The Rift Of The Magi My cousin and I were both 7 years old. We found a dead mountain lion, injured somehow, looked like a fight. Nearby, we heard her nearly newborn cubs mewing. We somehow got our parents to bring the cubs home so we could nurse them until they could live on their own. That first night the cubs were in our barn, they yowled. They cried out for their mother. It was the worst sound I had ever heard. From them, I learned to hate the sound of injustice, of pain, of the universe disordered. Nothing else of note happened in my life for 10 years… … and then my fingers slipped on the smooth wood. My father’s order, “Don’t try to move it yourselves; wait until I get home with ropes,” replayed in my head. My cousin’s eyes opened wide – he was six feet away from me, just a few steps down, but he might have been on the other side of the world for all that I could help him. My fingers slipped. Free, the grand piano lurched, hit my cousin square in the chest, and he flipped, rag doll, down the stairs, the piano banging its way after him. His screams and the twanging strings and the splintering wood: dissonance far worse than kitten cries. My ears ached from the sound of Things That Are Not Right And Should Not Be. My own voice made no sound. No cry I could make would add anything to that horrible noise. He was 17. I was 17. We thought we were immortal. It ought to be impossible to recover from such a mistake. A man’s life was taken by my stupidity. Oh, true, my cousin’s stupidity had played into it, but that merely shared the blame. It did not relieve me of my guilt. But life goes on, and while family cannot forget and cannot forgive, it can forge ahead anyway. And so I finished high school, went to college, and began a career – in accounting. I think I punished myself – I chose as bleak a career as I could find, one I loathed. I was good enough to survive but not good enough to excel. I moved paper around in cheerless offices. I suppressed my love of music. In all pianos, I heard only the dissonant echoes. He will forever be 17. But I went on to be 27. And I learned I am immortal. My Magi chest was delivered on a brisk September morning by the United States Postal Service. I know the Ordo has shrunk over the centuries, but is a personal visit really too much to ask? Someone to at least stand there when a chest is opened to make sure a reborn Magi doesn’t die then and there from shock and awe? Should I ever have the responsibility for delivering another Magi’s chest, I will not be so callous as to use the parcel post! I had no master to guide me this time. This time. By the scratch marks inside the chest, I count this as my 29th incarnation. I wish I had dates for each of the previous 28, but “year of the poor harvest” would probably be of little aid, and I have reason to suspect that this is only my third life of the “common era”. Do I sleep between
incarnations? I do not recall any dreams. But I leave little messages for myself in my chest, and the most emphatic is to add a scratch mark to mark the incarnations. There is also the warning: “If this is your 32nd incarnation, never ever cast the spells that command lightening.” What prophetic oracle gave me that warning? I have no memory. What does it mean? That is a problem for a future me. But I added my scratch to the box. And then I opened my Codex. I screamed. The sight of that first inscription reminded me of the pain of my last death. When or where or how, I do not know. I do know it was torturous and caused by a friend’s betrayal. My ragged voice choked out. It is hard to sustain rage when you do not know whom to despise. The tale of how I awoke the dead portion of my soul, how I forgave myself for the accident of my cousin’s death, how I grew in the ways of magic and how I became the Magi who now tells you this tale – that long period I now gloss over. It matters little. Eventually, I turned 37. There’s no heroic guide for turning 37. Seriously… look at most storybook fiction. Mages are all either adolescent apprentices or wizened wizards. Those that aren’t are 20-‐something dashing ladies men who save princesses from dragons. I did a lot of that, but it gets old – the dragons turn out to be better company than the princesses. And most of the great Fights Against Evil turn out to be merely Fights Against Casual Neglect, which is actually much more insidious and much less exciting to combat. There just isn’t enough real evil in the world to really mount a serious campaign against it. Oh, there are corrupt judges and horrible bosses and lousy prostitutes, but few of them are truly evil. So please forgive me that I ceased being vigilant. I had ceased to keep my spells in practice. The passion of youth had burned out long before Purple Demon Night. PDN is known to most Magi as “the night of that weird gagging screech sound.” If you Cast any incantation that night, you probably heard this awful sound like a needle being ripped across a vinyl record right as you finished Speaking. I call it PDN because it was nighttime and the demon was purple. My home is on a wide empty plain in western Oklahoma, far from the lights of the next farm, much less a town or city. Why not? I like people, but for a Quantum Magi like myself, all the cities of Earth are equidistant, and I also like the empty spaces. I live alone: many friends but none ever lived up to the memories I have of loves from past lives. Are my standards too high? I have memories of loving two goddesses and an emperor. No idea who they were, but until I find someone like that in the modern era, I’m good on my own, thanks. I’m wandering from my story. My apologies. My mind resists remembering that night. I have tried to write this story twice before, and both times I failed to stay on topic. I started telling stories about college, like this one time when – no. I’m doing it again. The demon does that. It wants to be forgotten. It knows the more people I tell, the worse its chances next time. Its attempts to slip my mind are why I’ve had to
sneak up on this story – start at my childhood and walk forward so I can remember it by surprise. Is it really alive in my memory? I think it is. Like a portrait painting that comes alive and mimics the original person, the demon in my mind is as devious as the real one I encountered. But I have the demon by the tale now, as it were. As I was saying – my home is isolated. In this isolation, I have practiced my Art and using that Art I have created a lesser art. I use my spells to cut rifts in space to refract sunlight. When the sun strikes one of my stacks of interlocking rifts, it is like a sunbeam shining through a prism, but infinitely more complex. A million colors blasting across the sky, twisting back on each other, fractal-‐like. Red and green and blue and purple. Purple? Oh right. Purple. Demon purple. Anyway, I have created towers of these rifts. There’s nothing in my Codex that says you shouldn’t nest rifts inside rifts. Nothing that says there’s an upper limit to the number of rifts you should have in one area. Nothing. Let me tell you – there is an upper limit, and I’m going to write that into the Codex for future me. It turns out that if you stack enough rifts in one place, reality becomes a bit… weak. Things from Beyond can crawl through. It happened at sunset. One of my pieces flares spectacularly in the dying of the light at end of day. I sat in the long prairie grass to watch it shine and then fade as the shadows lengthened. But in and among the reds and oranges, I noted a spot of black. I dismissed it as a trick of the light, but it grew just a bit. And staring into that spot triggered a memory. I had seen that shade of black before. This was not a black like the night sky, not the black of a deep cave. This was the black of a soul at 3am that cannot see a reason to live until dawn. I heard someone Speak three Words and saw a hand appear in front of me. In the center of the hand was an eye. It turned away from me toward the darkness, positioning itself between me and the black spot. A moment later, the spot yawned open, swallowing all the interlocked rifts, and a demon stepped forth: humanoid but not human, naked and most obscenely male, with skin that glowed purple, a radiance that was as deadly as the claws and teeth he bared. The first pulse of that radiance might have knocked me badly, but the Khamsa caught it all. It was then that I pulled my Codex from my pocket. I turned to one particular spell and Spoke it, followed immediately by the words to the Khamsa spell. I gestured. The spell consumed the only temporal rift I had on my property, but it carried the Khamsa those valuable few seconds into the past. The creature’s crossing had destroyed one of my works of art, but there were others all around the house. It had attacked me in my stronghold. I had rifts to spare like I had never had in any battle before. I had not created my paintings as defenses, but that night their luminescence became a bulwark against the dark. I spoke a word and one rift Ruptured. The twang of its collapse hit the demon, like a snapped string strikes a harpist. It left a mark on the demon. That gave me hope.
A true demon crossing into reality sets the universe resonating. He and I were both flush with power. His claws shredded anything they touched, and I flickered around him, dodging his strikes. I tried two more Ruptures. One hit. The other ricocheted off, killing a ground squirrel. The demon had raised some sort of shield. I kept listening for its voice to be Casting so I would have some clue as to what it was throwing my way, but it somehow roused power to action without ever giving voice to the Words. Demonic power, indeed! I persevered, recognizing his spells by their effects instead of by their Words. I have no idea how long the battle raged. We piled on Slow Time and nested Temporal Bubbles ‘til both of us could have written our memoirs in the duration between movements. My Codex and my rifts were wearing down, but I sensed that whatever power he was tethered to was also wearing thin. I turned to a spell I had sworn never to cast again. I do not remember swearing that, but just looking at the page, I knew I had done so in some past life. But I had so little left. This was going to hurt. I Cast the Event Horizon, and I collapsed my last two rifts so I could push the spell past some of the temporal delay. I just had to stay alive long enough for it to hit. Eventually, my spell did hit. It hit everything – demon, squirrels, birds, grass, me. And I felt pain like I hadn’t felt in a long long time. I expected that. But I felt something far worse. Putting a small black hole on the surface of the Earth is Wrong. It is a Thing That Should Not Be. The universe decided that I was to be disciplined for this wrong thing I had summoned. I felt my soul tear just a bit and I screamed. Across time, I heard myself scream, discordant against my own voice. I was barely alive and I cursed that fact for in that instant I wanted to die. The spell wasn’t worth this. Oh, gods above and below, I repent that I ever drew breath! I had vowed never to cast that spell again, and this was the price of breaking that vow. The puny phrase “discord event” in the parlance of the masters fails to capture the punishment that the universe deals to Magi who transgress too often its laws. I stumbled. My vision cleared. And I saw the demon bent down on one knee, struggling. All the pain of the Horizon and the damnable thing still lived! I was angry. I should not suffer that much pain and still suffer a demon to live! This was injustice! And lion cub and crashing piano and friend’s betrayal all rang out together in my voice. They say that spells are crafted through careful research. I know one that was not. My screech etched the pavement of my driveway, deep gashes cut in stone. I saw the markings and knew them for the Words of a spell I had never Cast nor ever heard before. But there, in that moment, with the universe and its usual rules twisted out of shape so badly, an incantation had inscribed itself. The concrete became another page of my Codex. The Words registered themselves on my brain. I knew what the spell would do if I Cast it. It would mean more pain, greater risk. But I was in no sane mind. I Spoke those Words. My chest ripped apart. My mind ripped apart. I WAS A RIFT. I became both guardian and gate. My yell of injustice was that “weird gagging screech sound” that all other Magi heard that night.
I then reached into myself and pulled the power of The Unraveling. Demons are creatures, but their bodies on this plane are but constructs of power. I had battered its shields to nothing. Now my Unraveling tore apart its physical form. Bereft of anything solid, its spirit was drawn back to the Void through the nearest rift – me. I felt its claws rake my insides as I swallowed it within me. And then I calmly, quietly, dismissed the rift. I felt the emptiness within myself fill, felt a wrongness righted. I passed some hours in meditation before I dared to move, letting the harmonics of our battle fade away. And as I meditated, I realized that because I had been the rift, when the demon had passed through me, I had heard its name. Escolias. Rendered in Semihu Thinara, the name is a binding on the demon. So long as it is Spoken once, somewhere, every day, the demon cannot create a physical form in our world. Escolias. I offer this name to my brother and sister Magi. Escolias. I could save it for myself, keeping it like so many other secrets that we keep, but I choose not to. My reward for that night is the spell that etched itself in my driveway, which through clever magic I later turned into a true page of my Codex. But the demon’s name I will share, and share broadly. The demon wants me to forget him. But I will not! I defeated him that night years ago, and tonight, by writing this down at last, I defeat his memory at last. That is one demon that will find no foothold in our world, so long as there are Magi to Speak. This night I am 47 years old. In my mind, I hear the demon howl. For the first time, I smile at the sound of discord.