1,13 - Majeaux
FBI Casefile 4815/1623-42
Seventh handwritten journal entry in small black notebook.
Chicago, a few months ago. Snow in the gutters colored black-flecked gray. The wind off the lake, knife-like.
I walked up Wentworth Avenue holding Anpenpan onto the top of my head as updrafts cuffed it. Chinatown laundromats, discount DVDs and unlocked cellphones, herbal dispensaries, Mah Jong parlors, Dim Sum Sunday specials.
I was about to meet with a brother Archimage. The first time in years I’d even seen another in the Order. Since the Battle of San Francisco and its aftermath we no longer communicate—it’s not safe to do so—and I don’t know how many of us are left. A handful, maybe that. Not an army. Not an Order, not anymore.
Yet we leave signs for each other, wherever we go. A scrawled glyph on an alley wall. A deposit of residual power masked with blood from a cut on the palm, smeared across a fencepost. A psychic flare placed like an arrow, hidden in the subconscious mind of a random passerby. After San Francisco I’ve only come across these signs twice. Chicago was the second time. I followed them to Aydin Yilmaz, who was living in a fourth-floor room above a butcher shop. Next to the building entrance, behind a smoked glass storefront display, skinless ducks swayed gently, hanging from their necks.
Yilmaz had known I was coming even before I approached his Sanctum. The door to the long, narrow room was unlocked and he was sitting by a window at a cheap plastic table, looking down at a battered wooden chessboard. Unplayed pieces waited for a first touch. I imagined that he’d been there, as still and silent as he was, for many days already, the sun through the beveled window refracting prismatic color across the chessboard’s black and white—at night the light of Chinatown street signs pulsed in a semaphore rise and fall of neon pink and blue—with the next morning’s sun restarting at zero its progress through the room.
We didn’t speak. I sat down in a wire-frame chair at the plastic table. My pieces were white. I opened with a queen’s gambit.
Chess is one of the secret languages of the Archimages. The game was created by our Order as a system of exchanging concepts, of advancing ideas against opposition to test them, to harrow them down to their pure forms. Over the centuries we’ve also developed an offhand slang with it, a way of conversing in imagery and emotion. This is why certain chess masters have lost their sanity, because they sense and know there’s deeper meaning but they can’t ever reach it, not without the Archimage’s ability to interpret potential realities layered through one moment, one move of the game.
Linna has never played chess, not once in her life, which makes it difficult to teach her how to perceive the world. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We spoke, Yilmaz and I, through the moves of the game, in silence. We sipped Turkish coffee from small white porcelain cups on thin white saucers. It was a lengthy game with two cautious, defensive positions, resulting in a draw. Above all else we allowed ourselves to express the loneliness that had become a permanent part of our lives. In this rare meeting of a fellow Archimage that loneliness was both assuaged and somehow intensified.
I learned that Chicago was unsafe. The Enemy had a heavy presence here. They were close to Yilmaz and he expected to be found. He was tired, he could see no reason to continue. In the mid-game I began to attack his position with my knights, insisting that he shouldn’t give up, he should leave Chicago and find a new place to remain hidden. I abandoned this offensive as soon as I started it, realizing that I was only trying to convince myself. I was equally weary of this shadow life of ours. Weary and ready to leave it.
Our game drew to its end. At once, as if triggered by this meeting with Yilmaz, I was opened to the Sorrow. I sat hunched over, my forehead pressed down against the edges of Black’s captured pieces on the table. Yilmaz poured me a glass of lukewarm water at the sink by the hotplate, then stood next to me with a hand on my shoulder while I sobbed as if my heart was breaking.
It was New Year’s Eve.
Later, feeling like I deserved it, I went to a restaurant for a meal. Talked to the waitress, a nice young woman from the South. It was then that one of the Enemy’s Trinities found me. If not for the Tataille, I would have been killed or caught. I may have wanted that.
Yet I continued on. I fled Chicago, walking west.
Outside the city there was heavy snow. I felt the cold only a little, as something that echoed a vague discomfort—this was part of a working I had done in Paris, in the days that followed the Battle of San Francisco, when the last of us had retreated to our Citadel Sanctum there, our final place of power. Thus I had some magic against the elements: also I was simply used to being cold.
A few weeks after Chicago I took shelter for the night in a hollow of woods pressed between rising wheat fields enrobed in new snowfall. I lit a struggling fire and took some warmth from it. I summoned the Tataille.
In a few minutes it approached, hesitating beyond the light, out in the dark between the trees. The two red-orange reflections of my small fire guttered in both of its uncanny black eyes.
“You can come,” I said. “You don’t have to be out there on your own tonight. Come to the fire.”
For my reward?
“Yes,” I said. “You saved me back in Chicago.”
Without a sound the Tataille leapt closer, landing on all fours next to me by the fire. It put its head down on one side, eyes peering up, mismatched in size and alignment on the thing’s nightmarish, unfinished face. I forced myself to look away. The tangled spread of its mane of coarse hair covered stained and ripped clothing like an animal’s pelt. The stench of rotting meat was overpowering.
One clawed hand came out of the mass of hair—the Tataille’s eyes kept watching me closely—and I was offered a paperback book, the covers and pages unglued from a cracked spine, bound with a thick blue rubber band. Clive Barker, Weaveworld.
“Where did you get this?” I said.
I found it.
“I can see that. Have you been reading it?”
I looked down at the Tataille, then looked away quickly. “What is the book about?”
I don’t know.
“What’s the story?”
I don’t know what that means.
I pointed at the title. “What does this word say?”
I don’t know.
“You can’t read, mon Tataille. You can speak because I allowed it when I made you, but I’ve never given you reading. Why do you tell me you can read?”
Just then I thought it might have growled: there was a low, dangerous sound that came from its throat. A shudder, a strain of held-back movement rippling through its muscles and a tension expressed in the articulation of powerful, inhuman limbs pressed onto the ground.
I can be more than this.
“You think so?”
“Well then. This will be your reward, mon Tataille. Sit up, sit next to me. Look at this page. Look at these words. These are the words. Listen to what I say as I show you the words. Are you ready? Here we go.
“’Nothing ever begins. There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs.’”
FBI Casefile 4815/1623-42
Eighth handwritten journal entry in small black notebook.
I told you.
Little Wing, I told you.
I can’t go with you. Don’t take my hand.
Leave me be, Little Wing.
You have to leave me be now.
Well that’s my handwriting so those must be my words but I don’t remember writing any of that shit, excuse my language. Must have been last night. I still don’t sleep in the bed but now that I look over at it from where I’m writing at the desk I can see that the covers were pulled back. The sheets are creased like someone slept there last night.
That can’t be good.
It’s possible to dream a phantasmic projection that appears next to you, created from intense and unfulfilled desire, a tangible solid presence that gives you comfort for the night, disappearing when you wake. Possible, but not for me because I don’t dream when I’m not in a bed.
There are other things out there. Shadows, Strangers, Lurks. Though I couldn’t say why something like that would sleep in my bed, and none of those things should be able to enter the Sanctum I established in Jenny and Karen’s B&B.
Oh well. It’s a mystery.
I can smell coffee. Jenny’s downstairs making breakfast.
FBI Casefile 4815/1523-42
Ninth handwritten journal entry in small black notebook.
I went down to the kitchen. Jenny was preparing a breakfast tray—poached eggs, toast, orange juice—that she’d take to their bedroom for Karen. And she’d return it untouched a little later, scraping the eggs down the plate and into the garbage.
“Did Linna stay the night again?” I asked her.
“Hm,” I said.
“I think she slept in my bed.” Jenny glanced up sharply from the chopping block where she was slicing tomatoes. “I don’t know if she did,” I said quickly, “that’s what I’m saying, I don’t sleep in the bed, you know that.”
“Because of your nightmares,” she said.
“That’s right. But I think Linna came in and got into the bed when I was asleep.”
Right at that moment Linna bounded down the stairs to the main floor, yawning and stretching. Compared to Jenny’s workout sweatpants and my own worn-out attire, Linna was incongruously well-dressed in a tight-fitting dark skirt, mid-thigh length, and a cropped pale yellow sweater over a white shirt.
Jenny and I had fallen silent. Linna looked at her, then at me, then said, “Are you guys talking about me?”
Jenny countered with her own question. “Did you tell your father you stayed here last night?”
Linna shrugged and stole a piece of toast from the breakfast tray, munching on it absentmindedly while Jenny glared at her. “He thinks I was at my friend’s house. Tess’s house.”
“You’re friends with Tess Bellamy?” Jenny said.
Linna smiled in her crooked way. “Of course I am. We’re best friends and my brother’s going to marry her—we can’t get enough Tess in our lives. Is there coffee?”
“Linna,” I said, “can you bring me a coffee when you join me in the living room?”
“On it,” she said as I left the kitchen. I went past the stairs into the living room. I could hear Linna and Jenny talking in the kitchen about Tess, whoever Tess was, as I moved in a chair from the dining room. Then Linna appeared with two mugs of coffee, handing me one of them. I motioned for her to use the chair I’d positioned in front of the grandfather clock, where she promptly sat, straight-backed, attentive, the eager pupil. I took my seat in an armchair that faced her directly.
“Your hair is much darker today,” I observed.
She sipped her coffee. “Ooh, hot,” she said.
“And you have a tattoo.”
She took another sip of coffee. “Ouch. Why would I do that again,” she said, “when I knew it was hot.”
“Can I see the tattoo?” I said firmly.
“If you want to,” she said.
“Alright already.” She pulled up the sleeve of her sweater and showed me her right arm. The long, thin stem of a flower coiled around and around from her shoulder down to the inside of the wrist, where a blue iris blossomed, shockingly vivid, like unnatural bruising against her alabaster skin. “Do you like it?” she said with defiance and pride.
“You know you can’t keep it.”
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed resignedly. At once the tattoo erased itself, uncoiling, un-inking, undone. Then her hair paled itself back to its real color, light blond, dark at the roots. She tied her hair back into a pony-tail. “I love what I can do,” she said, grinning slyly.
“Since you seemed to have mastered these Alteration Cantrips,” I said, “or Charms, as the Chantresses would have called them, let’s practice something more difficult. I suggest we continue with telepathy.”
Linna made a face. “I don’t like it. It’s invasive.”
“Does it feel invasive when you do it?”
“No, I guess. It doesn’t, you’re right. It feels… good, actually, like sinking down into a warm bath.”
“Trust what you feel, then.”
“Morally it’s probably a hundred different shades of wrong, don’t you think?”
Every Chantress the Archimages had ever encountered employed some form of telepathy, ranging in scope from a simple sense of what others around them were thinking and feeling to far-reaching extensions of that power—in fact we had found Chantresses who could share thoughts and dreams with each other from anywhere in the world. Archimages had always sought mastery of telepathic domination and control. Chantresses had effortlessly perfected vision and communion.
Linna was a quick study. She had shown great aptitude with her sympathetic connection to nature, something she had displayed, untrained, in the garden when she’d first come to see me, coaxing the irises to grow before she’d lost control and they’d withered—the force of will she used had affected local weather; it was still raining, most days—and since then she’d taken impressive steps under my tutelage. Already she was exploring the complexities of the psyches of others.
Which meant that she was experimentally using her powers on Jenny and Karen.
“We’ll have the talk about morality another time,” I said to Linna. “Why don’t you begin.”
Linna sighed melodramatically. “Alright.” She closed her eyes, brought her fingertips to her temples, a gesture that seemed to help her focus.
Moments passed. The pendulum’s swing in the cabinet of the grandfather clock divided them.
“Jenny’s worried,” Linna said at last. “She thinks that what’s happening here, with Linna and Gabriel—oh that’s me and you—it’s strange and she doesn’t understand it and she thinks something’s wrong with it, especially since I slept in your bed last night.” Linna’s eyes flew open. “Wait, how does she know that?”
“We were talking about it when you came downstairs,” I said. “Can you help ease her mind?”
“Well let me get straight what you’ve told her already—you’re an old friend of my father’s, from when you were a lawyer, and you knew me when I was a baby. It’s not the greatest cover story, I have to say.”
“Make it better.”
Linna closed her eyes again. It took her another interval to re-establish herself in Jenny’s mind. Then she spoke slowly and unceasingly, as if the words were an automatic byproduct of what she was doing: “I can see that Jenny wants to know what we’re talking about, spending all this time together, and something else: I see that Jenny lost her mother when she was little, just like me, there’s a hollow place.”
“Push into that place,” I said.
“Yes. It’s an idea that’s been forming there but I can fill this empty space with it. Gabriel knew Linna’s mother. They were close. In fact they had an affair. Gabriel is telling Linna all about her mother because Linna never knew her. That poor girl. She must need so much love.”
“Linna, that’s far enough. Come back to yourself.”
“Gabriel’s affair with Linna’s mother makes me remember Karen’s affair with Mona.” Linna made a forced sound, a choking whimper. “Still hurts. How can it hurt so much when I’ve forgiven her?”
I raised my voice. “Linna, come back.” I moved out of the armchair and knelt before her, pulling her hands into my own, speaking again with power in my voice. “Linna Severand.”
She started as if shaken awake, yanking her hands out of mine. Her eyes were confused, unfocused. She took truncated, shallow breaths.
“It’s alright,” I said. “You’re alright, Linna. You’re here in the room with me.”
“Shit,” she said. Her hands were shaking. “That was intense.” I could see that her faculties were re-aligning quickly.
I creaked up from my knees and went back to the armchair. Took a long sip of coffee, as did Linna. “You went too far,” I said. “It’s going to happen because we don’t know how far is too far, for you. The truth is I’m not a Chantress. I don’t know exactly what you can do, what you can’t. I can guess, and we can experiment, but fundamentally I don’t have the wisdom you need.”
Linna shrugged. “I still like you.”
“I promise I’ll be here to pull you back from the precipice. Which you found, just now.”
“I got lost so suddenly,” she said. “There’s a flow, like a river, but it keeps on branching out, lightning-fast. I just got swept right under. I thought I was drowning. All these thoughts and memories but none of my own.”
“Can you continue?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I’m good.”
“I want you to try Karen now.”
The Chantresses had ceased to exist long before I became an Archimage, yet I had read a great deal about them, it was an essential part of my studies at the Sorbonne, where I attended both regular lectures and those in the Hermetic Academy. At that moment, while Linna centered herself then extended her awareness into Karen’s mind, I recalled how I used to feel jealous when I was younger, studying, reading about these abilities. I would eventually master my own power of subjugation over another’s mind—I had used it when controlling the agent Juan Garcia Madero during the Battle of San Francisco, something I would come to regret—but I would never be able to feel another’s thoughts like this, to bathe in them, to live them the way Linna was learning to do.
Linna was speaking. “Karen… she’s weak… she’s sick…. Something is wrong, it’s like all the colors are fading.” She gasped and rocked forward in the chair, then suddenly sprang up out of it.
I went to her and took hold of her shoulders. “Steady. That’s it.”
“I had to get out.” She shook her head. “I think Karen’s… I don’t know… it feels like she’s dying.”
I let Linna go. “Karen’s will is fighting the works of power with which I’ve encircled her.”
“Um,” Linna said, “are we going to have that talk about morality now?”
“I won’t prevaricate. I need her to accept me. Perhaps when you’re stronger you can take over the…” I searched for the right word, “…maintenance of the illusions… with gentler methods.”
“Well why don’t we start that right now.”
“I don’t think you’re close to that, yet.”
“Maybe I am.”
The window of the living room looked onto Mayfair Street. The two wicker easy chairs on the veranda had a low table between them. I suddenly wanted very badly to be sitting there in silence with Aydin Yilmaz, both of us safe, unworried, looking down at a chessboard. I knew I would never see him again.
Drifting clouds etched moving lines across the front yard of the house, across the street, separating sunlight and shadow.
I seated myself in the armchair once again. “This is the kind of argument we should be settling in a game of chess.”
“That’s your cryptic crossword lingo, not mine.” Linna had gone back to the chair in front of the grandfather clock, where she smoothed her skirt down and crossed her legs tightly, one bare knee above the other. She said, “Did the Chantresses have a secret code or a hidden language or something?”
“Undoubtedly,” I said. “But it’s lost now, as is all of their lore. Long since lost. Unfortunately for you. For us.”
There was a light that glinted in her dark eyes. “Are you going to tell me what happened to them?”
“I feel as if you’d resent me now if I didn’t.”
“Fucking right I would.”
“We killed them all.”
She stared at me. Started to say one thing, then something different. She looked out the window. Then looked back at me sharply. “What are you saying, exactly?”
“My Order, the True Order of the Archimages, hunted down every Chantress in existence and murdered every one of them until there were none remaining in all the world.”
“This happened throughout the Middle Ages, obviously hundreds of years before I became an Archimage. Yes, the witch burnings throughout Europe were a part of what we had done, an echo of it, perhaps even an essential element of it. Tens of thousands of women were killed in the inquisitions. Along with, in the background or in the open, every living Chantress.
“Before the end, perhaps with the end in sight for them, the Circean Covenant—their organized leadership, which was a circle of equals unlike our Archimagean Hierarchy—decided to join in a last working of power. They could not stop their eradication, they had foreseen this. Instead they sought to change, from within, the nature of those who had persecuted them. The Chantresses summoned, shaped, and placed the Sorrow into the heart of every living Archimage and every future Archimage. We would never be able to forget what we had done. It is believed that all the remaining Chantresses perished in the working of the Sorrow.”
I fell silent. Linna was silent. Then she said, “You deserved worse than that.”
“We did. And yet the Sorrow changed us, truly it did. Some of us.”
“Some,” she said with a sneer.
“And there was another consequence of what we had done.”
Linna was very still. “You haven’t mentioned the Watchers before.”
“They are the Enemy. It’s why we have to remain here, inside this Sanctum. It’s why those of us left in our Order can no longer work magic in the open, relying instead on the few objects, like Anpenpan, that we’ve managed to enchant and maintain while hunted. It’s why, only minutes after I met you at the diner that night, I was attacked on the street nearby. One of the Watcher’s groups of three agents, a Trinity. They know I’m here—at least they know I’m somewhere close to here—this Sanctum will deflect their gaze, for a time. But the Watchers have every resource at their disposal. They will have agents searching for me in the town. We’re safe from them, for now. I’m not sure how long that will last.”
“Just what are these Watchers, exactly?”
“In 1913 they came out of a hidden existence to wage war against us. We’ve since found evidence suggesting they’ve been here, in the world, for a very long time. That perhaps they’re as old as civilization itself. Older.”
“And they’re… magical… like you… like me?”
“Magic is a way of understanding and expressing power. The power to reorder creation, to manipulate reality. The Watchers are that power, itself. They are deathless. Inhuman. Implacable.”
“And they wiped you out because of what you did to the Chantresses?”
“That’s what we believe, yes.”
“So what would a Watcher think about me? I mean it seems like, historically speaking here, you’re kind of not on my side if I’m a Chantress, and the Watchers have been dishing out some pretty thorough revenge for what you did to my ancestor… sisters… my Sister-Ancestors….”
I held her gaze for a time. Then I sprang the question I was waiting to ask her. It was my intention to provoke something, to force a crack through the barrier that her affectations and intelligence maintained as a wall between the world and what was vulnerable within. It is a fundamental of teaching magic. One must be broken, often, in order to see the world as it is.
I said, “What do you really know about your mother?”
Linna uncrossed her legs and rose up from the chair. She went to the window. Stood there with her back to me. Then she whirled about. “What the fuck.” She was livid. “Answer my goddamn questions why don’t you. Otherwise I’m not going to talk to you about anything.”
I liked what I saw in her. This defiance. The anger. She was ready, eager, hoping to have a chance to fight, to prove herself against any kind of opposing force. I liked what I saw but I needed it, too. I hadn’t seen anything like it in so long.
“I’m asking this because I think you inherited your power. Through the maternal bloodline. The Chantresses were familial units, mostly, mothers and daughters together. There were exceptions, but matrilineal inheritance was commonplace.”
Linna turned away from me, gazing out the window. “My mom died in labor. Delivering my brother, then me. I never knew her.”
“What about your mother’s family? Her own mother? Her mother’s mother?”
She spun around again and took several steps toward me as if she meant to throw a punch. “What if I’m not what you think I am?” She stopped herself. “How can you be so sure I’m a… I’m this thing you call a Chantress… what if I’m something else? Maybe I’m something new, something you don’t know anything about.”
I shifted back in my chair, my hands out, palms turned up, a gesture of helplessness.
Linna paused, considering. “How can you be sure I’m not a Watcher?”
I shook my head. “That much I’m certain of. The Watchers aren’t human.”
“Maybe I’m not human.”
I laughed softly. “You are. For starters, you were born, you grew, you’re young. The Watchers haven’t changed or aged since 1913, and we’ve found images of them—paintings, sculptures; Roman, Greek, Mesopotamian—it’s them, the same dozen or so Watchers that we’ve been fighting, depicted in antiquity. Ageless. Deathless. And they don’t have children.”
“How do I know,” she said, “that everything you’re telling me is true?”
“Because it is.”
“Put yourself in my place!” she said, her voice rising. “I don’t know if I can trust you and you’re admitting that you and your wizard fraternity committed all these atrocities—”
“Not me,” I said.
“—And,” Linna continued, pointing above, toward Karen’s room, “you’ve got me inside their heads, Jenny and Karen, fucking them up, doing things to them and I don’t think these things are harmless—which makes me realize that, yeah, maybe you’re not a good guy, are you. I don’t know what you are and you’re supposed to be my teacher?”
“That’s enough,” I said. I pushed up from the armchair. We were both standing in the living room now, facing each other, a few feet of space between us. “Linna. You’re working yourself up for nothing. Please, let’s sit down. Let’s calm down.”
Linna took in a deep breath of air and sighed it out. “Okay.” She angled herself toward the couch next to the armchair, flopping down onto it. She lay quietly for a moment. With her eyes closed and her arms crossing her body, hands clasped, she looked like a marble effigy atop a tomb.
I would kill her. Or she would kill me.
“I’m fine,” she said finally.
“Plainly I’ve pushed you too much,” I said. “We can take a few days of rest. I know you have this fundraiser party on the weekend. We can resume your training after that.”
Her eyes fluttered open. “I’m fine. I don’t need rest. The fundraiser doesn’t matter, though I still think you should come to it. Your hat with the weird name gives you some kind of disguise, right?”
I shook my head. “Going there would be foolish.”
When I dreamed about Linna the second time the dream had shown me a party on the grounds of an elaborate mansion. I still wasn’t sure why I had been given this specific vision. While leaving the Sanctum for any reason would be a mistake, going to the town’s premiere social event, which I had glimpsed in a premonitory dream, possibly as a warning, would be recklessness verging on insanity.
Linna was looking at me. She said, “Your Order really killed all the Chantresses?”
I had seated myself in the chair by the grandfather clock. I leaned forward, my elbows on my knees. “Yes. We did.” I chose my next words carefully. “Except that now, there is you.”
“Me,” she said.
I wanted to keep the emotion from my entering voice but I could not. “You must understand, Linna. This is everything. You are everything. I’ve wandered for years. I’ve been hunted for years. I’m nothing—reduced to nothing. But now. This is my responsibility, my duty. You are. It’s something no Archimage has ever had the chance to do. I can help you. I can make you strong. I can make amends.”
She nodded. She said softly, “Is that what this is all about, for you?”
“More than just that.” As I spoke, I knew I hadn’t allowed myself to admit what I felt, not until now. “We can fight. Now there’s hope.” The word ‘hope’ rang like a struck bell. Was this why I had survived for so long, not knowing why I pushed through, barely living—had I been looking for Linna? “We can fight back. There’s you and, I don’t know Linna, maybe there’s more. More Chantresses. And maybe we can find and train new Archimages. Rebuild the Order. We can stop running. Stop hiding.
“We can bring the war back to the Watchers.”
© 2017 by C.D. Miller