes narrowed.
“None of your business. You have rules for dealing with primitives, so do we.”
“Ah, an Observer,” Morgana nodded. “Been a while since we ran into one of you.”
“You have detected us in the past?” a puzzled-looking Lisa asked.
“Obviously,” came the reply, giving nothing away. “What we really want to know is what you intend doing with the shell you occupy as well as with Jemma.”
“I don’t know what you mean!”
“Three weeks from the point in time we are now observing you’ve vanished and Jemma too. This was noticed and answers sought.”
“Oh… I’m sorry. I have no idea, but can’t permit you to observe me,” Lisa replied, then appeared to concentrate as our view just snapped off.
“What the hell?” Arch asked, looking, as we all did, at Morgana.
“This is most secret and you will not breathe a word of it to anyone,” Morgana ordered with a sigh. “There have been a few incidents in the past where the Council has noted Mages being used by… outsiders, to observe our society. They do not interfere and they normally only give themselves away when circumstances like this occur and we… or rather the Seers, do a head check and can’t detect them.”
“So, what happened when we did?”
“After a while we normally found the Mage in a confused state, with no recollection of events, sometimes for decades. Hence we called them Observers, though this was the first time one has willingly spoken to us.”
“Do we know what they want?” I asked.
“No, we think they are observing us; using Mages and our abilities to keep an eye on society. They’ve never interfered and, as far as I’m aware, unless caught, have left no traces of their passing.”
“Could Jude check?” Róisín asked.
“I’m asking him now, though he may not be able to interfere… destinies and all that,” she replied with a slight smile. “Ah, ‘sorry, I can’t say’ is his answer,” she sighed.
“He knows but can’t say?” Róisín asked.
“Yes. If he didn’t know… unlikely as that would be, he’d have said that.”
“I suggest we just look for Lisa and Jemma, though this is complicated by the Observer having the child, I’d guess,” I replied, rubbing my chin slightly.
“We don’t know if they are there all the time or simply pop in to check every so often,” Morgana shrugged. “In fact we know nothing other than they do observe.”
“But we’re not giving up?” Arch asked.
“Let’s look closer then and go down to quantum traces,” Arch nodded. “Off you go, Róisín.”
“Yes, my Mage.”
This took nearly an hour with both Morgana and Arch adding advice and pointers. Abi also turned up from assisting the recovery efforts and came to help Róisín as well. I, as was my wont, moved around the house checking for physical traces and tapping on various panels just in case something had been concealed. I also did a bit of measuring to ensure that the outside and inside matched, finding a small area that was a bit smaller on the inside than the outside dimensions would have you believe. Arch moved over to lend a hand as I carefully peeled back the panelling to reveal a heavily warded case.