The Jekyll Legacy
Victorian alchemy meets modern science and magic.
What could possibly go wrong?
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
— Lord Byron
The Golden Treasury
‘She walks in beauty, like the night’ 
Selene didn’t think that they were any more insufferable than any newlyweds — not that she’d had much experience, since she’d obviously never been a bridesmaid, nor been invited to any wedding or baby showers. She was feeling a little miffed, though, when Rhea rolled her eyes at an offhand comment she’d made about Phil at supper time…. Okay, maybe it had been a tiny bit gushy…. “What? What’s your problem, Sis? Jealous?” She shot her an arch look than should have fried Rhea right down to a crispy pile of charcoal, if there were really any justice in the world.
To her surprise, though, Rhea didn’t make anything like one of her usual scathing remarks in reply, but simply burst into tears.
Which was an entirely different kettle of fish, of course, so she reached out to hug her close, saying, “I’m so sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to be so bitchy, not really,” and petting her hair, as if she were her best friend, which of course she was, when they weren’t getting on each other’s nerves. “What’s the matter, baby?”
Rhea couldn’t speak for a while, but than managed to gasp out, between sobs, “You have all the luck, honey. That bum Tim just bugged out on me…, but your guy stuck like glue!… And he was the only… real Earth guy… my age… in the whole… world!” The last words became increasingly incoherent and staccato, interspersed as they were with sniffles and tears, but the gist was clear enough.
It was very clear to Selene that she’d essentially abandoned her best friend, ignoring her when she was at her most vulnerable, and generally messing up big time. “I’m so sorry, honey. You’re my oldest friend and I’ve let you down, abandoned you when you were a stranger in a strange land. It won’t happen again, I promise.” She kissed her eyelids and petted her again.
“Really, truly promise?” she asked. “Or just, ‘Sure, sure, don’t bother me?’ ”
“Really promise. Too bad there aren’t any malls here, or we could go hang out and shop for stuff.”
“As if!” she pouted. “It wouldn’t do any good, anyway, ’cuz everything just turns into the same old boring barbarian babe outfits as soon as we put’em on.”
“There’s that. Maybe we could get Akcuanrut to put a spell on us to let us change outfits every once in a while…, well, maybe after we save the world and all. It’s handy not having to worry about learning to sew leather or anything, ’cause these foxy little numbers just heal themselves when they get cut or torn, and they seem to wash themselves as well, which is pretty handy in a world without washing machines or ironing boards. What kind of superheroes could we be if we had to say to the villains, ‘Hold on a minute! My Batman cape is out hanging on the clothesline until it dries!’ ”
“We don’t have Batman capes, you nut! Not that it’d be a bad idea. These leather bustiers get a little nippy on cold mornings.”
Selene did a lazy double take and smiled. “Nippy, hunh? I’ll ‘nippy’ you!” and started tickling her, which turned into an impromptu wrestling match, which lasted until they both lay exhausted in the grass, Rhea’s head on Selene’s lap as she played with tendrils of her friend’s blonde hair with one hand, the other behind her own neck as a sort of pillow, watching the stars slowly emerge from the deepening cerulean sky, first barely visible at the edge of her vision, and then as plain as the shadows of the trees overhead. “I’ve missed this,” she said, closing her eyes.
“Me too,” she said.
“Remind me not to forget that we’re the very best of friends, won’t you?”
“To be perfectly honest, I forget sometimes too, sweetie, so you be sure to remind me as well.”
“We weren’t always twins, you know,” Selene said.
“I remember, but what’s it matter anyway? We are now, and that’s what really counts.”
“I wonder if Acky could make us a twin of Phil. If he’d only had the foresight to have a damned brother, I think you probably would’ve liked him.”
“Maybe.” She yawned. “He’s a little bit too stuffy for me, though, I think. I kind’a liked Tim because he was sort of a ‘bad boy,’ more like me, but then he wimped out as soon as things started to get interesting.” She thought for a moment. “Maybe Tim wasn’t quite as bad as he thought he was, ’cause your ‘Mister nice guy’ turned out to be sort of a kick-ass hero when the chips were down. Go figure.” She shrugged, and Selene could feel the movement of her shoulder, if not quite see it in the growing darkness.
One of the moons was rising — neither one of them could really tell them apart yet, at least when they were low on the horizon, which overlaid their inherent color with the hazy bronze of suspended desert dust. Silhouetted against the dusky horizon, Selene recognized her husband approaching and nudged her sister. “Pssst. Here comes Phil if you don’t want to talk to him,” she whispered.
“Nah.” She didn’t move a muscle. “Let’im run away from me if he’s scared.”
As it happened, he wasn’t, saying only, “Selene! Rhea! I’m so glad I found you both, I’d appreciate your help with some strategizing, along with Thundercloud, Akcuanrut, and D’lon-Ra.”
Both women blinked once as they automatically glanced toward the other, subconsciously coördinating their movements as they rose, as gracefully as if they shared the première danseuse position in the Paris Opera Ballet. “What’s up, Phil?” they spoke in chorus.
“I want to talk to the movers and shakers here, all at once, and the two of you are the smartest strategists, especially when you work together. Akcuanrut, of course, knows the most about magic, but I want to go over your experiences in the Lost Temple of whatchmacallit.”
“Zampulus,” they said in perfect synchrony.
“Yeah, that,” he said impatiently. “It’s important, I think.”
They looked at each other and nodded. “Okay, let’s go,” they said.
Thundercloud, Akcuanrut, and D’lon-Ra were waiting for them, standing beside a crackling fire which radiated a little warmth — the evening was turning chilly — and was also in use to heat what smelled like a pot of some sort of stew. Most of the light was supplied by flickering torches which circled the campsite, posted on stakes driven into the ground. The stew smelled good, and the two women were hungry, so they detoured to the pot, found a small stack of flat bread on a cloth spread over a rock, and ladled out two portions.
“Excellent stew, whoever made it,” Selene said as she chewed a bit of stew and bread from her open-face sandwich.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Rhea managed from around a bigger bite. “Who called the meeting?”
“I did,” said Phil tersely, proceeding immediately to his purpose without preamble or apology. “What we’re doing won’t work, I think, because we’re simply reacting to what Na-Noc is doing, with no attempt to out-think him or form any sort of strategic response.”
“Yes, but what can we do?” Thundercloud asked, brows knitted, a little defensive.
In answer, Phil said, “D’lon-Ra, how far ahead of us is Na-Noc right now?”
The tiny warrior squeaked, “About a day and a half’s travel now.”
“How far ahead of us when we started?”
D’lon-Ra blinked, then said, “About eight hours, but that counts Thundercloud’s recovery time after he healed all those men.”
“So he’s been slowly pulling ahead of us, despite his extravagant flitting around?”
“Well, yes….” His squeak was more uncertain.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re being played, I think. It seems clear that Na-Noc is heading toward his Temple, for whatever reason, but we can guess, I think, that he has something stored or hidden there that he thinks may help him, which means that his arrival would be very bad news for us. The side trips are meant to slow us down, because we’re falling into the trap of giving a damn what he’s up to rather than focusing on our real mission, which must be, I think, to simply overtake and kill him on sight, in any way we can. We can’t make any progress on our own agenda while we’re still playing catch-up on his.”
“But what if he’s planting smaller copies of himself, meant to grow and form an army of some sort.” Rhea had raised the objection, but it seemed to be a general concern, to judge from the nods of agreement by several others around the fire.
Phil waved one hand dismissively. “Not a problem, I think. Thundercloud’s analysis at the time, as I understand it from his description of the actual events — and which seems accurate still, based upon what we’ve seen — was that an evil being can never trust anything, not even portions of itself, because Na-Noc knows that even the tiniest portion of himself would be greedy to take complete control, and ruthless once it had done so. Any portion of himself that he left behind would quickly grow in ambition until he became his own assassin.”
D’lon-Ra added, “Having been enslaved by him, listening to his thoughts, I have to agree. That great Champion Na-Noc has been utterly lost to the Light. I was only ‘saved’ — such as I am now — because Na-Noc was jealous of the Heart, and kept his victims well away from it, lest they grasp enough of its deadly power to overthrow him and rule the body in his stead. In this, he reasoned well, because we all would have destroyed him in a heartbeat, had our situations changed. In fact, that was probably the greatest temptation dangling before the slaves, to embrace the evil purpose of the heart in order to coöpt its power and wreak grim ‘justice’ upon the personality of Na-Noc.”
Akcuanrut said, “When you say ‘we,’ do you imply that these other personalities live on in you?”
D’lon-Ra looked a little embarrassed, or perhaps evasive. It was difficult to decipher his still-unstructured face, because it seemed somehow purposeful, a willful manipulation of the leftovers from Na-Noc’s formless body into a semblance of life, not truly life itself. There was no bone beneath the surface of his face, for example, no hidden truth behind the round dome that passed for his skull, because one was always conscious that it was a construct, as artificial in its way as the seeming body of Na-Noc himself. “To some small extent,” he said, “yes, but either they had already succumbed to evil and were burned away when Na-Noc was expelled from this fragment of the body or not enough consciousness was left behind from those few unfortunate individuals who remained to make up any complete individual after — in some cases — centuries of slavery and torture by previous rulers of other bodies and the Heart of Virtue, and then by Na-Noc himself, who came upon the Heart when it had been disembodied for more than a thousand years. I’ve had personal experience of being coöpted for Na-Noc’s purposes, so can testify that he kept his victims starved for any external input, which gradually drove them crazy. The former slaves were so attenuated by long exposure to the Heart itself that they’d been reduced to what might be called ghosts, incoherent memories of pain and malice that drifted through the new body like wraiths through an empty ruin. The newest slaves are the only ones with anything like real personalities, but we all began to drift away, even I, who’d had some magical training and could marshall my thoughts, found it difficult to maintain myself in a state of hope and anticipation, fit to reënter the world. But you see how weak the experience left me; I was only able to form a partial body, and can only hope that the Council may eventually be able to restore my former sense of self, and only then could I count myself as healed.”
Rhea asked, “How was the new body created? And why is it a sort of blob in its resting state?”
D’lon-Ra answered more confidently, possibly because it didn’t concern himself. “After Na-Noc was taken by the Heart, the structure of his body was lost to him, because every embodiment of Life has an inherent good purpose, to be fruitful and to create new living creatures to populate the world. This basic purpose is of course inimical to the Heart itself, and so had to be destroyed first of all. The purpose of the Heart is domination and destruction, only that, because those two intentions comprise the entirety of Evil, and Evil is the Heart’s sole virtue. At that point, the shattered remnants of Na-Noc’s will were able — aided by the malice of the Heart — to lash out against his companions and destroy them, adding their living energy and flesh to his own deadly intention, but the ‘blob,’ as you call it, is only a tool, not a true body, not even truly alive, only an instrument salvaged from the wreck of materials left behind after the Heart’s rampage of destruction, an instrument designed with one purpose in mind, to further dominate and destroy anyone or anything that comes within reach. What might seem ironic in the Heart’s full name, the Heart of Virtue, is literal truth when looked at through the lens of pure evil, because unending malice is the only evil virtue.”
There was a long silence after that, during which no one spoke and the crackling of the fire made the oppressive hush more palpable. Some sort of animal — whether an insect or some other thing off in the darkness beyond the light of the fire — began an irritating high piercing whine, almost at the edge of hearing, that didn’t stop.
Finally Akcuanrut said, in a conversational tone, “I’ll thank you either to keep quiet or go away,” and the shrill keening stopped.
Then Thundercloud spoke, “Well, we seem to be agreed that we have to stop him, and we have to reach the Lost Temple before he does, but how are we to accomplish either task? It seems like he has all the advantages.”
“Not entirely,” said the wizard without any pleasure at all. “His malice may lead him into time-consuming exercises, as we’ve seen in his murder of Red Paint and Medgrid, followed by his need to gloat about his crimes, and thereby cause more mischief, but that’s not much to hope for, since others would inevitably be harmed. Indeed, the greatest advantage his crimes allowed him was the result of the compassion showed by Thundercloud toward Na-Noc’s victims, which delayed us by quite a few hours, until Thundercloud had recovered. While it may be too much to hope that he stages a repeat performance, the possibility exists — which we mustn’t discount — but I can’t see many other particular causes for hope.” He seemed both tired and discouraged; the furrowed lines between his eyebrows deeper, and he stared bleakly at the fire.
After a moment, Phil spoke again, reluctant to interrupt whatever it was the wizard might be contemplating, “I’m not sure if this will work, but there’s a possibility that we might be able to find a shortcut, a way in which we could arrive ahead of Na-Noc, even though he’s faster than we are.”
“And how might this be, Apprentice?” Akcuanrut looked extremely interested.
“In my own tradition, there’s a phenomenon called Kefitzat Ha-Derekh, the Leap from the Path. It’s a means whereby a saintly scholar — let’s call him a wizard — can either be in two places at once, or transport himself instantaneously from one place or another, for the purpose of helping someone.”
“And this means?” Akcuanrut asked.
“After listening to my wife’s story of the trip through the Cave of Despair, it struck me that a similar phenomenon was exploited there, a method of folding space around itself so that what seemed far apart — two ends of a long tunnel — were somehow twisted or folded in such a way that they were actually right next to each other.”
“Yes, yes, and a very pretty trick it was, but what good does it do us now?” the wizard asked.
“First, the centaurs can never catch a fleeing biped over the long haul, despite their ability to put on astonishing bursts of speed over short distances, up to fifty or sixty miles an hour, I suspect. Close pursuit is not how cavalry was used in classical warfare, but was rather meant to supply the sudden rush of overwhelming force from ambush that punches right through enemy defenses faster than the men can run away. It was a good idea to organize an overwhelming force, but only if you can get around the fact that after any sustained effort, the centaurs need to rest and eat for a rather long time before they can do it again. This principle has been utilized over and over again throughout history, Cavalry requires advance planning and extended logistics, but fast patrols of any length are best performed by men on foot. Bipedal movement is the most efficient in the world; a fit man can outrun a fit horse over the long haul; and you can’t beat physics, no matter how hard you try.”
“So what are we supposed to do? Give up?” Rhea asked.
Phil shook his head in negation. “We need to take a shortcut, the Kefitzat Ha-Derekh, the phenomenon you all encountered in the cave. I know something about magic from my previous studies, and there are two overall ‘rules’ that define and constrain most magic, at least on Earth, and we know that there are similarities between the magic here and the equivalent back home, since Na-Noc was able to use it to return here, even though it seemed to be inimical to him personally. The first rule is The Law of Similarity; that is, if something looks like something else, or is in any way similar, it can form a link to it, allowing the magician to affect something far away by acting on something close to hand.”
Rhea scoffed, “So what are we supposed to do? Make a voodoo doll and stick pins in it?”
Phil looked thoughtful. “I hadn’t thought of it, but that might actually help, since D’lon-Ra was in close contact to Na-Noc for quite some time. It’s a style of magic that isn’t practiced here, as far as I know, but it can be very effective.” He glanced over at Akcuanrut, who seemed interested. “We’ll think about that later. Right now, we want to get ahead of Na-Noc, so we can lay a trap for him, rather than wait for him to lay a trap for us.”
“And does my esteemed Apprentice have any suggestions on how to make this miracle possible?” Akcuanrut seemed almost gleeful, as if he were listening to a good joke, for which he already knew the punchline.
“I do. I understand that an arrow and a length of cord were used in the so-called endless cave of despair, where the folding of space occurred. Do we still have these things?”
Akcuanrut blinked in surprise. “I believe so, yes. Yes, indeed. Do you need them now?”
“Not yet. In fact, I don’t want to touch them at all, because my own tradition is much more like the magic you showed me, Master Wizard, requiring the focus of the unaided will rather more than talismans and tricks with magical laws. I’d like to avoid contaminating the objects with conflicting traditions by contact.”
“True,” the wizard said. “I’d noticed that your execution of spells of pure power was flawless, but sigils, medallions, and talismans were not your forte. Nonetheless, the physical objects you describe are ready to hand.”
“Good, in fact, excellent, which brings me to my second point. Now the other general rule of Earth magic is the Law of Contagion, which posits that things once in contact with each other can continue to affect each other, even over large distances. This is the general principle relied upon by dice players, who believe that they can use ‘body english,’ for example, to affect how the dice roll even after they’ve left their hands, or may blow upon the dice with their own breath, ‘inspiring’ the formerly inanimate objects to follow the will of the player as if they were a part of his own body.”
“I’m beginning to see, my Apprentice, and find our rôles reversed for a moment; the student teaches the master. Although not expressed quite so clearly, I see the applicability of your two ‘Laws’ to our native sorcery, which uses the very same laws, as well as others you may not have on your world. So I have upon my very person an object which has been used to probe this ‘fold’ in space repeatedly, since we passed through it many times over many hours, and the fold itself is magical, and thus subject to the will. Having been once in proximity, this object can act as a fulcrum upon which my own will can act.”
“Yes! There’s a brilliant scientist in Earth’s history named Archimedes, who discovered how to calculate the volume of irregular objects when bathing in a large tub, based upon observing the volume of the water which had spilled over the brim of a washtub he was bathing in. He’s said to have run naked down the street exclaiming in glee, ‘I found it!’ Anyway, he was an expert in mechanical devices, the beginnings of Earth science, and he once said, ‘Give me a lever long enough, and a place on which to stand, and I could move the Earth itself.’ The point is that with appropriate tools, and an appropriate frame of mind, one can do almost anything.”
“Brilliant, my good Apprentice! My difficulty was in being able to shift my viewpoint far enough to one side that I could stand outside the problem, as it were; but you’ve given me a place to ‘set the fulcrum,’ the ‘place to stand’ from whence I too can move mountains, if not the world itself.” He turned to address Selene and Rhea. “Honored Ladies, does Phil’s analysis meet with your approval?”
They looked at each other without words, as if communing through mental telepathy, then Rhea nodded and it was Selene who spoke for both of them, “Yes, with one exception; we believe you should send only a portion of the herd, the largest portion, ahead. That is, if you have sufficient control of this effect to do it twice. We suspect that Na-Noc is spying on us, because of course he can trust in nothing, not even malice. So you should maintain your seeming pursuit of Na-Noc for at least a half day, or a full day more, falling steadily behind, as if your forces were weakening or falling into disagreement, which is exactly what Na-Noc would expect, we think. This would give Na-Noc the illusion that his tricks are working, and so encourage him to dawdle along the way, possibly seeking ways to inflict greater mischief. Only then should we bring the remainder of the group forward, having given the larger portion of our forces time to settle themselves in fortified positions suitable for ambuscade, and to offer shelter and support to the rear guard when it arrives. The only problem will be Thundercloud, we think, because it may be difficult to maintain discipline without his calming influence on the herd. With it split in two, there are potential problems.”
Thundercloud spoke up then, “I don’t think it will be all that difficult to maintain order. There are far too many mares in the herd for long-term stability, and plenty of centaur stallions hovering around over the hills on either side of us willing to take portions of the herd at a moment’s notice, although they’re intellectually interested in the breeding program, and have allowed their female companions to join us for the duration, but only for the good of their herds. Do you have any method of handling the problem magically? I find it difficult to imagine… visiting every centaur woman in turn, or in fact to so flagrantly violate my marriage vows, which are very important to me. For all my evident… prowess, Don Juan I’m not.”
The wizard laughed in pure delight, saying, “I think so, although you’ll have to find a single willing mare in estrus, but I can expand upon that one act to extend the effects through an arbitrarily large portion of the herd, just as I did with their appearance earlier.”
He looked at the Wizard suspiciously and said, “And are you aware of any particularly suitable candidates?”
“Of course, my dear Sir. I’d be a very poor Wizard if I couldn’t handle a simple fertility spell.”
“And the lucky girl is…?”
“As it happens, the only centaur mare just now entering estrus is Windflyer, of course, and I did promise her a boon.”
Emily rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, crap.”
The Wizard only laughed, but after the tension of their discussion of the Heart, the delightful sound of his untroubled laughter cheered up everyone but Thundercloud.
Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 Jeffrey M. Mahr — All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2012 Levanah Greene — All Rights Reserved
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