1,9 - Majeaux
FBI Casefile 4815/1623-42
Fifth handwritten journal entry in small black notebook.
There was a time when we were powerful. Our numbers were never many, yet there were many more of us, more than now. We were a noble order; a solemn, storied Brotherhood that traced our provenance into distant antiquity. Ours were the hands that held authority of governance. We illuminated the path, and it was by our guidance that Kings and Bishops, Philosophers, then Presidents and Prime Ministers, Scientists, led humanity always forward, always out of ignorance, toward enlightenment. There was no dissent—our prejudice against those who opposed us was extreme—and for centuries before I joined the ranks of this Society, we believed ourselves to be exalted and mighty, entrusted with the right to rule the world we had constructed.
We were the Wise. We were the True Order. We were the Archimages.
On May 29, 1913, in Paris, the Enemy revealed themselves to us. They had been watching us, hidden, for all the long centuries of our dominance. The depth of their contempt was abyssal. Because of the crimes we had committed in pursuit of hegemony, the Enemy believed it was their duty to bring us to justice, to destroy what we had built, to hunt us down, every one of us, and hold us to a reckoning.
Their word for us is Warlock. As if we had worked only evil, in all that time.
There were a few among us who reasoned that greater wisdom lay in forsaking our positions of temporal strength, retreating in order to study this new adversary, to understand who and what they were, what kind of power they could wield against us. Yet these voices were lost in the clamor for war. Pride had usurped caution. The Archimages had been challenged. We would not yield.
All of this took place many years before I became what I am. I know that, in the time before the War, initiate Archimages had been trained to heal, to lead, to expand the horizons of knowledge. I was taught to fight.
The two great wars of the Twentieth Century coincided with the War in secret. We met our Enemy in ceaseless exchanges of violence, fighting on both sides of both great wars, chasing an ever-elusive foe, draping the veil of history across our own bloody conflict. Always our skirmishes remained hidden. Neither our Enemy nor us dared to come into the open, to reveal the existence of what we were to the rest of the world.
Slowly, inevitably, the best of us were taken. Cold War replaced the World Wars; years passed, decades; always our numbers diminished. We were losing. It was impossible to know the fortitude of the Enemy. They seemed to us undaunted, unchanged, more daring and more powerful since they had first risen to fight us.
It was decided, at last. A final stand. We could not wait any longer. Information came to us of an opportunity, a time and place, in one of the American cities, when the Enemy was meeting, gathering for council. We would take them by surprise, confront them with all of our remaining strength. If we failed, if we lost this last heroic assault against our unrelenting adversary, it would be our destiny to disappear.
The Battle of San Francisco began at 5:04 PM on October 17, 1989.
Our greatest Archimage, the master Akira Nakamura, had taken it upon himself to neutralize the strongest of the Enemy, their leader, the one we called Brightness. Nakamura pretended to run into him on the street, and in an instant he enfolded both of them inside the seal of his powerful Thaumasphere. Then he Traveled. The plan had been that Nakamura would take Brightness across the world, removing him from the battle—of all the manifold capabilities of the Enemy, Travel was not one of them—and then he would return, rejoin the assault. Brightness had been a scourge against us for so long; we relished our chances without him there. Yet something went wrong. We believe that Brightness interrupted Nakamura’s Travel, that both of them died at once, having come to rest deep inside the earth, and shock waves of destructive energy were released from their demise like stars gone supernova.
I stood with my comrades on the corner of Beach and Divisadero as the ground began to move in every direction at once. The houses around us, their foundations liquefying, buckled and flowed as if melting. We had located one of our Enemy in one of these Marina District townhouses, where he was surrounded by his servants and soldiers. We struck at him without hesitation, opening our Excoriations. The shimmering dimensions of our defensive Thaumaspheres appeared in orbit around each of us. Ribbons of hot white light peeled away from the surface of these incandescent globes, whips of energy that knifed out through the air, penetrating the walls of the house, cutting through the bodies of the men and women in our Enemy’s retinue, sparking at last across the figure of the one we called the Scholar.
The house exploded. A crack shivered through Divisadero, knocking me off my feet.
The Scholar came toward us. Dark smoke wreathed his form and swirled above and behind him, taking the shape of two black wide-swept wings unfolding up and out, lit underneath with surging red and orange from the fires. The lightning-arcs of Excoriation poured into him and he walked slowly, hands held out, absorbing the energy that we continued to bend against him.
“Majeaux!” My friend, my mentor, Luca Di Benetti, turned to me in the midst of the light-storm in the street. I had struggled up to my knees. “Time to go!” he shouted into the roar. Sweat washed down his face; the veins in his arms stood out as if they were pulled to the breaking-point.
My role in this battle was one of support. Outside of the masters of our order, I was the strongest Traveler. My task was to move between the separate fronts, provide aid where I could, and to communicate changes in strategy.
I looked into myself. Into the emptiness. It was as we had thought. Traveling requires a great expense of self, a force strong enough to break the world so that distance is meaningless, if only for a moment; however in this maelstrom of war, our locality, San Francisco, had become pliable, the tissue of its connectivity pulled into translucence from the bruising and battering of magic. It took only a brief focus for me to move myself from where I was to elsewhere.
Oakland. A limousine carrying one of our Enemy was to be met by force on the Cypress Street Viaduct. There were five Archimages deployed here on the lower deck of the freeway, hovering within their mobile Thaumaspheres above the moving vehicles. Just as I arrived—appearing in the center of the freeway between the lanes of cars, with the Archimages directly above me—I saw the motorcycles of the security forces that preceded our target limousine crash into the invisible barrier that we had erected, their riders flailing as they were thrown. The Enemy was the one we called Kismet—she burst through the door of the limousine, her long black hair streaming around her face in a pocket of weightlessness generated from the gathering of her power. She gestured toward one of us, I didn’t see who it was, but his Thaumasphere shattered and his body folded in on itself many times before dropping wetly onto the cars below.
“Retreat!” I screamed up at the remaining four Archimages. Our plan was to draw Kismet into a running battle along the freeway, to exhaust her, and then to overpower her. My comrades flew at speed above the cars, north toward the Bay Bridge. Kismet threw one hand out and every vehicle in every lane of traffic flew into the air as if tossed, colliding, smashing into the Archimages. The muffled screams of men, women, and children trapped inside their cars were submerged in a cacophony of breaking glass and twisting, crumpling metal.
Kismet turned to regard me. Her eyes held an indomitable will and a serenity in the midst of chaos that was inhuman. Her hand moved toward me. I felt blood flowing in my mouth, forced through my teeth.
Words of resistance rose in my mind, bracing my will against her strength: Mine is the might beneath fear, rising. Rising, the will to withstand the fire.
Then the upper deck of the viaduct collapsed onto us. At the last possible moment, as an expanse of gray concrete blanked out everything else, inexorable, crushing everyone and everything beneath it, I Traveled.
Arriving ragged, unable to breath, spitting blood, at the top of Coit Tower. At once I doubled over and my burning lungs heaved to inhale desperate wheezing gasps of air. The Travel had been spontaneous, I had had no destination in mind, I’d just jumped. Coit Tower made sense: it’s a conjunction of occult energies and it had pulled me in. We knew it would inevitably be a territory of contention in this conflict, and we had deployed one Archimage here—I looked up as I struggled to breathe and I saw his body on the floor of the tower overlook, stretched out, riddled with bullets. Arrayed around him was a scene of carnage: the corpses of a dozen men, soldiers, agents, their weapons and the spent shell-casings of their ammunition strewn everywhere. Entangled among the dead was the already-desiccating remains of the Archimage’s Golem, which had protected him until it had been destroyed.
Suddenly another team of the Enemy’s soldiers gained the top of the tower, three men, weapons drawn and ready. It took them a moment to survey the scene of horror, a moment before they saw me where I was hunched over on the other side of the circular overlook. In that moment, I acted. I chose one of them and I controlled his mind.
His name was Juan Garcia Madero. He was an FBI agent. Young, new. He had just been married. He had never used his weapon in the field. His wife was named Maria. His thoughts were not on where he was or what he was doing—they were almost entirely focused on her, on Maria, enrobed in a visceral fear of never seeing her again—which made it much easier for me to supplant his disconnected agency instead of attempting to undo the harder, narrowed thoughts of his two military-trained colleagues. Juan Garcia Madero did not know what was really happening. He believed he was fighting terrorists. I suppressed his memory as I turned his assault rifle toward the rest of the team and fired on them.
After it was over I stood above him. I had let him return to himself. He rocked back and forth, his face in his hands, his spent, smoking weapon discarded by his feet.
I could have killed him. I didn’t. What was the point.
I had reached out. There were only a few Archimages left alive.
The earthquake had subsided and the battle was over. Nearly our entire order had been killed. How many of the Enemy had we taken with us? Three or four? Had we brought any of them down?
It was the end.
I Traveled again. As far away as I could manage.
There were no accounts of what had happened in the days that followed: the battle itself had been subsumed within the larger events of the Loma Prieta earthquake disaster. Of course there had been witnesses, bystanders, victims of our violence, yet their testimonies had been suppressed, perhaps their very memories altered—we had done this, ourselves, to many innocents over the years. The Enemy claimed their victory in silence.
We went into hiding, those of us who survived. Yet we were hunted tirelessly. There would be no mercy.
Necessity compelled us to restrict our workings of magic, to conceal them, to stop them altogether. Many of us, myself included, took up the routine enchantment of the everyday objects in our possession in order to survive—we had discovered that use of them would not, in fact, draw the attention of the Enemy, magic spent in this way being inert, causeless, like charges draining from a battery.
We came across the Enemy’s trinities of soldiers from time to time and dealt with them or succumbed. We met, the rest of us, less and less often, and then never again. I followed the advice of one of the last of the Archimage companions I kept in contact with, which was to forsake all of it, all magic, and this War—to forget it, to leave it behind.
I tried. You know I tried and, for many years, I succeeded.
Now what will I do.
I have to stop writing. Jenny is calling me for dinner.
FBI Casefile 4815/1623-42
Sixth handwritten journal entry in small black notebook.
Karen was sick in bed. “She doesn’t usually get the flu,” Jenny said to me. We ate our dinner at the island in the kitchen, the two of us kitty-corner on the tall chairs, the rims of our plates of risotto and asparagus touching. “Usually I’m the one that gets it, to be honest,” she said. “And it really came over her so fast. She was fine in the morning.”
“Are you worried?” I asked. In fact I was the one who was worried, that some doctor would appear on a house-call—I did not want exposure.
“Well, no,” Jenny said. She had started playing absently with the end of the braid of her hair.
“You are,” I said, “I can see that you are. Tell you what, I’ll whip up a chicken broth my Grand-mère used to make, I guarantee it’s all she needs, that and some rest.”
Jenny smiled warmly at me. “That would be so nice, Gabriel. I’m glad you’re here.”
There was no such thing as a broth that my Grand-mère used to make—truth is my Grand-mère was a cross, bitter, evil lady who never did anything for anyone without something to gain from it. Yet I threw some likely ingredients together, and I went out into the twilight to collect some herbs from the planters that lined one side of the stone patio in the back yard.
I have to admit that I like it here at the Mayfair Bed & Breakfast. It’s comfortable. I haven’t felt this comfortable in a long time.
And there are other reasons to stay.
After the events of the other night—meeting Linna, reading her cards, then the attack in the street that followed—I resolved myself to leave, immediately, possibly even to Travel, though I well knew it was that first Traveling, from L.A. to Park Heights, that drew the gaze of the Enemy and, inevitably, drew one of their trinities right to me.
I returned to the B&B that night, coming up the back stairs quietly and using the key Karen had given me to unlock the back door, slipping in. I crept to my bedroom, where I slung the Hello Kitty backpack onto the quilt of the perfectly-made bed in order to pack my things.
I stared at the backpack for a long time.
Sometimes a decision is made for you, or you’ve made it already and you just didn’t know it yet. You keep on living as if you have a choice in the matter. Then you wake up.
Instead of packing, I took a few things out of the backpack. Five things, to be exact: five small, smooth stones.
It was between two and three in the morning and it was silent in the house except for the ceaseless tick-tock work of the grandfather clock in the downstairs living room, its lyre pendulum partitioning seconds from time’s passing. I opened the cabinet case of the fine antique clock and placed one of the small stones within it. Outside the house, I buried the remaining four stones in the cardinal directions: one in the garden out back, in the flowerbed beneath the irises; one beneath a loosened tile in the front walk; one in the roots of an ornamental maple tree; one in a divot I dug in the lawn.
Who knows how many years ago I had enchanted these stones. Not long after the Battle of San Francisco. I had never used them until now. Never really needed to. Or perhaps I hadn’t wanted to use them, I hadn’t wanted to stay anywhere for any length of time, not in years.
Once back inside the house I returned to the grandfather clock where I had chosen to situate the focal point of the Sanctum. All it required was a simple Cantrip, a few spoken words and a minute surge of magical energy, to activate the geometry of the stones, to connect the lines of power and raise the Sanctum walls.
It wouldn’t last forever. For the time being, however, inside the Sanctum, I could work a small amount of magic without alerting the Enemy.
Thus I made some sort of Grand-mère’s broth and took a mug of it up to Karen and Jenny’s bedroom, knocking on the door before entering. Indeed Karen looked more than a little ill. There were dark circles under her eyes like bruises. Her fever was burning high. Her eyelids fluttered as she looked at me and I could tell she was struggling to separate the fever-dream from the real.
“Who…” she started, “you’re not… don’t I know you… I don’t… no….”
“I’m Gabriel,” I said softly. “I’m your friend. From work, a long time ago. And I’m visiting. You remember now, don’t you?”
“Gabriel,” she repeated weakly. “Yes, of course, yes.” Her eyes closed. “We know each other… don’t we? Don’t I know you?”
Karen’s illness was unquestionably a result of what I had done to her. The work of the Meursault cigarette was beginning to fade. Perhaps Karen was overcoming it on her own, fighting it like an infection. I suppose in a manner of speaking it is an infection, an invasion of my fabricated reality into her natural one.
I placed my hand on her forehead. I wove some strength back into the tattered illusion the cigarette had initiated. When Jenny remarks in wonder about that broth I made, I’ll shrug and tell her it’s the cure for the common cold.
And so, Little Wing, so I decided to stay. So I’ve made myself a home here.
Now I’m going to write about Linna.
A few days passed. Karen improved, of course. I cut a fresh iris from the backyard garden for her bedside vase each day. Then I thought to help all illusions along by feigning that I’d caught her illness after all. I stayed in bed, lounged on the couch in the living room, took some sun in the back yard where I sat at one of the tables on the patio with a book. I hadn’t read a book in ages. There had never been time to read and I hadn’t owned much of anything, much less books, in quite some time.
What is all our work for if not for this: turning back the cover of the book, thumbing through the first pages, the accolades, the publisher’s information, the title page, then, sitting back so that the early morning sunlight falls across the words, reaching across the table for the cup of hot coffee—the first sentence, which sometimes is nothing, sometimes everything, such as the first sentence of the book I began yesterday, describing a father and his son—”When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.”
“Gabriel,” Jenny said to me from the back door. Her voice was strange. “There’s, um, there’s someone here to see you.”
I pushed back from the table; the metal chair scraped loudly across the patio flagstones. I knew who it was. It was a surprise to see that Jenny, clearly, also knew who it was. Complications.
“I let her in,” Jenny said then. “She said you were expecting her. I wasn’t sure… were you expecting Linna Severand?”
Jenny moved aside and Linna stepped out from inside the house. “Thanks,” she said to Jenny, who looked at her, then at me, then back and forth, struggling to make sense of this inexplicable association.
Linna came down the steps from the back porch and approached me. I hadn’t moved at all. Her eyes were downcast. Her hands were shaking. She stopped. We stood like this, awkward, not close, not communicating, for the entirety of a infinitely drawn-out moment.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she had said, that night, in the booth at the diner.
I had dealt out the Mirror, the Fatal Queen, the End of the World. I had seen what I had seen.
“Say something,” she had drunkenly slurred, “say anything—you’re really scaring me right now.”
“My apologies, Miss,” I had finally spoken, heaving the weight of foresight away from me with an effort of will. My thoughts were reeling. “It’s not much of a reading, truth be told,” I jabbered mindlessly. “I’m afraid it’s late and I’m not at my best.” As punctuation, I swept the cards from the table and pocketed the deck.
“Bullshit. You saw something.”
“A lot of nonsense. Sometimes the cards just don’t come out right.”
“Tell me what you saw,” she said imperiously; then, sounding affronted, she said, “Who are you anyway? What are you doing here?” I wasn’t sure what her tone meant: who was I to give her such a disturbing Tarot card reading; who was I to show up here in her town; who was I to try to dodge her questions.
I decided to stop dissembling. “I think you know what I saw.” I heard her sharp intake of breath. “Except that neither of us will ever talk about it, not now, not ever again.” I stood up from the booth. “Goodbye, Linna.”
“Wait!” she called after me. “Fucking wait!”
I had exited the diner and was crossing the parking lot. Suddenly Linna came up behind me, took hold of my hand, spun me around to face her.
It happened then. It was the close physical contact, my hand in hers, that completed a circuit for the charge of magic between us.
Linna staggered backwards as if I had struck her. I had felt it too, that flash of intensity. Tears stung my eyes from it.
“Gabriel,” I heard her whisper.
Something of myself had been transmitted to her. She had received my name, at the very least. How much of me had been revealed? And there was reciprocation. I now knew her feelings, her fear—I could sense, beneath everything else, the darkness of anger that defined her.
“Don’t follow me,” I said. “Go home. Forget about all of this. It’s nothing.” She was about to speak—I raised my voice. “Go home, Linna. Don’t worry, you’ll never see me again.”
And I walked away.
I don’t know if I hoped to see her again or dreaded it. But I knew I would.
Now here she was.
“Can you tell me,” I finally said to her—we still stood apart on the patio—“how it is that you found me?”
She looked up at me then. Her hair had been drunkenly wild that night at the diner; now she wore it tied back tight in a pony-tail. Her eyes were ringed with red; the heavy make-up she wore was smudged from crying. “I’ll tell you,” she said in a hoarse voice, “how I knew you were here, if you tell me what you did to me.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t do anything to you.”
“Then what’s happening? What’s wrong with me?”
I glanced over to the house. Jenny had slowed her withdrawal from this scene, half in the door to the house, half out. It would have been hard to fault her curiosity. She closed the door behind her once she saw me look in her direction.
“Why don’t you sit down?” I said to Linna.
“Alright. Then walk with me.”
“Why the fuck would I—” she started to say, breaking off when I simply turned and went down the path through the yard, past the Koi pool, toward the flower gardens at the back fence. At first she didn’t move. Her hands were clenched into tight fists at her sides. Her mouth was a straight, thin line. Then she stormed up the path in my wake. “Everything has gone to hell since that night at Crazies, Gabriel Majeaux,” she said to my back, her voice rising. “Something’s wrong with me! You have to tell me what you did to me because I know you did something. I don’t know what’s going on but you need to talk to me. Talk to me!” She shouted, her voice cracking. “Talk to me now goddamnit!”
The morning sun was already bright, strong, unseasonably hot. I realized that Linna was overdressed in a long gray winter coat, the collar pulled up as if she was freezing. We had come to a stop in front of the bed of blooming, purple-blue irises, the ones I had been cutting for Karen.
“You’ve always been able to do things,” I said to her, slowly and quietly. “You’ve always had… abilities. I don’t know if you’ve denied this, in your childhood, pretending otherwise, but if you search your memories you’ll know what I’m saying is true. You’ve always been… unlike anyone else. Others have treated you differently: your family, your friends, whether they knew of your potential, or not. ”
Linna stared at me. Shocked. Speechless.
“And now,” I continued, “things are accelerating. You knew where I was without even thinking about it. You just knew. Because something passed between us. Because we’re bound. And meeting me has triggered growth, in you. You’re at the beginning now. When you sleep your dreams are different. It’s like you’re awake in them; you’re conscious; you can change them. Other things. When you’re talking to people, not all the time, but it’s happened at least once already since the other night, you know what they’re going to say before they say it. I would guess that you’ve moved at least one object, something small and insignificant, by thinking about it, maybe not by choice.” I turned to look at her. She was standing there, her head bowed low. I heard the soft sound of her crying. “You feel inexplicable pain, then euphoria. You want to die. Then you feel a boundless love for the people around you. And there are moments when you know the truth of what they feel towards you.”
She was crying openly now. Tears made two black-blurry lines down her cheeks. “What did you do to me?” she said in a voice that was only barely audible.
“I keep telling you, Linna. Nothing.”
“Why did you say that we’re bound?”
“Because we are. I don’t know why. I don’t know what it means.” I closed my eyes for a moment. “I intended to leave this place, after that night. But I couldn’t. I can’t. I’ve had my own dreams about you, about meeting you.” I shook my head. “I can’t be sure what any of it means.”
I would kill her. Or she would kill me. I had seen what I had seen.
There was a moment. Then she said, “I’m afraid.”
“You don’t have to be.” I reached out to her. Put my hand on her arm. She didn’t respond. I took hold of her chin, gently, and lifted her face. A beautiful girl. So much emotion, strangled out and smothered down for so long. I said, “Why don’t you show me what you can do.”
Linna turned to the irises. She closed her eyes. Her hands went up to her face and she pressed her fingers against the sides of her temples. Focus. Concentration. Channeling.
Many of the irises began to grow. The ones that were not yet open blossomed in full within seconds. Other irises burst from the soil and rose, seeking the sun. I saw that, in the sky, clouds were suddenly swiftly gathering.
She cried out in pain and fell to one knee. I caught her, held her, lifted her back up.
Every iris in the garden had withered into ruin.
It began to rain.
“Karen won’t be happy,” I said absently, looking over the dead flowers.
Linna was breathing hard, expended, but she managed to grin sideways at me and say, “Who the fuck is Karen?”
I smiled a little in return, but I ignored her question. The rain was growing steadily stronger. Looking into her eyes, I said, “I will tell you what I am. Archimage—” the word sounded strange to speak out loud— “I am an Archimage. One of the last left alive. Once, there were more of us. Many more. And once, there were women with power equal to ours.”
“Archimage,” she echoed.
“Not you, no. There have never been female Archimages. What you are, Linna, I knew without a doubt, the moment I saw you, even before. There haven’t been any of what you are, not for centuries. Until now, it seems. Now there is you. You are a Daughter of Lilith. A Sister of the Circean Covenant. You are a Chantress. The only one in the world, after all this time.”
The rain had become a downpour. The wind had risen. It was a storm.
I said again, “You are a Chantress. Or you could become one. But not on your own. This power is ancient and dangerous. Without guidance and training, without discipline—without a master to teach you—it will be difficult to survive its advancement within you.”
“Then help me,” she said.
“You don’t know what you’re asking.”
Rainwater ran down her pale face. She moved closer to me. With both of her hands she took up one of mine and pressed it. “Help me. If I am what you say I am then help me.” She searched my eyes. “But you’ve already made your decision, haven’t you?”
“And you’ll teach me.”
I brushed her cheek with the back of my hand. I moved a rain-wet length of lank blond hair away from where it had fallen across her dark eyes.
“Yes,” I said, “I will teach you.”
© 2016 by C.D. Miller