The Selves We Tell Our Stories by Stephen R. Mercer a.k.a. Wizard Lond
Wednesday, 6:10pm “So I take her up there, and, man, she was impressed. We’re up there not more than forty five minutes when – you gotta understand… you can’t hear anything up there – sound just doesn’t carry. She and I were up there, and I just happened to look up, and I see the Eagle dropping right down at us. I really hadn’t expected company – hadn’t thought to check the news. But I’m quick. I teleported us out of there just in the nick of time. Otherwise Buzz and Neil would’ve squashed us flat.” Ur slaps the table with his hand, vibrating the beer. Nicholas is unimpressed. “I don’t suppose you have any evidence of this trip to the moon? Perhaps you can demonstrate this mythical ‘teleport to the moon’ spell?” “Wish I could. But I traded that spell away in the early 1980s for some Microsoft stock. Now that was a good trade, let me tell you!” Deep sigh. “Of course. No evidence, just stories. Like always. Like your claim to have survived despite being in Babel’s Tower when it fell.” Ur takes another drink of his beer. “Well, I’m here today aren’t I? So I must’ve survived! Q.E.D.! But, hey, if you want evidence for my moon trip, all you gotta do is look at the photos from the landing. I’m right there under the craft as it is coming down. Course, NASA doctored all those photos before they were released to the public, so you’ll have to find the originals. They were too embarrassed to show a naked man standing on the moon.” “Wait a sec…” I interrupted. “You were naked on the moon?” “Well, yeah. I did say the girl was impressed, didn’t I? Men been promising women the moon for millennia, and I’m the first to deliver the goods! Of course we were naked on the moon! But then that Eagle comes in. So I teleported us out of there, but I didn’t have time to focus and just picked a point on Earth. We ended up in jungle being bombed by napalm. Just my luck, I dropped the two of us right into the same damn war that I’d spent so much time protesting. Napalm… whoo-‐whee. That stuff is as awful as any magick. A regular Viet-‐nam-‐shub that stuff! And me without pants.” Nicholas bangs his mug on the bar. “Enough! Enough of your damn stories. I don’t want to hear any more of your wild made-‐up tales.” “Made up?! They’re all true. I ain’t told a lie since my first mother, Ug – she was a Neanderthal – threatened to serve me to a saber tooth for fibbing. Scared lying right out of me. Trust me – fear of a saber tooth tiger will last through every incarnation. Them’s fearsome beasts.” “AAAARRRRRGH.” Nicholas holds his head in his hands. Ur pushes back from the bar. “Gotta use the boys’ room. Call me if my beer turns to blood. I can change it back. Happens sometimes when I touch alcohol.” He merrily wanders off. Nicholas looks up at me. “You do know the reason his stories can’t be true, right?”
I pause from wiping the bar. A good bartender never acknowledges eavesdropping on customer conversations, but I doubt any bartender could tune out Ur stories, and by interjecting my question, Nicholas already knows I’ve been listening. “Why?” “Because,” and here is Russian accent gets thicker – it happens when he goes into professor-‐ lecture mode, “there were not any Awakened Magi outside the Ordo in the 1960s. And I can count them on two hands.” “Maybe your count is wrong?” Nicholas shoots me a look. “That would be… unlikely.” “And what exactly constitutes ‘unlikely’ when Ur is involved?” I grin. “You have a Magi who claims to have been born male in every incarnation, who claims that in every incarnation his parents have named him Ur – no magic involved, just by random chance mind you – and who is acknowledged to be the author of several of the more interesting bowazh spells. If any of us were going to escape the legendary Secret Spy Network of Magi Nicholas, I’d bet on Ur.” This makes Nicholas glare at me. He likes to know things. Ur is unknowable. I go back to wiping down the bar. Someday I’ll make my fortune selling Ur stories. I have only a few of my past incarnation memories this time, but I know this isn’t the first incarnation that I have known Ur. And, yes, he is always male in my memory. As a bartender, I have studiously ignored salacious gossip, insider trading tips, outlandish feats of magick and all manner of deviant sexual practices. But try as I may, I can’t tune out Ur. The other day, he claimed to have invented the exclamation point. “Needed some way to jazz up the article on ‘Proper Courting Of A Lady’ that I was writin’. Put it right at the end of the sentence for emphasis. I drew a vertical line with two dots at the bottom – you know a better symbol for excitement than a standing dick? The symbol caught on, but the damn Latin priests that transcribed it were scandalized and dropped the second period. Though, come to think of it, maybe they all only had one ball and thought two was inaccurate? Might have been just as mind-‐blowing as if I’d put two vertical lines… though I did have two in one incarnation…” How am I supposed to keep drink orders in my head with that kind of nonsense blowing about? I barely start on wiping the bar when The Bell rings out. And then rings again. Nicholas jerks his head up, frowning. Ur comes out of the bathroom, wiping his hands on his pants. Millie, studying quietly in the corner, sighs and closes her book. The four of us looked at each other. Ur looks at me. “It’s your turn, Bill. You deal with ‘em.” Then The Bell rings again. And again. Eight times total. I shrug. “All hands on deck. C’mon. Sounds like this time was rough.” With pained looks the other three follow me to the back room of my pub. I own The Wagging Tongue Pub here in Wichita, Kansas. I owned it before I Awakened. Eighteen months ago, 12 Magi suddenly Awakened in this town. We all woke up as high-‐functioning Magi – lots of past memory intact. Most Magi cannot teleport across the room (much less to the moon), which leaves us stuck in this podunk town of barely 400,000 souls. My pub became a meeting place for Magi, neutral ground if you need it, friendly tavern if you want it. I already owned the pub, and I just changed my services. And at some point, Ur started wandering in, frequently but never expectedly.
There’s a big front room where the mutes can drink. Then there’s the back bar – no mutes cross that threshold unless they’ve been charmed by one of us. And then there’s one more room: The Octagon. Bars aren’t always profitable. Before Awakening, I worried a lot about money. Nowadays, I make ends meet with another service: health insurance. I designed The Octagon, though I give Ur credit for improving. Awatum runes cover the walls; three layers of spells continually fade in and out; a well-‐stocked first aid kit hangs by the entrance; a bed sits to one side; special candles in a candelabra light the room; The Bell hangs in the center, above a wheel that sometimes turns on its own. This is a resurrection chamber. Ley lines all over the state of Kansas flow to here. A dissipated Magi who is on my subscriber list will be pulled here. We Magi reincorporate naturally, but doing that at some random location when injured is a bad idea. The Octagon is the hospital. I offer this service to my fellow Magi, for a moderate fee. But lately, I have offered it up pro bono to a group that I call “the kids.” “Ok. Eight incoming. There’s not going to be space for them all to incorporate at once, and they aren’t going to want to take turns. Millie, you divert the flows once two of them are in the chamber, keep them in a holding pattern. Ur, you get the first pair. Once their established, pull them to the side and Millie will let the next two in. I’ll take the second pair. Nicholas, you next. Millie, take the final two.” They all nod. It’s lucky we were all here. Most Magi would be orderly about reincarnation in a small space, but not the kids. Twelve Magi in a space the size of Wichita, Kansas. After two centuries of no Magi awakening, and with humanity spread to the four corners, who loaded the dice that dumped 12 of us in Wichita? No clue. But beyond that improbability, our incarnations are all typical: all of us Awoke well into adulthood and with, as I said, a fair portion of our past-‐life memories in tact, generally two or three full lifetimes and some scattered emotional bits. Then, three months ago, we were hit with a plague of sorts. Resonance flooded the town. Clashing harmonies filled the weave. And an Ordo truck carrying 31 Magi chests rolled into town. And where were these chests delivered? To high school students. We became 12 parents (and one weird Uncle Ur) to 31 children, all between sixteen and nineteen years old, all hyped on hormones and high on newly-‐acquired superpowers. Awakening as a teenager is rough but so long as a Magi gets a good portion of their memories back, they deal well with the sudden flush of power. But, no, this batch is all twisted up. Most remember only bits and pieces. The others remember only trauma. One kid, Kern, remembers every single death he has ever died and nothing else. Collectively they are Not Doing Well. They are 31 teenage rebels-‐without-‐a-‐cause… and the duels are getting worse. The Octagon is suddenly brighter: two shimmering balls of light that are manifesting Magi souls float from Millie’s hands over to Ur. He catches them and gently coaxes each into a position against the wall. Millie is sweating as she juggles rifts to keep the other kids from reaching the center of the room where manifestation is initiated. Over the course of ten minutes, each of us takes a pair and connects them to the healing matrix around the perimeter of the room. By the time Millie gets her pair started, Ur’s pair are solid enough to communicate with. And Ur lays into them. “God damnit, Julia! You’re one of the few with a head on your shoulders. I shore-‐as-‐hell never expected to see you caught in this. What in hell were you thinkin’? None of you has the control for
duelin’ yet. You sling spells and act like you’re immortal. Well guess what? You’re only not mortal. Big difference. You get smeared enough, you end up a gaseous blob floating around the planet for decades! And you, Lisa, we all know any shield you put up has the durability of blown glass in a hailstorm! You’ve got no business dueling. None. Damnit, we’re trying to keep you all in tact!” Ur pauses to take a breath. Some of what Ur says is pure fiction, but perhaps some fear will keep the violence level down. Julia only rolls her eyes. “Oh, Ur, you worry too much. We’re fine. Besides, you’d have attacked them too if you’d heard what they said. Lisa and I and Zelda challenged Brad, Geoff and Drey after Brad called Lisa a whore and –“ “Well, perhaps ‘whore’ was too polite a term. Skank, maybe?” Brad, one of my pair, now has his voice back. “At least a whore lets you know up front that she’s sleeping with other guys.” “Other guys? You and I never –“ “Oh, so now you’re denying me completely? What, did you tell Kern that you were a virgin?” “There will be SILENCE.” Nicholas has one of Those Voices that carries power even when he’s not speaking in Tongue. All conversation ceases. “The eight of you have used up valuable resources today. There are Magi actively fighting to contain some of the malignant spirits that have built up in the world during our long sleep. If one of those Magi dissipates, they need this space to come home to. But it’s tied up with your childish squabbling. Now, you eight are here. Someone probably walked away from your little tet-‐a-‐tet as a ‘victor.’ Who else was involved?” No one volunteers an answer at first. Then Zelda whispers (only because she is half-‐ghost, not because she is in any way timid), “Oh, I’ll tell you who else was involved. That bitch Elsie and her boytoy Blake. And Shift. And Rix. They all need to be strung up for launching a surprise attack. They weren’t in the duel. They took advantage from the sidelines. That was an attack meant to take a body out. And I mean out out.” Her voice strengthens as she talks. Nicholas faces Zelda. “They will be dealt with in time. As for the eight of you…” He pauses and looks at the three of us adults. His eyes say that we better back him up here. I’ve known Nicholas in many of my lifetimes. He is often a friend, usually stern and always scary. “You eight will surrender your Codexes to us for three days.” I think Ur gasps, but it is covered by the cries from the assembled teens. I am shocked. I flip through my memories. I cannot recall, not ever, a master ever demanding that of an apprentice. Censuring individual spells, sure, if the apprentice demonstrated an inability to control it, but never censuring the whole book, and certainly never taking it away. That would destroy trust between the master and the apprentice. Is Nicholas that desperate to see the incantations these younglings have? “That’s not fair! I wasn’t even involved in this duel! Walt and I just got whacked by Rix and Shift as bystanders!” Ethan was the last to come in but he now protests the loudest. “I don’t deserve that!” I can see Walt struggling to get his voice to work to join this protest, but his lips just move silently. If we don’t back Nicholas now, we were really going to be screwed by the lack of respect for authority. We can discuss this later – among adults. So I speak: “Really? And what did you do to stop the duel? Did you try to talk them out of it? Did you at least stand guard to defend them if they got attacked while their attention was on the duel? No. You stood by and cheered, didn’t you?”
Ethan is under the impression that I have some sort of clairvoyance spell running at all times, but the truth is I just know his type. It is easy to make these guesses. “Didn’t you?” “Yes… sir.” Well, score one for the adults. At least we get a bit of respect when laying down the law. Nicholas walks over to the now solidified Julia and Lisa. “Your Codexes, please.” He holds one hand out to each of them. This never would have worked if these kids recalled even one previous lifetime. But we were dealing with a population of lobotomized Magi. Reluctantly, the two girls hand over their books. Nicholas whispers a binding Word that seals the books shut. “I will not open these while they are in my care. You have my oath on that.” Ur pipes up. “Actually, they’ll be in my care. I am a member of the Ordo. We care for chests between incarnations. We do not tamper. Hand ‘em over, Nicholas.” Ur is clearly upset by Nicholas’ punishment choice, but he does his best to make this work. With a quiet nod, Nicholas concedes Ur is the better keeper and passes the books. Ur walks around the circle silently until he has eight tomes in his arms. He Speaks: “Azhwebi Imi'bawazh Bizh.” And he is gone. The teens shuffle nervously. They are Magi. They know something is very wrong even if they do not know what that is. Brad, usually the confident jock, whispers, “Um. So. How do we defend ourselves if, well, you know…?” They are children who have had their eyes opened to the wonders and the horrors of the universe. They are children who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a monster under the bed and a boogey man out to get them. They are children who have just had their security blankets taken away. Unconsciously, they drift toward each other, huddling toward a corner. I think it is only then that Nicholas realizes what he has done. Magi are the guardians of Earth against the things from Beyond, and for two centuries, we have neglected our work. And now the things that we used to keep in check have run rampant. Instead of us hunting the things, the things hunt us. We are scattered. Our places of power are overseas – very few were ever established in this Western Hemisphere before this long sleep of ours. Our libraries are silted over with sand and sediment. Collectively, our memories are dim. Nicholas just deprived these kids of all their defenses. He has left them open to the creatures of the night. Now they are totally dependent on us adults. It is Millie who salvages the situation. “You will all stay here, living at the pub for three days. You will work hospital duty. None of you has learned how this room actually works despite having availed yourselves of its services multiple times. It’s time you learned. Someone has to be on call 24/7 in case The Bell rings. You will take turns working with whichever one of us is on rotation. Although it won’t be the most comfortable stay, you will not leave this pub. You know what is out there. Is that clear?” There are scattered “yes”es and a couple “yes, ma’am”s. Over the next couple hours, Ur brings in the other four, having deprived each of his or her Codex. None of the kids are happy, and they are vulgar in their epitaphs for us adults. Rix in particular
hurts me. When Ur teleports in holding Rix by the collar, Rix doesn’t look at Millie or Nicholas. He looks at me. I have betrayed him. He doesn’t know why he feels this way. But he will hate me with every fiber of his being for this crime. The only past lives Rix remembers are those where he Awakened and died in less than a year. For him, Awakening means he is dying. He does not remember me. I remember him. That’s the most painful part of The Kids. In all my many incarnations, I have not, obviously, met all of the Magi, but I have met many of them, and a surprising number of those who Awakened in Wichita this year are Magi I know from earlier eras. In other words, I know these children, and I know just how broken they are without their memories. Especially Rix. Rix and I have been lovers in enough incarnations that we now tend to recognize each other when we sync up. Usually we are opposite genders, though not always. We have never been this far apart in ages, but 23 physical years wouldn’t matter so much if he remembered the last couple hundred experienced years. I know I hover right on the edge of Rix’s blocked memories; that tattered history leaves him very confused. This teenager at age nineteen had just started to see the light at the end of puberty’s long tunnel when he got blindsided with the fragmented memories of millennia. He has no tools to explain why one day he is attracted to the young ladies around him and the next he is fixated on a man old enough to be his father. Wednesday, 9:20pm I have put the twelve kids to work cleaning the pub, which gives me chance to pull Millie, Nicholas and Ur together in my private rooms upstairs. Nicholas is my senior in rank among the Magi. Normally I defer to him, but today, I am outraged. “Ok, Nicholas, I played along with your extraordinary justice. Would you care to explain what the hell you’re thinking? How can you possibly justify this sentence?” Nicholas regards me with that cold stare he is known for, now and in lives past. “William, what is the purpose of a Magi duel?” “How is that relevant?” “I am trying to teach you. Answer the question.” I hate being treated like a child, but I try to calm myself and play along. “Duels are fought for two reasons, generally. Either they are a way to test one’s skills against others for practice, or they are like sporting events, generally with a wager on the outcome.” “And which of these applies to the ‘duels’ that our youngsters have been fighting?” I pause. “The second one, mostly. They’re kids. Generally one-‐upping one another for status.” “I see. Let me ask this another way… what is the penalty for killing another Magi in a duel?” I blink. “Um. There is no penalty. You just don’t do that. Ever. You reduce your opponent until their physical form discorporates and then you cease attack. Killing another Magi hasn’t happened since 1300 B.C., at least, and there’s contention about what happened in that case.” “Why don’t we kill?”
“Because death is not final for us, but the pain of a traumatic incarnation death is so terrible, it is often what we remember most when we are reborn. Thus one Magi killing another leads to the Magi being reborn with only one thought: the need to extract revenge. If we kill, we become trapped in a continually escalating chaotic war without any way to escape it.” “How do you know that?” I squint at him. “Huh? I don’t know. It’s just… something we all know.” Nicholas nods. “Well done. Now, let me ask another question on a different topic. Do you know the legend of Decimus and Titus?” “They were identical twins in Ancient Rome who were so bonded together they knew each other’s thoughts no matter the distance and were a powerful asset of Roman emperors for maintaining their far-‐flung empire.” “Indeed. And do you know what happens if two Magi are incarnated as identical twins?” “No.” “It has only happened a handful of times in our history. Their souls become aligned. In all future incarnations, they cannot help but recognize each other and generally can find the other anywhere in the world. It is an amazing unexplained and unbreakable link. A true miracle.” “Ok. So?” “So why doesn’t Zelda have a clue who Millie is?” There is a sharp intake of breath from Millie. Her hands cover her mouth. “How… how did you know?” Nicholas shakes his head. “I just know. You were Decimus. Titus should know you.” Millie begins crying openly. “She doesn’t recognize me. She looks at me and she doesn’t know me. I’m just this fat middle-‐age woman who interferes in her life. Something is broken.” Millie starts to sway. Ur catches her and pulls her in close. Nicholas is unrelenting. “Ur. If you really are the same Ur of legend, then you can tell us of Hemexis. Tell me: would the great hero Hemexis, even in his most disheveled state, act like the lying, sneaking, dishonorable brat Brad?” Ur glares at Nicholas. “No. And that’s the only reason I played along with this punishment of yours. It’s him. He has a few of the memories. But none of the character. It’s like his mind reincarnated without his soul. And he has none of Hemexis’ restraint.” “And you, William. What is Rix to you?” “How do you know about Rix and me?” “I don’t. I just know the pain in your eyes whenever you two meet. Rix knows you are somehow significant, but he does not trust you. If you and he share the kind of bond that your eyes tell me you share, he should at least trust you. Even when the memory of events does not survive the
interval between incarnations, the connection to other Magi does. But not this time. I don’t know why. Maybe they slept too long. But they are, as Millie said, broken.” Nicholas draws himself straighter and I the evening air grows colder as he speaks: “None of them knows themselves as Magi. Their duels are escalating exactly the way the duels did when Magi first walked this Earth. William, you said we all just know not to kill. These children do not know that. I have interviewed them. The trap that Shift set up was designed to kill. He is an angry young man. He thinks he has somehow been insulted by the others. And Rix and Elsie and Blake helped him set it up. Not one of them objected. Not one!” Nicholas whispers a Word: “Zher-bonaw.” He Spoke it gently, without force, but it still resonated – truth revealed has a way of doing that. I felt the world shudder in revulsion. All four of us are surprised at the resonance, and we sit quietly, thinking about the implications. We are surprised again by a timid knock on the door. It opens a crack. One of the kids, Blake, peeks through. “Um… I know you said we shouldn’t interrupt, but it sounded like you called for us. Did you?” “No,” I say. “Go back downstairs.” The door shuts. Ur shivers. “Half-‐Magi.” Nicholas has disturbed the weave of magick with his Speech such that now even saying the English translation causes a small. “I nev’r wanted to never to deal with them ever ag’in.” I contemplate the stories I recall. They’re from the oldest memories, and though I remember much this incarnation, only fragments come back to me. The half-‐Magi were deranged, diseased somehow. They resurrected like the rest of us, but less intelligent each time, until they came back just gibbering, sometimes just Speaking one Word over and over, oblivious to the consequences. Nicholas surveys the three of us. “If they die now, with so few of their memories, I believe they will reincarnate even more broken. A downward spiral until maybe they don’t reincarnate at all. Their Magi souls still slumber. We must finish their Awakening.” “How do you ‘finish’ an Awakening?” asks Millie. “It just happens to us. And we either have our memories or we don’t.” “Ask Ur.” The three of us turn to stare at Ur. He looks uncomfortable. “Now, look, I know you’ve heard the story. But I don’t tell that story. That’s other people telling a story about me.” His hands unconsciously form the sign of defense. “But is it true?” asks Nicholas. “Don’t matter. It’s a bad idea. Think of somt’in’ else.” Nicholas shakes his head. “There is nothing else. If you know the ritual, you must share it or watch these children destroy each other. And maybe others.” Ur suddenly seems even older than his gray hair indicates. “So be it.” His accent is gone. “I will gather the pieces. The Nam-‐Shub of Yesterday’s Embers takes time to prepare. I estimate I will be
gone two days.” He pauses. “Nicholas. If I find that you caused this just to learn this ritual, I promise you the same punishment I once gave another Magi on a certain mountaintop in Africa.” “I assure you, old one, I would not willingly be the cause of a disaster like this.” Ur nods, touches the pocket that must hold his Codex, mutters Words, and vanishes. We break up. Millie leaves the pub to visit the other adult Magi, to tell them the punishment and Nicholas’ theory. Nicholas, specialist in he’sos magick, visits the biological parents of our prisoners, both to calm their fears and to acquire clothes, toiletries and other necessities. I keep watch over the kids. Thursday, 12:08am Shortly after midnight, Millie returns to my pub. I have closed early, over the protests of my mute customers, but I am still downstairs and so hear her knock on the door. She enters, breathless. “Madrigal and Bliss are in the shadows tonight.” “Why?” “Odd harmonics in the corn.” I rub my temples, still disturbed out by this exotic plant. I have never been incarnated in the Western Hemisphere before. I have never, to the best of my memory, been any place with large fields of corn. Nothing in my memory would prepare me to expect that a plant growing on the vast plane of Kansas would be the perfect amplifier to the vibrations of the universe. That is why we call it magick: secrets hide in the oddest places. We have few places of power in this New World, so we have few listening posts for the ghosts and other creeping nasties. But we have corn. When Discord elevates, the corn cries. I am surprised its mournful wail is not audible to mutes. Similarly, when Harmony rises, the corn sings. If left unharvested and allowed to die in the field, the field will retain this property even in winter. “Odd how?” “Jagged, sharp sounds. Like the violins from Psycho.” “Ok. Does anyone know what that means?” “Bliss said she did. She armed herself for battle and before she and Madrigal set out she said, and I quote, ‘Tell William that The Bell will toll at half past one. If it tolls only once, I’m not coming back and he should give my letter to the Ordo.’ End quote.” I arch my eyebrow. Magi may choose to use my pub as a safe deposit box, another form of health insurance that I offer. They leave letters with me detailing where their chests lie so the Ordo can round them up for their next incarnation. Why would Bliss be so certain of the time? I gesture to the back room where the kids are already asleep. “Looks like their education is going to start right away. Good night, Millie. I have enough help here for tonight.” She nods and leaves. On the way out, she touches the lintel of my door and whispers a few Words, adding another layer, however small, to the protections that guard this place.
Thursday, 1:10am I wake from my nap, going instantly from sleep to full awareness. This is not magick. Years of timing spells and combat reflexes have trained me to wake without an alarm at any time I want. I know many Magi who have this skill. I look over my 12 sleeping charges arrayed around the perimeter of the pub’s back room in sleeping bags. I make my choice. Quietly, I approach Julia and gently nudge her shoulder until she wakes, slightly startled. I put my finger over my lips and motion for her to get up. I do the same with Greg. These two I lead into the back room. “I am anticipating casualties tonight – only two, which I can handle on my own. You will watch and you will learn.” They are wild eyed. I post them like guards on either side of the door. And then I sit and meditate. I hear them shifting from one foot to the other. Neither of them can meditate. Most of the kids cannot. They are anxious, eager, angry, fearful – all the traits a Magi cannot have. You cannot play the Great Game without patience. Exactly on the mark of 1:30am, The Bell tolls. Once. After the tone fades away, there is a pause, and then a small ball of light appears at the room’s middle. It grows until I can reach out and cup it in my hands, Speaking a small spell that makes it solid to my touch. Gently I carry it over to the healing glyphs carved into the wall. I make sure the two kids can see as I touch the light to one glyph, then another, then a third, then let the light go so it hangs in the center of the three. Then I Speak the Words of the Regeneration Form. The field springs into life, amplified by the room’s arrangement. Through all of this I have not allowed myself to consciously note that there has been no second ring. Now the silence seems particularly ominous. And then… a second tolling of The Bell. The Fates are generous this night. I gather that ball of light against a second panel of the room. Once it is settled, Greg approaches me. “You do not use your Codex for this?” “The room itself is an inscription. Very carefully set up so that any Magi may use it if they have my blessing. I set in motion the Regeneration Form. The room is a permanent standing Regeneration Field.” Julia: “I’m not familiar with either of those.” I turn to Greg. “What can you tell her about them?” Greg squints. “Not much. Obviously from their names, they regenerate a Magi. I recall that the Field doesn’t do anything by itself.” “Correct.” That’s an exciting development – Greg remembered a fact about a spell. He Awakened with near perfect recall of the language and with the ability to cast every spell in his Codex, but with absolutely no idea what any of them did. It took weeks of comparing notes with his fellows to puzzle out what any of his spells would do. Whereas most of the kids were tight-‐lipped about their Codex contents, as most Magi are, Greg had no choice but to share. His Codex was heavy with biological spells, including the regenerators. Nicholas was salivating – I swear the man survives on the adrenalin of uncovering the secrets of other Magi.
Julia asks, “I couldn’t quite hear you. Was it ‘Shukhra’ or ‘Shukhre’ for the Regeneration Form?” “Shukhra,” I reply. And I admonish her: “Never ask a question like that. Your tongue will learn the mispronunciation. Simply ask me to repeat the phrase properly. Worse, in this room, certain spells are primed to be activated, and given the similarity of Words, you might trigger something.” “Yes, William.” She sees my face and corrects herself. “Yes, Master William.” “Good.” I am much more lenient with the kids than most of the other adults. I only insist on the Master title when I am actively teaching. We Magi learned long ago to have rules for the interactions between teacher and student. The formalism seems stilted, even archaic, in this modern world, but it is best to avoid over familiarity when in the teaching role. Taking advantage of one’s position causes problems for future incarnations. Madrigal and Bliss finish their healing, but they still look tired. I turn to them as they step away from the regeneration wall. “How was the hunt?” Madrigal cracks her knuckles. “This one,” pointing at Bliss, “is a scary bastard in a fight. She casts spells faster than I can turn pages in my book. A werewolf with diamond fur, blinking in and out of existence!” I arch my eyebrow at Bliss. Last time we talked, she didn’t have any teleport spells. Bliss waves a hand dismissively. “The Sehimi spell, of course. I never studied any of that ethereal plane stuff.” “And the precise timing?” I ask. “What? Oh, that… I just know the duration of my shield cascade. The sequence of shields lasts exactly one and a half hours, if I time it right. If we weren’t out of there before that last shield collapsed, I was going to discorporate Madrigal and then go out with style.” “Suicide spells? What in the name of all the gods were you fighting that would be worth that?!” The two of them answer at the same time: “An eggplant.” They laugh and Bliss explains, “No, really, it looks just like a giant eggplant. With vine-‐like tentacles. Carnivorous plants. They’re magickal, obviously. I knew their resonance pattern. They grow relatively fast. They can hide themselves, which is why I didn’t take a larger hunting party – it would have known we were coming. It was critical to kill this one before it bloomed – their seeds can scatter over continents and they grow in pretty much any soil. They used to be all over the world until we Magi hunted them to extinction. Or so I thought. Seems someone was hording seeds.” She pauses. “This one was planted in the last three months.” She looks pointedly at Greg and Julia. “It wasn’t me!” yells Greg. “I don’t go around creating man-‐eating eggplants!” “I think it might be…” Julia looks around, ashamed to be ratting. “It might be Kern. He said he, ah, had some stuff in his chest. He said it was a lot of ‘hippie trash’ and dumped it out to get to his Codex. There were a bunch of pressed flowers and crowns of woven vines. A few seeds, I think.” Madrigal’s eyes widen. “He had items in his chest that he just dumped out?” “Kern said it was probably just sentimental trash his previous self had picked up. He knows he was previously a girl and he seems to think she was pretty stupid.”
Julia’s comment reminds me again of Nicholas’ analysis. Kern’s girl-‐self would have been no smarter or dumber than his boy-‐self now. These kids did not think of their past lives as being themselves. The past lives were other people who just happened to own their things, like the previous owners at a garage sale. Total disconnect. I can see Madrigal and Bliss thinking the same thing. But I have greater concerns now. “Do you know where he dumped the items out?” “Somewhere in McAdams Park. Over by the interstate.” Bliss: “That is near where we found the eggplant. It will be a big area to search, but it does seem like we should round up anything else that Kern discarded.” I nod. “Definitely. A project for tomorrow. Well, ladies, glad your hunt was successful.” I send Julia and Greg back to bed and let Madrigal and Bliss out before heading to bed myself. Thursday, 10:00am I keep the twelve kids at the pub too busy to complain about incarceration. In the last three months, there hasn’t been much opportunity to force discipline on these rogues. I have them cleaning the pub from bottom to top (yes, including my personal space – when I have prison labor, I’m not above letting them do my laundry). I make them actually practice their gestures and pronunciations. I make a big deal of letting them in on “secrets” of several spells that are so common every Magi has them, but somehow have slipped the minds of these younglings. These trinket spells, like the simplest Fireball, long ago lost their power to impress most Magi, but the kids cannot recall ever seeing one. I am enjoying having true children full of wonder after so many centuries of jaded Magi. Thursday, 3:30pm I leave the pub under Nicholas’ watchful eye to join Madrigal and Kern. We trek out to the park to find the “junk” contents of his chest. None of us knows who Kern was in his past, but when we find the pile of leaves and flowers – luckily still mostly in a ravine – we all agree he was a cryptobotanist of the highest skill, which limits the possibilities considerably. Technically the items from his chest were forfeit under Magi law to the first to find them, but we all agree under the circumstances to simply return them to Kern. Still, it does appear that many seeds from the chest are now scattered across the park and – knowing the nature of magical plants – probably far further. We collect what we can. As we are leaving, Madrigal gasps and grabs my arm. “Bill. Stop.” Her other hand grabs Kern’s shoulder, pulling him back. The teenager jerks at her grasp. “What gives?” he growls. “Shut up,” she hisses. He isn’t dumb and follows orders. I follow her stare. It takes a moment to figure out what has her attention. It is a small circle of mushrooms. And I was just about to step into it. She whispers, “Back away. Slowly.” And we do. It takes several minutes to back out to what Madrigal considers a safe range. And she spins on Kern. “You idiot. And I don’t just mean in this lifetime. I mean whoever the hell you were before! You absolute idiot! We cleaned up all those spores. We were safe. But you obviously kept some. And now they’ve sprouted again. What were you thinking?!” She steps into his face. “Do you hear me, Jenicka? An idiot!”
Kern blinks. “Er. Jenicka?” “Yes. I know who you were. There just weren’t that many people involved in hunting the Bermuda mushrooms. You were Magi Jenicka Carpenter. And an idiot.” She turns to me. “Bill, we have to come back tonight. Those mushrooms can only be destroyed at night, when they’re weakest.” “What do they do?” I ask. “They make any creature that steps inside the circle disappear. Gone. And every creature that vanishes makes the circle that much bigger. Even ants or spiders add to the circle’s strength. The mushrooms can move. They can hunt prey.” Kern looks worried. “When you say ‘gone’, where do they go?” “The only answer we have to that is one Magi who they captured. The mushrooms ate an entire town, and he was among the citizens. He never returned in that life. But he reincarnated almost two centuries later. When he Awakened, he was instantly terrified of the dark. He was someplace with no walls, no barriers, just infinite empty space with no light. He never saw anyone else. He felt constant pain as his body was drained. None of his spells worked there – the energy was just… eaten.” Kern looks concerned. “So he… he reincarnated without his Codex?” Madrigal’s jaw drops. “That’s the part that bothers you? Yes, his Codex was lost. It happens.” She turns to me. “Help me secure the area now. We don’t want the mushrooms wandering off. And we don’t want anything large stumbling in.” We put up some fear spells to turn aside mutes and animals. These will have to be renewed every half-‐hour or so, so Madrigal phones several other Magi to come out to tag team keeping the area clear. She is emphatic that we have to be careful. “They are sneaky.” Thursday, 6:46pm The bar is a disaster zone. There are far more than just 12 teenage Magi here. The others, hearing about the punishment Nicholas handed down, have converged on the bar, some to sympathize, some to mock, and then others have followed just to be part of the action. I have lost count of how many are here. I am grateful that I have Awakened in a country that bans alcohol to the biologically young – it gives me an excuse to not serve them drinks. That has not stopped them from behaving like out-‐of-‐control drunks. And I still serve food. “Dinner is served,” I announce to the back room. There is a stampede to the bar where I am serving. “Dibs!” “Take a hike, short stuff.” “Give me my plate back!” “Make me.” “Ses Har Khur!” Did I say I liked having children? I lied. In a loud voice, I Speak: “Tholon!” I am behind the bar. And the bar was designed by me such that the acoustics of the room carry my voice to its furthest corners. Everyone stops talking.
Brad golf claps appreciatively. “Kotukh, indeed, Master!” I ignore him – I cannot tell if he is sincere or just giving Shane a hard time. Brad and Shane hate each other, and it is Shane’s spell I have just reversed. I address Shane, my eyes black with anger. “This is neutral ground. Neutral. Ground. And you just attacked an unarmed Magi under my protection. My. Protection.” When I want to, I move fast, no magickal assistance needed. I reach across the bar and have Shane by the shirt collar. “I banish you. I banish you from this place and from Magi society. I will scribe your name on the List of the Damned and broadcast it to the world. No Magi will offer you sanctuary. No Magi will offer you aid. No Magi will acknowledge you as you pass in the street until I lift the banishment. Go. Now. Or face worse punishment.” I release his collar and he falls backward, landing on his ass. Another voice calls out. “A moment, Magi William.” It is Selene, another one of the adult Magi in this too-‐small town. Selene is in her early 60s, a very late Awakening, but she moves with a young dancer’s ease. The kids part as she walks through. She stops and looks down at Shane. “Your banishment is just, Magi William. This one –” she taps him with her shoe “– is a worthless sack of shit,” she pauses. Shane has the grace at least to look ashamed. Somehow Selene can get through to the kids better than the rest of us. She speaks their language. “but casting him out into the literal and metaphorical darkness will not make him better. And a Magi alone won’t last long in this twisted world into which we have Awakened.” Her gaze focuses on Shane. “Boy, if you offer your Codex to Master William as penance and agree to share in punishment here, then I suspect Master William could see his way to temper justice with mercy.” A breath. “Choose. Now.” Shane moves fast as a whip. His Codex is out of his breast pocket and lands flat with a smack on the bar. “Master William, forgive me. I acted without thinking of the consequences.” He drops to his knees before my bar. Selene Speaks with her voice’s whisper such that I suspect only I and Shane hear her: “Bahuki Ahmasi.” And then she speaks with her mind’s whisper such that I know only I hear her: “We caNnot cAst HiM ouT, goOd wiLliAm. HE iS BroKen. We hAve To HolD thEm togETher untIl uR rEturnS.” I nod and look down at Shane. “Magi Shane Stockton. I acknowledge your apology and your desire to set this right. I hereby lift the banishment from you, contingent upon your penance. You will not leave this pub until your Codex is returned to you, and you will obey me or my designate in all things. Is that clear?” “Yes, Master.” “So moot it.” Selene repeats: “So moot it.” Many of the others, recognizing the ritual words, mutter it under their breath. I go back to serving dinner from the stew pot. But I cannot fully put this event out of my mind. Shane attacked another Magi on neutral ground. That could get him killed. But it also means he might kill others. I am in a room full of half-‐Magi who still carry their Codexes, who apparently lack the instinct to respect neutral ground, and who are so unstable they may launch an attack over a bowl of soup. I am more than a little afraid. Dinner is barely served when The Bell tolls twice.
Thursday, 7:18pm I race to The Octagon. The party that is going to hunt mushrooms should not have left yet – sundown isn’t for another half-‐hour. I have no idea who is coming through my gate. I look over my shoulder and see many of the kids piled around the door, watching me. An idea occurs to me. “Greg! Front and center.” “Yes, Master?” he answers, threading his way among his peers into the room. “Tell me what to do.” “Sir?” “Tell me what to do. You know the steps. Guide me through them. What do I have to do first?” I can see him panic. But there’s a fierce whisper-‐shout from the doorway, “Turn the wheel!” I recognize Julia’s voice. Greg recovers his nerve. “Right. The wheel. In the center of the room. Turn it to make sure the arrow on it is lined up with the entry.” I turn the wheel. “Now make sure that the candles are all lit.” One of them has blown out, so I relight it with the matches I keep handy. “Now, wait for the soul to appear.” The words are no sooner out of his mouth than a small ball of blue light forms in the center of the room. The wheel starts spinning on its own. “Cup your hands under the ball of light and Speak the words to the… um… I don’t know what you call the spell. I don’t want to Say the Word.” I nod and Speak the word: “Eline.” The ball congeals in my hands. “Now carry it to the wall. Touch it to the three inscribed runes. First the… um… Thi. Then Ma. And then… um…” I finish for him. “And then Fas. For the body.” “Right. And then you release the sphere into the activated Field and cast Regeneration Form.” “Shukhra,” I Say, with firmness. I step aside. “There is another one coming through the gate. Greg, you handle this one.” “But…” “Now. Or will you make the patient suffer longer?” “Yes, Master.” Few things sharpen the mind and the will like on-‐the-‐job training when life is on the line. Greg performs the ritual flawlessly. It is only when he steps aside after activating the Regeneration Form that I realize something is very wrong with the second soul. The Octagon cannot diagnose problems, but it amplifies harmonies and discords so I can. “Move aside, Greg. You did very well, but this one needs special attention.” I pull out my Codex and bow my head in prayer. “Bo-wi Luntho.” I start with this spell so it will be available when I finish the sequence. “Zhorufekhi Shodair.” The air vibrates. Several of the watching kids gasp – they can feel the stir of energy that I have just summoned, pulling from the
pain of the soul before me. “Kelnatha Wauzhi.” This last spell I Speak, and as I do, I channel my will into it, letting my soul sing out, driving it. The cost is considerable, but the twin curses afflicting this soul shatter. My second and third spells come to an end, and as they do, the first spell I cast takes their dying energies. I feel the pain of the sacrifice I have made, but that pain is quickly balmed by the re-‐harmonization of my soul. The two souls solidify into bodies. I should have known – two more of the kids. Marcus and Cindy… sorry, I mean Morgana. Since Awakening, she wants nothing to do with her birth name, but she does not remember any of the names she has carried in the past, so she picked a name. If she had her memories, she would not assume a name so reviled among the Magi. I am tired of this. “Marcus. Morgana. We said there would be no more dueling. This chamber and my resources are limited and are needed by Magi who are actually working.” The Regeneration Field is clearly working to clean up Marcus’ black eye. “Blow it out your ass, old man. I didn’t ask you to save me. I’d be just fine. I’ll reform out in a cornfield somewhere. Save me from having to spend time around repressive farts like you.” In other circumstances, I might have laughed at his mixed metaphors. But I am tired. To my eternal shame, I haul back and come within a hairs’ breath of slapping him across the face. I check my swing in time. “You are lucky we are here on neutral ground. Apprentices who speak thus to a master have been known to suffer some fairly malignant transformations.” “I’m not your f-‐ing apprentice. I didn’t sign on for your shit.” “You don’t get a choice. You’re a walking time bomb, and I’m responsible from keeping everyone else safe from you. And that means training you until you have your Magi skills back – including your self control.” I project my voice to the faces peering through The Octagon’s door. “That goes for all of you. I have had it. You have no understanding of the forces you are playing with. None. You think you do. You make the gestures. You mouth the Words. You pantomime at being Magi. The world we now live in has no time or space for your pathetic games. During our long sleep, the world has gone mad. Listen to the Discord. Somewhere in your petty souls, you have to be able to hear it. No Magi has done anything to settle the vibrations in this part of the world in centuries. Something kept us asleep. And something else took advantage of that sleep to move into the void we left. Maybe those are the same somethings. Who knows? What I know is this – each and every one of you is broken, and you are a danger to yourselves and others. Look what Kern did with his ignorance – unleashed two extinct horrors back into the world. One of the curses that I just dispelled from Morgana was viral. It can mutate and spread if improperly handled, but you probably didn’t know that. Some of you have artifacts that you wear like costume jewelry.” My eyes catch on Rix’s face. My voice cracks… I cannot maintain the anger. “Please. Please let us help you. You are our friends. Our family. You are sick in ways you cannot really conceive, but I know each of you feels the pain. Please. Try to cut each other some slack. And trust those of us who can remember what it means to be Magi to lead you back to the light.” I survey all the faces. “That’s it. I’m done. Marcus, Morgana, the penalty for dueling at this point is surrendering your Codexes. Hand them over.” I am amazed – both of them comply without complaint. Thursday, 11:45pm
No one has gone to bed. We all know that a group of eight adult Magi set out over four hours ago to attack the mushroom ring. It was an attack that Madrigal thought would take about an hour, if all went well. None of them has reported back yet. Friday, 12:22am The Bell has tolled once, and now Bliss is rematerializing in The Octagon. “They’re still fighting. Did you get our message?” I frown. “No. What message?” “We need reinforcements. But not just anyone… our defenses are spread thin. We need a Quant.” Quantum Magi are rare beasts, mostly because they tend not to share their spells. I have been told – ok, I admit, it was an Ur story – that there is some secret that must absolutely not ever be shared with most Magi, but certain Quantum spells disclose the secret, so Quantum Magi have to be extra close-‐lipped about who they teach. “More secretive even than The Unraveling?!” I asked. “Yes,” said Ur, with apparent seriousness. I have no better explanation for the rarity. Zelda pipes up. “I know a bunch of those spells.” I start to object. Zelda has a weird lisp that only kicks in when she is Speaking. Any spell with Zhi in it she has a high chance to miscast. Bliss knows this, but before I can object, Bliss says, “Yes. Take us to the park. Now.” She strides over and takes Zelda’s arm. It takes Zelda a lot of concentration to establish a Rift, but she succeeds, and then Speaks, “Bizh.” Being at the end of the word, her lisp doesn’t cause a problem, and Zelda, carrying Bliss as a passenger, wrinkle away. Friday, 1:52am A bell tolls, but not The Bell. This is the pub’s front door bell. One of the teens runs to answer it. Through my door comes Nicholas carrying a fairly wounded Millie. Behind them come all the remaining adult Magi, some banged up, others playing nurse. Bringing up the end is Tim, lending his shoulder to a limping Zelda. Nicholas announces, “Everyone is accounted for. No casualties.” There are cheers throughout the bar. We doctor the wounded. Adrenalin quickly wears out and everyone sleeps. Even the adults form a palette from my growing collection of blankets on the floor. Friday, 7:00 in the oh-my-it-is-way-too-early-to-be-that-chipper morning “Well, I’ll be! Y’all decided to have a family reunion without invitin’ me? How is everyone this fine morning?” A locked door is meaningless to a teleporting Magi, and Ur just strides in like he owns the place. “I haven’t seen this many Magi sleeping on a floor since old Magi Flamius unleashed his dreaded ‘dusty furniture’ curse back in the Dark Ages. Made any piece of furniture the bearer touched collapse in a pile of sawdust. ‘Course, that was what lead bed makers to develop metal springs for sleeping on, so it turned out to be a blessing eventually.”
I can hear his voice all the way upstairs where I am sleeping comfortably in my bed. I can also hear Nicholas’ reply: “Magi Ur, this is neutral ground. Since I consider your unbearable cheerfulness and absurd stories at this early hour to be a form of attack, you will kindly cease both of them at once.” “An attack? Hell, Nicholas, I’m so loaded with Harmony this morning, flowers bloom when I whistle. I could sing away hangovers this morning. You could probably use my piss to scrub away karmic debt.” “Eww,” says Lisa, sitting up from her palette of blankets. “Sorry, my dear. I didn’t mean to offend your modern sensibilities. It’s my Neanderthal upbringing coming through. Nevertheless, you can’t call it an attack, Nicholas. I am the lark, the herald of the morn! Cock a doodle doo!” “Um, Ur…” Blake starts. “I mean, Master Ur… I think that’s a rooster, not a lark.” “It’s a rooster larking about, which they do a lot around sunrise. Speaking of sunrise, is Bill serving breakfast? Hey, Bill… you servin’ breakfast?” Ur yells upstairs. There is no point in hiding in my bed. If I ignore him, I worry he’ll teleport under the sheets with me. So I yell down, “I’m getting dressed. Be there shortly.” As I come down the stairs a few minutes later, I make a headcount of the room. Every Magi living in the city of Wichita is there. I guess the last of the teens managed to find their way to the pub last night. Millie and Nicholas have taken charge of the kitchen already. When did they find time to stock breakfast supplies? I shrug and decide to just enjoy the minor miracle of sausage and pancakes that I didn’t have to make myself. Everyone is busy eating when… “Ur,” I say, “what the heck are you doing climbing up on my bar? You’ll scratch it with your shoes.” “Not wearin’ any shoes, Bill. Your bar’s gonna be fine. But, everybody, I got an announcement to make. Listen up.” He waits while a couple of conversations wind down. “Ok. I’ve been out of town the last couple days. Someone here asked me to work on a bit of a project. Now, which of you kids can tell me what a ‘nam-‐shub’ is? And, no, that’s not the name of the pole up Nicholas’ ass.” There’s some minor tittering silenced quickly by Nicholas’ glare and clearing of throat. “Isn’t that…” Rix has his eyes squeezed shut like he’s trying to remember something long buried. “I think that’s the term for a big spell, one of the multi-‐part things that sometimes need multiple people.” “Give the boy a gold star and an extra bowl of porridge. Yessiree, a nam-‐shub is a big spell. They do things like make Mount Pompeii erupt or shrink the city of Atlantis down so it fit inside the eye of a needle. It wasn’t destroyed, and the people were fine, just smaller. It didn’t get destroyed until that camel tried to go through the same eyehole. But that’s not the point. The point is, I did a dance over to a certain library in Europe to find a particular inscription, and tonight, we’s gonna have us an old fashioned nam-‐shub casting party.” Rix’s eyes get big. “We’re going to blow up Wichita?”
“What? No! Just ‘cause a spell is big don’t mean it’s gotta hurt. This is a balm spell. Fixin’ stuff.” “What stuff?” “You’ll see. And I expect y’all to be impressed. I went to a lot of trouble to dig up this incantation. Fought off two fluffy bunnies with big sharp pointed teeth to get to it, not to mention their butterfly allies. But I’ve got it now. Now to cast this nam-‐shub, gonna need some supplies.” He opens his backpack and pulls out a sheaf of papers. “I’ve got one here for every Magi in this joint. Round up the items on this list and meet back here at noonish. Or sooner. Some of you folks can’t leave the pub. That’s ok… your items are all stuff around here. Now, let’s get started. Brad! Lisa! Blake! Rix!...” he continues calling off names. Everyone takes a page, including me. I unfold mine. It just says, “See me after everyone gets busy.” I wait around. Most of the lists are full of the most ridiculous items. Julia, trapped in the bar, has the assignment, “81 square paper napkins, each with exactly one milliliter of vodka dotted on each of three corners.” At first the kids suspect that they have been given busy work while the adults do real stuff, but Tim’s assignment is “One flower petal from every square kilometer section containing the home of a Magi in Wichita, each petal a unique species.” After everyone is satisfied that everyone else is on an equally ridiculous task, they merrily go to work. After all, Ur promised something big, and Ur has never been anything if not entertaining. Ur heads upstairs to my rooms. I follow him up. He goes inside my bedroom and motions me to follow. I oblige, as much out of concern for my room as from interest in his assignment. After all, it is only the downstairs that is neutral ground. Ur sits on the floor, cross-‐legged. “Have a seat, Bill. We gotta talk.” I sit down across from him. It has been many years since I sat like this and it takes some doing to get my legs to yoga like that. “What’s up?” His eyes get a bit sad and his accent goes away. “William, do you know what this spell does? Has Nicholas told you?” “No idea. There hasn’t been a lot of time while you were gone.” “I figured there must be something that caused everyone to be on your pub’s floor. I will get the details later. But I want to talk about this spell. It is called “Yesterday’s Embers”. It is a Mind Sphere nam-‐shub.” “Yesterday’s Embers? Like fire?” “Indeed. What happens if you throw some fresh kindling on dying embers and blow on them a bit?” “It flares back up.” “Exactly. This spell takes the faded memories of a Magi, throws some fresh kindling on, and makes them flare up. It gives a Magi access to a fairly big sweep of their past memories.” “Whoa. Ur… that’s huge. That’s like the most wonderful spell ever. Why don’t we cast it every time we Awaken?”
“Because there’s a cost. Remember… I said kindling. You need fuel to burn, and memory fuel is not cheap.” He pulls from his shirt sleeve a scroll. “Many of the items being gathered really are needed for this spell, but I’ve put as much distraction in as I possibly can. Nicholas cannot be allowed to learn this spell.” “You don’t trust him?” “William, I barely trust myself. Do you know how seductive it is to have access to all your own secrets? So much power.” “But you said there’s a cost. If it is so expensive, that should keep a Magi from abusing the spell.” “Oh, I wish. There is a cost. A big cost. But not for the caster…” Friday, noon-ish Magi are trickling back together. Ur has taken over the front room of the pub as an altar of sorts. I’ve hung out a sign for the mutes that says “Closed For Private Event! Come Back Tomorrow!” Nicholas is running around in a storm trying to keep track of what each person is bringing back. I am fairly sure he is on to Ur’s game. I am walking a very fine line on the rules of neutral ground. I cast several illusions and some sound distortions so that Nicholas hears the wrong ingredients or the wrong amounts. I do some mind attacks on some of the teenagers while they are outside the pub so that they lie to Nicholas when he probes them. Nicholas is so busy monitoring for Ur’s interference – and Ur does cast a few token confusion spells – that he never notices me. The whole time, I keep thinking about Ur’s kindling. I pull Rix aside. I haven’t really approached him in all the last three months. I feel I have to do so now. “Hey, Rix… can we talk a bit?” He flinches at my touch. “Um. I’m kinda busy.” “I saw you hand in your items to Ur already. Please. There’s a lot of set up work to do for the spell at this point, no effects until later. Please, can we talk?” He looks around. “Ok. Talk.” “Not here.” “I can’t leave the pub.” “Upstairs.” “Your place?!” There’s a tone of panic in his voice, which cracks as only a teenage male voice can. “Yes. Please. You’ll be fine. I promise.” He is afraid of me. I think he is going to bail. But then he gets this swagger in his movement. “Ok, old man, let’s go upstairs so you can have your way with me.” He bounds up the stairs before I can respond. I move slower, and by the time I get up there, he’s flopped across my bed. “Something like this?” “Oh, grow up already!” I growl.
“I thought you like ‘em young.” “Rix. I know you don’t remember much. But do you remember me at all? Do the names Victoria or Antonia or N’wabudike mean anything to you?” He hesitates. “No. Should they?” “Oh, yes. They were my names. How about Charles or Septimus or Baruit?” “No.” “Those were your names. At the same time. Those were the best years – years when we were born almost the same age, opposite genders, and we encountered each other young. Those were the lifetimes that I got to grow old with you. Just those three. I don’t recall all the details. I do recall the joy of raising children with you. And there are other lifetimes, times when we didn’t quite line up, but we still waved at each other in passing. I know you. Do you remember?” “No.” “Then perhaps you remember this name? Hamu Ithal.” I Speak the words, but they are not an incantation. I Name him, and I put what resonance I carry into that name. He blinks. “N…o. Not quite.” I sigh and surrender. “Fine. I didn’t expect you to. There’s a wall in your mind, and it will take more than my hammering to bring it down. But I needed you to know these things. You are special to me, and I am special to you. The confusion you feel in your soul when you see me is not some demonic corruption. It is love and compassion that has grown over multiple lifetimes. And although we are not aligned in this lifetime, I just wanted to wave to you… in passing.” He frowns. It is a look I have seen on him in many faces. “Are you going somewhere?” “Not exactly. Just having you so close these last couple days and knowing the rough times ahead for you, I had to say something. I want you to know that someone cares for you – not just your parents in this lifetime that you say ‘just don’t get it’. It’s true, they don’t get it, but they do care. But I do get it and I do care.” I stop babbling. “I’m making a hash of this aren’t I?” He laughs. “No, no, you are making as much sense as I’d expect from a B movie plot about a girl trapped in a guy’s body trying to talk to her boyfriend.” “Well, this isn’t a grade-‐B movie. This is our life. Our lives, I mean. And I probably have to settle for waving from a distance in this lifetime.” “Probably? Definitely. Look, even if I were into that sort of thing, you’re, well, you look a lot like my dad. It just ain’t happening. I’ve accepted an awful lot in the last three months. That would cross a line.” “I don’t look anything like your father.” “You’re both old.” “I’m 32, thank you.”
“Right, I thought so.” We stare at each other at an impasse. He sighs. “Look, I get what you’re saying. And, honestly, thanks. I thought I was going crazy every time you walked in the room. But I’m not this Charles guy you think I am. I mean, maybe I am, but… but… but all we are is stories, and I am not living that story right now.” I nod. “I can live with that. This time. But two hundred years from now, I expect you to have your act together, or I’m dumping you.” He laughs. “We’ll always have Babylon, baby.” Friday, 3:33pm The nam-‐shub is in full swing. I can’t keep track of half the things Ur has people doing. There is singing. There is drum playing. There’s dancing. He had two of the teens kiss each other and another pair slug each other. Every adult takes a turn reading long passages of Atawum, some of which makes sense and feels potent, some of which is definitely gibberish, and some of which I swear Ur just wanted to hear us say, like Nicholas reading in his deep slightly-‐Russian tones something that was ostensibly Atawum but sounded suspiciously like the English for “Luke, I am your father.” All smoke and mirrors. It takes me a while to realize just how small the spell really is. Ur is casting it all by himself, in tiny tiny chunks. And I realize that I know why I know what Ur is doing when no one else does. Friday, 7:47pm The spell is wound tight, ready to spring. Everyone is tired from a full day of dancing to Ur’s tune. Ur stands up on the bar again to speak. “My friends, Magi all. I told you this spell was for fixing things. As you can hear, it has fixed my accent. I assure you, that effect is temporary. But its main effect will be permanent. The spell will restore some of the memories of every Magi present. For you adults, it will be bits and pieces that are important to you. For you teenagers, I believe I have it calibrated so each of you will recall one full lifetime plus a smattering of smaller bits. Everyone wins. Except for one of us. William, will you come up here, please?” Ur had laid the Mind Hack on me earlier in the day, and he had slowly built up more hooks, such that at this point, I could no more have refused him than a fish could decide to walk on land. I climb up on my bar – but still with enough presence of mind to remove my shoes first. Ur continues: “William agreed to this voluntarily. He is the only Magi present with the right qualifications to be the genesis for this spell.” I didn’t know if that was true or if it was more smoke for Nicholas, but I had agreed when Ur asked. Or, at least, at this point I remembered that I had. “To stoke the fires of memory from the embers, you need kindling. To awake memory, you must sacrifice memory. To Awaken a Magi, a Magi must sleep. William is going to need our care in the coming years. He is about to lose this lifetime. He will become mute again, to slumber until a new lifetime comes around. His ears will no longer hear Harmony, and he won’t know why all music sounds flawed. His lips will no longer shape Sehimu Thinara, and he won’t know why his mouth feels like cotton. He will suffer depression for a loss he cannot name. And, worst of all, we cannot help him along to his next lifetime without doing trauma to him worse than the darkness he will be living in. He must sleep. We hope the dreams outweigh the nightmares.” Ur turns me to face the crowd and stands behind my shoulder. “Thank you, William, for this gift to make half-‐Magi whole again. Magi, Awaken!” And then, as the last rays of sunset stream into my pub windows, he whispers a single Word, the last Word of the incantation, into my ear: “Semaha.”
Friday, 7:49pm I see Rix’s face light with recognition. I reach toward him and… I’m sorry. What was I saying?