The Jekyll Legacy
Victorian alchemy meets modern science and magic.
What could possibly go wrong?
Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.
— Robert Frost, from ‘The Death of the Hired Man,’ North of Boston, (1914)
“I see it!” Rhea shouted from the head of the herd as they meandered toward their place of emergence. She was riding Wildflower, and they were moving as the centaurs preferred to do in grasslands, loosely associated, with enough space between small groups of them that there was fresh grazing material available, although they really preferred fruits and vegetables, which were a lot less work to pick and chew with human mouths.
Phil was riding in one of the carts, drawn by a horse without reins, who was tagging along behind the centaurs perfectly well on her own. There was an open jewel case before him; he was idly working out new designs in his head as he rode along, then creating them in pairs, or pairs of pairs in the case of earrings, with a bit of eyes-closed concentration and effort. He found it restful, and it helped to pass the time. As soon as he’d covered one layer, he’d spread a new piece of some local cloth like velvet across the top of what by now was a thick pile of jewelry, and then begin on a new design. Idly, he picked up the case and weighed it in his two hands. Not quite the weight of a sack of cement, but getting close. He put the work aside for a while to attend to the outside world. “Any signs of recent activity,” he called out.
“How the heck would I know?” was Rhea’s acerbic reply. “There was a big pile of junk when we left, and there’s still a big pile of junk now, although I think there’s a bunch of wood that wasn’t here before. I think we burned all the wood we had that first night.” She looked around idly, then shrugged and called back, “I think this is all from when the attic disappeared. I see one of the doorknobs from home on the top of the pile, but there’s no way to tell exactly when it all got here. It’s all pretty mooshed up, and I don’t want Dad over there at all, because there’s a lot of broken glass. Maybe you could use your famous fire spell and melt it all into slag, although the tree is sort of pretty. I’d hate to see that burnt to a cinder. I bet the bunny rats would miss it, too, not that I’m all that fond of bunny rats,” she added idly.
Phil blushed in chagrin. “Lay off about my fire spell, okay? Real men don’t use fire spells to light a darned candle!”
By this time he and his horse-drawn cart were getting close, so she spoke more quietly, Wildflower having wandered off to find a little something fresh to eat. “But, Phil, sweetie, I just don’t understand it. You don’t have any trouble at all lighting my fire, and I’m a lot more complicated than any candle.”
He laughed out loud. “Honey, the difference is that you coöperate, but the candle doesn’t give a hoot whether it’s lit or not.”
Rhea narrowed her brows quite prettily. “Well, that’s a palpable point, I suppose. We’ll have to work on that soon. Perhaps your knowledge in one field might carry over into another.”
He grinned, climbing out of the cart to stand beside her and give her a little embrace. “It’s worth exploring, of course, if only as a hypothesis, but it would require exhaustive testing. Are you sure you’re up to such a strict regimin of experimental protocols? I can think of several hundred independent variables already, so it might entail thousands of trials to cover even the most likely. And then with double-blind protocols….” He did a quick mental calculation. “It might easily take years, what with randomization trials, documentation of results, and the publication, of course, and peer review.”
“But, Phil, you have no peers.” She spied the case on the bed of the cart. “Oooh! Is that our jewelry? Can I look?”
He smiled. “Of course you can. It’s yours, after all, well, the pair of you. I did everything in duplicate, at least, so you don’t have to worry about sharing, and there’s a great assortment of pure gold, platinum, intertwined gold and platinum, a few silver pieces, because I rather like the warmth of silver, although it’s a nuisance keeping it polished, and of course many of the pieces have various gemstones contained in the design, quite a few diamonds, some rubies and emeralds, which I thought would look good on Selene, and sapphires for you, of course. I learned how to do star sapphires, so I included a number of those. They should all grade out as natural gems — or so I suppose — but I’d avoid showing too many of them at once, for fear of depressing the market in general. Many of them must be quite rare, since they’re the very dickens to get right.”
She picked up the box and opened it, then started looking through it, layer by layer, saying first, “Good heavens, Phil! There must be a hundred pounds of jewelry here!”
“More like eighty, eighty-five, I think, but it could easily be more. It’s been a long time since I lifted a sack of cement, and I had a lot of time on my hands on the trip up here, so I just thought of it as knitting.”
“Knitting! Phil, you’re a fabulous artist in precious metals and jewels!” She held up one pendant in gold and platinum with a particularly graceful shape. “It that what I think it is?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly what you think it is, but you said that you wanted something to draw a man’s attention and ‘drive him to distraction,’ as you put it, more or less….” He took it and held it up to her neck, then handed her a mirror. “It’s cleverly-designed to appeal particularly to men, albeit subconsciously, without being blatant, and to many women as well, of course.”
She flushed. “Got the whole package there, cowboy.”
“God, I hope so,” he said. “It set my heart beating, just thinking about it. It looks much nicer in its natural setting, of course.”
“It’s not androgynous at all, is it?” she said, still admiring it from various angles in the glass.
“No. Few men, I think, would dare to wear that particular piece. It’s not just a bit of bling, and makes a very strong statement. There are earrings in there to match, if you like. I think I did a dinner ring as well. I do like to be thorough.”
“Selene is going to be so pleased.”
“If you are, Sweetie, I’m sure that she will be.”
“But where are our engagement rings? I thought you were going to make one for each of us….”
“Rhea, my own heart’s darling, there’s a delicate ritual involved in presenting an engagement ring, which I know you missed — through no fault whatsoever of your own — so I’d like to choose a slightly more romantic moment than sitting by a junk pile, surrounded by broken glass and finely-ground detritus.”
She reached out to take his hand, eyes misting. “Phil, wherever you are is Paradise enough for me. Selene got to marry you first, and I seem to have missed most of my ceremony, through being unconscious at the time; please let me be the first to wear your engagement ring.”
He didn’t hesitate. “Of course,” he said, and went down on one knee before her. “Rhea Lanyon, would you do me the great honor of being my wife?
“Of course I will, Phil, and thanks so much for finally asking.” She grinned, “Of course, you’ve managed to knock me up twice already, so this is just the perfect frosting on the cake.”
Phil tried to keep himself from laughing, and managed to say, “Then would you wear my ring?” From a hidden pocket in his sporran, he brought out a black velvet pouch and presented it to her, then kept talking while she unwrapped it. “I took into account the fact that you wanted something that would be useful, so it’s on the biggish side of tasteful, about five carets, I think, and set in a medieval band style rather than those delicate prong things that you could hardly use to smash a villain’s jaw without it bending. I did manage to capture a bit of fire, though, through piercings on the outside of the band, and inset those little holes with flat diamond ‘window panes’ to keep dirt and blood and stuff from getting behind the stone itself, so it should be self-cleaning with ordinary hand-washing.”
“It’s perfect, Phil. I love it!” She slid off her wedding ring to see how they looked together from several viewpoints, then slid both her engagement and wedding rings back on. “They go together perfectly as well!” She waggled her hand at various angles, catching the sunlight with it, and it did shine very prettily indeed. “It’s a good thing we’re both so tall,” she said. “Most women couldn’t pull off a five-caret ring with any grace at all.”
“True, but from my perspective, you’re both just the right height for dancing. Maybe we can go out for dinner and dancing sometime soon, once we’ve straightened out our living situation back on Earth.”
“Oooh! Let’s! Selene always loved to eat out, because her mom was an indifferent cook at best.”
“Your merest wish is my command, my lady wife. If you like, I can surprise you, or if you want to coördinate something special, just tell me what you want.”
“I think, surprise us, but here comes Selene, so we can just ask her. You should do a little ceremony for her engagement ring too, of course, so she won’t be jealous.”
He smiled. “Of course I will, Sweetheart. I’m an equal-opportunity husband, Title 9-certified, and a militant supporter of women’s rights in employment, housing, and every life opportunity.”
Rhea looked at him suspiciously. “You’d better not be making fun of us, Phil.”
“Not at all. With four babies on the way, each of them fraternal (or sororal) twins, the chances are that at least some of them are going to be girls, so I’ll have my own axe to grind in favour of my daughters, as well as my wives, of course.”
“I wonder if we should have Acky do a reading?” she said.
“Read what?” Selene had just arrived, mounted companionably on one of their centaur friends.
“Watch out for all the glass around the tree!” Rhea warned her. “I already had to dig a piece out of Wildflower’s sole, and it was quite painful, I think. I was just wondering if we should find out which sex our babies are, so we can start planning layettes and stuff. What do you think?”
She thought about this for only the blink of an eye before answering. “I’d rather be surprised, I think. After all the work, it’d be nice to have something interesting to find out at the end of it. Phil, how about you?”
“I opt for whatever you’re having. You’re doing all the heavy lifting, for which I’m profoundly grateful. It would be dishonorable for me to have any opinion other than awe and wonder. My only real job in this is loving you both, and neither kibitzing nor idle complaint is part of that job description.”
“Dishonorable? Isn’t that a bit of an exaggeration?”
“Not at all. Honor is an integral part of my moral code, which comes from deep inside me. You’re both of you deeply engaged in one of the most dangerous of life’s adventures, not only carrying a baby — already hazardous — but carrying twins, which only multiplies the risks. I believe that Akcuanrut can help to alleviate most of the most obvious dangers to your health, but we’re also in the midst of a war, which has inherent problems of its own, as well as raising the issue of possible delays in the provision of health care. For me to venture an opinion about any of this would be like me shouting out directions from the peanut gallery to the woman on the flying trapeze, as if she didn’t know her own business. You have the advice, I know, of women who’ve shared these experiences, but I have not. It would be as presumptuous of me to blather on about this as it would be to suggest how best you ought to parry an overhead attack with an axe, yet another subject upon which I am profoundly ignorant.”
The two women looked at each other. “Do you know what your trouble is, Phil?” they asked in chorus.
He blinked. “No, I don’t, actually.”
“You’re too darned perfect,” they said.
He shrugged in almost Gallic resignation. “Well, it’s a struggle, I admit, but I try to bear up as best I can without complaining about life’s basic unfairness….” He sighed.
“Poor dear,” Selene cooed. “Your burdens are so heavy, and so many, no wonder you feel down sometimes….” She patted his head as she drew it down to her bossom, This might have seemed more sympathetically dispassionate if she hadn’t been surreptitiously attempting to ‘lift his spirits,’ as it were, with one hand slyly drifting under the selvage of his kilt.
“Selene!” he whispered urgently. “We’re right out in the middle of a field, on a hill. People will see.”
“Don’t worry, dear. Rhea’s thoughtfully providing cover for me.” Her hands kept wandering, until… “What’s this?” she grabbed something entirely unexpected, which was strapped to his thigh.
“Drat! You’ve found my secret stash!”
“Secret stash?” She drew back and looked down at his thigh, which by lifting his kilt a bit she could now see had a little leather pouch strapped to it. “What is this?”
He hung his head and sank to his knees in an elaborate pantomime of shame. “You may as well know now, dear; I have a guilty secret.”
Her eyes darted around, sure that she was the butt of some sort of set-up, until she saw Rhea’s new ring. Her brows furrowed. “Phil, if you don’t show me my surprise this instant, I may scream!”
“Can’t have that,” he said, and unsnapped the top of the little case inside the pouch, bringing out the ring, which just happened to catch the sunlight as he held it out to her. “I’d be greatly honored,” he said, still kneeling, “if you’d wear this little token of my love as a companion to your wedding ring.”
She laughed. “Of course I will, you crazy man! It’s beautiful! And I can see from my sister’s hand here that it’s a perfect match to our wedding rings. With rocks like that, if we happen to run into anyone who doesn’t already know us, they’re sure to think that you’re either a Wall Street trader or a big-time gambler.”
He grinned. “I think that it amounts to the same thing, these days, but you can tell people on Earth that I’m a commodities trader. It’s almost the truth, in any case. I have a few odd bits of jewelry that you might like as well, all duplicated, so you two can mix or match your outfits at your pleasure. It’s all over there in the cart,” he added, and kissed her for good measure.
“So, let’s see your collection,” she said. “I want the full effect, although it’s slightly scary that you know me well enough to be able to predict so accurately where best to hide my ring that I’d be sure to find it.”
Later that afternoon, the wizard and the Empress together decided that the time was propitious to reöpen a portal between their worlds. It didn’t take long, with the two of them on the job, and soon enough the familiar amber outline of a portal hovered in the air well off to one side of the tree, because they hadn’t wanted to risk any interaction with the weakness left behind by the original rupture of the TSP portal. Close inspection revealed that the new portal opened into the garage space, which was perfect, as far as Emily was concerned, since there’d be plenty of room for the more than a few centaurs at once, when they were finally ready for them.
Phil went first, since he was the only one who actually had legal ID in his possession, the fortuitous result of wearing a rather capacious sporran. He also had a cellphone, although the battery was flat by now. “Wish me luck!” he said as he popped through, carrying two leather duffles stuffed with things he’d thought might come in handy.
The garage was empty, really empty, not the well-equipped workshop which had been described. Taking it upon himself to look around, he set down his duffles, kicked through the side door — which was locked from the outside — and went through into the sideyard, where he saw immediately that the house windows were boarded over with plywood, and there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on the untidy lawn. It appeared to be very early morning, from the looks of the dawn sky. Quickly running down the street, he saw that most of the houses were dark, so he stopped at the first house with a newspaper laying on the sidewalk outside. The date was April Fifteenth, more than half a year after they’d left. ‘Whoops!’ he said to himself, and ran back to the garage, threw his duffles into a darkish corner, and then ran back through the portal.
On the other side, his first words were, “Folks, we’ve got a problem.” and went on the describe what he’d seen.
After an excited babble of questions he had no answer to, he cut short the debate by saying, “First things first, I think. We’ve got to start the process of recovery with you, Thundercloud, because you have lawyers on call, and me, because my parents will be a partial key to establishing our bonafides, I think, as well as supplying instant local contacts.”
“But how will that work, Phillip?” Thundercloud asked.
“I think we should start with the truth, sort of, that an experiment went wrong, and accidentally transported us all into another dimension. From what I understand of Hastie’s reputation, and, begging your pardon, Thundercloud, your husband’s, this is more likely to be believed than not, and will go a long way toward explaining everything. It also makes almost everything completely understandable, with a little judicious ‘truthiness,’ even the sex changes of both Jack Utterson and Hastie Lanyon, and we have Akcuanrut’s letter, plus my testimony, to establish the fact of it. I don’t seen any particular reason to imagine that their fingerprints have changed, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We can finesse your own identity, since you can appear, as I understand it, to be exactly who you’ll say you are, as long as we can keep you out of elevators and other small places.”
Thundercloud pondered only for a moment before replying, “Sounds good to me. First off, let’s stop the sale of the house, because we need access to Wildflower’s portal, and we also want to prevent any accidental interaction with the random portal that seems to have been left behind. I’ll call the lawyers from a neighbor’s phone while you get started with your parents, and I think I may be able to start negotiations for a farm that we can use as a base of operations as well.”
A look around told him that there wasn’t any significant dissent, so Phil added, “Selene, Rhea, I’d like you to come over in the first crossings, mostly because I want you both to meet my parents, and second because we should get started on our experiments with alternative clothing styles, and there may be some of either your own or your mother’s clothes that would be suitable, at least for experimentation, if they haven’t been put into storage somewhere.”
“Good point,” Selene said. “Shall we wait here?”
“I think so, my darlings, although you could sit in the garage if you want. It’s probably more comfortable out here, though, because the garage has been stripped to the bare walls.”
With a glance around the meadow and a, “Any last-minute requests?” to which there were only bewildered looks, he turned around, followed smartly by Thundercloud alone.
On the other side, a quick glance around the garage showed that nothing had changed, but when they went outside, he saw that quite some time had passed, because it was full day already, “Who’s your most uninquisitive and most helpful neighbor, Thundercloud?”
“I’d say Edith Aaronson, who’s right down the street to the left, and retired, so she’s very likely to be home. She pretty much keeps to herself otherwise, though.”
“Let’s go there first, then, because we need to get connected.” He ran up on the porch when they reached her house, to save the centaur stallion any awkward moments at the door, and knocked. She appeared at the door quite quickly, so at least he hadn’t disturbed her sleep.
“Mrs. Aaronson?” Thundercloud called from the sidewalk in his human form. “Pardon me for not coming up, but I’m trying to keep an eye on my house to make sure no one sells it out from under me. Do you have a cellphone I can borrow for a moment? I want to call my lawyers and get all this straightened out.”
She seemed flustered. “But we thought you were dead!” she said.
“As you can see, those reports were obviously exaggerated. Everyone is perfectly safe, but our house appears to be for sale, and I’d like to put a stop to that as soon as possible.” He glanced down the street, as if to judge whether a passing car was going to tarry, and then continued, “A cellphone? Do you have one? Or should I ask someone else? I’d be glad to buy it if you’re worried.”
Then she looked more closely at Phil and said, “Phillip? Isidore Cohn’s son? Everyone said that you were dead too!” She looked again. “And why on Earth are you dressed up like a Highland Scot?”
“It’s a long story, Mrs. Aaronson, and as you can see, I’m not dead yet, but I’m very anxious to contact my parents to let them know I’m still alive, so if we could borrow that cellphone, I’d be very grateful.”
“Of course! Of course! What was I thinking? Let me go get it for you.” She went back into the house, but was out in just a few moments. “Here’s the phone, and its charger, since I can never remember whether it’s charged or not. I go out so rarely that I hardly ever use it, so just keep it as long as you need to, dear. I’m sure your parents will be so relieved to hear from you!”
“I hope so, Ma’am, if they haven’t given up hope entirely.”
“You call your mother first thing!” she said firmly. “Business can wait. Your family comes first!”
“I will, Ma’am. That was my intention. My ‘disappearance’ was completely inadvertent, the end result of a laboratory ‘accident’ precipitated by my friend Hastie Lanyon, though no particular fault of his own, I might add, but you know how he occasionally winds up in scrapes.”
She rolled her eyes. “I do indeed, but don’t dawdle! Call your mother!”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said, and did just that.
He listened for a moment, and then said, “Hi, Mom.”
“Take it easy, Mom! It wasn’t my fault, I promise, and I didn’t run away to join the Foreign Legion. I got caught up in some sort of a trans-dimensional portal thing that the Lanyons discovered, sort of….” He listened for only a second. “Yes, Mom, those Lanyons. Anyway, we’ve just now got back. I’m over in front of Mrs. Aaronson’s house right this minute, and this is her phone, so you probably don’t have to bother calling all your friends. Just call Dad to let him know that I’m finally back, and I’d appreciate it if you and he could drive over here as soon as possible. I’ve got some people here I’d like you to meet, and if my car is still available, that would be swell as well. I’ve got some shopping that I really need to do, and many arrangements to make. Oh! do you know if my cellphone is still current?” He paused to listen. “Thank you so much, Mom! It would have been a great idea if I’d still been on Earth. Look, if you could find my charger, that would be great, but it’s no big deal. I can always get another, and I think I left the car charger in the glove box.” He paused again. “I know, Mom. I love you too, but there are other people here with loved ones and with their lives to get in order, and they’ll need to use this phone as much as I do. I’ll be outside the Lanyon’s house. You’ll recognize the place, big cobblestone house, just down the street from Mrs. Aaronson’s. I’m hanging up now, Mom. See you soon!”
He rolled his eyes as he handed the phone to Thundercloud. “Sorry to take so long, but you know how mothers are.”
Thundercloud looked at him rather darkly before he said, “Thank you,” and keyed in a number from memory. “Utterson, Dewey, and Messup? This is Herbert Lanyon, and I’d like to speak to one of the managing partners. No, not Mr. Utterson, since he’s here with me. No, he can’t come to the phone right now, but I have his power of attorney in hand. Now, do I speak to a partner, or shall I retain another firm to handle our separate malpractice cases against you?” He paused. “Thank you, I’ll hold for exactly thirty seconds, and then I’m hanging up and calling another lawyer, as well as the police.” After a very short further pause, he said, “Mr. Messup? I’m fine, thank you. Now, can you explain exactly why there’s a ‘for sale’ sign on the lawn of my family home?” A short while later, he said, “You were mistaken. Unless you hear from me directly, or see my bleeding body with your own eyes, you will henceforward consider me alive well into the foreseeable future, and until I tell you differently. You might also read the advance directive that you and the firm were responsible for carrying out. Now, you will instantly cancel this so-called ‘multiple listing agreement,’ fully restore any bank accounts, charge accounts, utility accounts, and all the rest of the mess you’ve made, including doing your level best to recover — at your own expense, I might add — any property or personal possessions looted and sold off by you, make full restitution on any damages discovered, completely unliquidated, and do the same for George Utterson and his family, who is very much alive and very annoyed right now. If you’ve absconded with his share of the partnership, or sold off his family home and belongings, he’ll expect to see everything fully-restored, and any costs involved borne by you and any of your cohorts that you can lay your hands upon.” He paused again, listening for a moment impatiently before he cut off further expostulations. “Mr. Messup, I have more money and resources available to me than you can shake two sticks at, and am prepared to spend the odd billion just to teach you a very bitter lesson if you balk at any of my terms, and then go after both your license to practice law and personal freedom. I don’t particularly care what legal defense you think you have, because I’m well aware of what my advance instructions actually said, and I have many copies. During the course of the inter-dimensional research I was engaged in, partially on behalf of the US Department of Defense, and under their imprimatur, this was exactly the sort of situation I foresaw and had left detailed instructions with your firm telling you exactly how to handle the events that actually happened. You want to start waving ‘legal presumptions’ at me? I can wave my specific instructions right back at you, so you’ve utterly and culpably failed in your duty as an attorney and an executor, either one of which may be grounds to move for your censure and eventual disbarment, especially if, as I suspect, any valuable property or funds managed to find their way into your personal pocket, in which case you may well wind up in durance very vile. You have exactly one choice right now; do my bidding, make it right, or regret this single moment for the rest of your miserable life.” He paused again, very briefly. “Good. I’ll expect to see you here at my home by early this afternoon, with three new cellphones, two separate debit cards, one in my name, and the other in the name of my wife, with at least five hundred thousand dollars in cash funding available on each, and bring along both a locksmith and a home renovation team, since some idiot seems to have boarded up my windows, and doubtless done more damage to the interior, as well as having evidently stolen well over three quarters of a million dollars in very expensive laboratory equipment, much of which was on loan from the US Government, so you may want to contact your own malpractice insurance agency on your way over, and hire a real lawyer, because the FBI will want to talk to you about criminal misappropriation of Classified government property. Please tell your insurance agent to talk to me first, though, since I have grave suspicions which may well render your malpractice coverage null and void, in which case you’ll be left twisting slowly on your own. Oh! and please do remember that I have contacts in law enforcement agencies all around the world, so if you’re visualizing a quick jaunt down to Brazil — or other so-called ‘safe haven’ from the power of extradition — please remember that they still have ‘death squads’ down there to help solve intractable problems, and our own CIA can easily become involved if you step one foot out of the USA. In short, Mr. Messup, you’re screwed, blued, and tattooed, one way or another, and instant coöperation may help to ease the inevitable pain.” Then, he thumbed the phone off in disgust.
Phil just blinked in surprise. “Weren’t you a little hard on him?” he asked.
“Not really. George Utterson kept him under tight rein, because he knew that he was an incipient crook, but George was always a soft-hearted man. With George gone missing, though, the fox was in charge of the henhouse. Well, the farmer’s back, and he’s about to set the hounds upon the erstwhile fox.”
“Do you really know how to contact death squads?”
“Well, I probably won’t have to, but Herbert has done quite a bit of work for various security agencies and military services all around the world, including Israel and the UK, both of whom have very serious and very scary intelligence services. It’s sort of like a racquet-ball club, with a very eclectic membership roster, so let’s just say that the Lanyons aren’t the sort of people one wants to swindle. Rest assured that we can make Counselor Messup very unhappy for a very long time if he doesn’t come through for us.”
When Phil saw his car being driven slowly past the house, he ran down to the curb and waved. “Hi, Dad!” His mother was right behind her husband in the family car, and pulled into the drive when his father took the spot on the street out front. “Hi, Mom!” They both rushed out of their respective cars and ran to embrace and kiss him, which Phil returned in very good grace, laughing. “I’ve missed you too,” he said, “but not quite as much, nor for quite as long. Remember I mentioned a ‘transdimensional portal?’ Well, time ran funny on the other side, so it turns out that lots more time went by on Earth than it did back where we were. It’s difficult to keep track without a calendar, since we were awfully busy, what with this and that, but I think we were only there about one or two months, maybe three on the outside, and then I saw that more than half a year had gone by back here only when I saw the morning paper, just after I showed up through a reverse portal we made back on the other side.”
“Couldn’t you contact us at all?” his mother asked.
“Nope. Not one little bit. We were all ‘over the rainbow,’ just like Dorothy in the Land of Oz. The original portal destroyed itself when it operated, and the second was created more or less at random by a villain — that’s the one I got caught up in on Halloween — so it took some arranging to create a third that we had the ability to control.”
Both of his parents looked bewildered. “But Phil, you said you had people we should meet, but I only see you and this angry guy stalking up and down the lawn. It that Doctor Lanyon?”
“It is, but you don’t necessarily have to meet him. He’s trying to deal with a crooked lawyer who let him down, among other things, so I don’t imagine he’s in much of a mood for chitchat.” He sighed, gathering his thoughts. “They’re all waiting on the other side until I return to say it’s safe, but there are two young women I want you to meet first, and please be aware that the next few moments will affect all of our lives for the foreseeable future if either of you embarrass any of us, or are less than perfectly gracious. When I was on that other world, I got married, with Ketubah, Kiddushin, and Nisuin, the whole nine yards, to two beautiful women, whom I love with all my heart, so it’s very serious indeed. I have certified copies of our actual ketubot here, and I’d like you to arrange having them mounted for display, perhaps even translated into Aramaic, whatever seems best to you, although I’m sure my wives may have suggestions. I’m very sorry that you were unable to attend our weddings, but you can, if you wish, help us to celebrate them, and also help us toward establishing a Jewish household, to which end I’d like you to arrange the purchase of a ridiculous number of kosher Mezzuzas, and all the rest of the usual gear, although I won’t need any of the medieval stuff.“
“Two brides?” was all his mother said.
“Just two,” he said and smiled. “It was both perfectly legal and the local minhag back where we were, and there were exigencies that made it highly advisable. Think of Rachel and Leah; and they are both sisters, sort of. My first wife is named Selene, and my second is Rhea, both dearly loved and cherished by me. Selene is a redhead, and Rhea is blonde, so you’ll be able to tell them apart, although they’re identical twins otherwise. You’ll see.”
“Uhm, is there anything else we should know?” his mother asked.
He hesitated, considering, then decided. “Well, I really ought to let them tell you, so remember to act surprised, but both Selene and Rhea are pregnant with our babies, twins in both cases.”
His mother fainted dead away, although his father managed to catch her, and he said, “Well, I wasn’t looking for quite so much naches, nor quite so soon, but congratulations, son! It’s a blessing to us that you’re back safe and sound, and married it seems. Mazel tov!” He grinned.
“Thanks, Dad. Just so you know, I have a very prestigious job back there — and here too, really — and am filthy rich. I know that so much stuff will cost a bit, so please take this little duffle to cover any expenses you’ll need to make on my behalf.” He hauled out the smaller of the two duffle bags he’d carried back to Earth with him and handed it to his father….
…who barely managed to hold it n one of his hands while he held onto his wife with the other. It was very heavy. “What is this? Gold or something?”
“Got in in one, Dad. There should be a hundred pounds or more, at least a couple of million dollars worth, so that ought to be plenty for contingencies, until I can deposit more. I’ll need a local accounting firm, so could use your help there, of course. I’ve never actually filed a tax return, and would prefer to know as little about it as possible. Mr. Utterson said that a special needs trust might be best, but what that entails I haven’t a clue, other than it’s to be used for the benefit of our children if anything goes wonky, with separate sums as the dowries and other payments due my brides in the event of any… ‘eventuality’ affecting me. I probably went overboard there, since I had no clue what a ‘zuz’ was, but it wasn’t as if I couldn’t afford it either. I’m pretty sure I covered all the bases, but you might have our local Rabbi look at it to be sure. Again. if there was any question, I went for going over so as not to come up short, but it would be nice to have an informed opinion. On the other hand, I can testify that both marriages were spiritually effective, no matter what any Rabbi says, so his approval would be only a formality, as far as I’m concerned, as long as there’s nothing there that would cast any doubt whatsoever on the religious validity of our marriages. If there is, we can fix it after the fact, as I understand it, since the Law existed before modern marriage codes.”
“Wonky?” He seized upon that one word. “Are you in danger, Son?”
“Yes, we are. The whole world’s in danger, actually, although the battle’s actually engaged in other dimensions. We’re going to take care of it.”
“How much danger?” his father asked.
“Ever read The Lord of the Rings when you were a boy?”
“Like that,” Phil said very seriously.
“Oh,” he said, eyes wide.
“And now, if you’ll excuse me, Sir, I’m off to fetch my lady wives.”
His parents followed him into the garage. “Oh, my!” they both said when they saw the glowing portal.
He turned to grin at them, saying, “Yes, it’s all true,, and I’m not crazy. Don’t touch!” as he popped through into whatever unimaginable reality that the portals wormed their way into, sideways, and then out again.….
…and stepped back, quite some time later, but continuing as if his words merely completed his earlier thought. “As I said, I’m not particularly crazy, except that I am crazy about these two lovely ladies, my wives Rhea and Selene.” He was followed closely by two buxom barbarian babes, and they were all smiling. “They can only wear entirely natural fabrics, especially leather” he said, by way of explanation, “so most modern stuff — what with chemical flame retardants and all — is right out the door.” He shooed them back out of the garage. “This place is about to get very crowded, so we’d better go back outside.”
“Hello, Selene, Rhea,” his father said smiling as they walked toward the garage door. “Phil has told us all about you, or at least the most important part, that he loves you both, which is a very good start.”
“And we simply must take a trip down to The City, my dears,” his mother said. “There’s a wonderful shop down there that does leather outfits for all the rock stars, and I can just see you two in jet-black leather full maxiskirts, especially for winter — perhaps with hooded leather capes — and I’ve even seen skirted leather bustiers — That rather flamboyant popular singer, Lady Bazongas, had one in scarlet — so it’s not as if you’re at all limited in your fashion choices. All their work is custom, so you can let your imaginations really run wild. You’ve both got the height and looks to carry off a lot of really striking outfits, and it would be a shame to let such beauty go unmatched by a large variety of really beautiful clothes.”
“Oooh! Phil! We like the way she thinks!” they said in chorus, and then they were outside, where Thundercloud was still arguing with someone on the phone.
As it turned out, Counselor Messup appeared to headed for prison after all. In his haste to dump the lab equipment, he’d neglected to procure a Federal Arms Export License, and several other essential steps, such as establishing legal title, so there was a long list of countries who wanted to extradite and prosecute him — and any possible accomplices —including China, the UK, Israel, and Russia, not to mention the Feds, who had him right now. Not all these places were happy places in which to serve consecutive life sentences, and in China, life wasn’t even on the menu.
On the other hand, the USA was very embarrassed by his actions, since it affected what turned out to be important foreign nationals, and the State Department had rushed through diplomatic recognition of the Imperial Embassy of Myriad, now ensconced in the middle of a large farm — well over nine thousand acres fronting the Catskill Escarpment — in the borderlands of the Catskills, chosen by Phil, after much searching, because of the presence of a relatively unexplored — and entirely unexploited — limestone cavern complex beneath the Catskill portion of the property. Their caves were nothing to rival Howe Caverns, of course, but they had their own charms. About half the property was in pasture, orchards, and row crops, and the rest relatively untouched former rangeland gone back to something very much like sparsely-forested wilderness, so it was an ideal staging area for the centaurs, and offered much more privacy than anything in town, without being completely isolated from relatively easy access to The City, by helicopter at least.
“Excellent, my good Apprentice! The magic is strong down here.” the wizard said. They were in one of the largest caverns, a little after midnight, and the area was well-lit by some of Phil’s floating glowing balls.
“Thank you, Sir, but I’m not completely happy with the location. We’re too close, symbolically at least, to an attribute of the Dark Gods’ power, and I think that this introduces a potential weakness, but I have another plan, of which this is only a beginning, if you’ll assist me.”
“Of course, my dear fellow. what exactly does this plan of yours entail?”
He grinned. “Some heavy lifting, actually — my peculiar speciality — and a bit of stonework. I have the model laid out here.” He indicated an architect’s model laid out in styrofoam on a table in the center of the limestone cavern, the entirety of which was lit by several more of his glowing balls. The model was painted gray, in stark contrast to the white and orangish white stone native to the cavern, all of which was contorted into frozen sheets and waterfalls of limestone, much of it fantastically carved by thousands of years of dripping water. The air was humid, but quite chilly, as if the entire cavern were an industrial-sized vegetable cooler, exactly fifty-one point four degrees Fahrenheit, which he presumed held true the year around. He picked up one particular assemblage, saying, “Notice the joint here, involving a type of keyed mortise and tenon, but all done in stone, and designed to be self-centering.”
“What’s the purpose of the completed device, then?”
“It’s meant to act as both a shield from outside influences and as an amplifier of spiritual power, what one might think of as mana, and the alignments are more-or-less traditional on Earth, I think, dating back at least ten thousand years or more — to judge from the time differential we’ve experienced — but considerably developed and refined by me. You’ll notice that the stone structures around the central core form an almost solid wall, making it a modern analog of the peculiar structures we’ve discovered that shelter magical sources of power here on Earth, like the church in which Na-Noc created a portal at the start of my portion of this adventure, like this cavern here below the surface of the Earth, and like some other modern structures I’ve encountered, but based upon a new theory which I believe will amplify that power considerably.”
“And what am I supposed to do?” he asked.
“Help to fit them together is all, and even then only if it proves necessary, since I’ll be juggling the fine movements and positioning of several weighty items at once. I’ve already cut the individual pieces from a basalt quarry down in New Jersey, so delivery and assemblage is the only step left, and I thought I’d do that through magic as well, since I didn’t want to mar the beautiful isolation of the valley above us with a mundane road, nor draw undue attention to our activities here.”
Akcuanrut laughed aloud. “These delicate sensibilities do you credit, young Apprentice, and are one more step along the road to Mastery. Magic is art, my dear Sir, and artistic considerations are quite often paramount! So too is your desire to improve upon ‘good enough,’ — after successfully discovering and exploiting a new and potent source of magical power on this world — by creating what you consider a ‘better’ source.”
“Thank you, Master Wizard, but I also have my eyes on the prize, the utter defeat of the Dark Gods in this age of the Multiverse. To do that, I think, we’ll need quite a few ducks in a row, so this is what one might call a ‘set-up shot,’ if this were a pool table.”
He looked askance at this. “Pool table… an intriguing concept. How does one keep the water on it?”
“It’s simple, the water’s never on it. The word ‘pool’ is a reference to the collective ‘pool’ of bets — or what they call the ‘ante,’ — that begins most professional ‘pocket billiards’ games, a type of gambling game, something like golf, or croquet, but played indoors on a special table.”
“Ahh! Like skittles!”
“Sort of. There are a lot of variations, some with sticks, some with balls or other things, but all involving feats of hand and eye coördination in which the object is to make one or more objects do something special in relation to something else.”
“We have those, but they’re not generally popular among wizards, since the suspicion that the contest might be unfair casts wizards themselves in an unflattering light.”
“I can see how that might be. I rather liked carom billiards, a type of ‘pool,’ but rather as an intellectual exercise. In fact, what I’ll be trying to do here is a sort of elaborate exercise in position and relative motion which might easily be likened to a ‘run’ in carom billiards.”
He looked puzzled. “Once more we’ve run into the limitations of the Great Spell of Reconciliation. It assumes a commonality of experience that doesn’t always exist across the worlds.”
“No matter. The reference is trivial. Let’s get started.” He spoke rhetorically, since he well knew that Akcuanrut would stand well aside unless it became absolutely necessary for him to intervene, and the wizard’s notion of ‘absolutely necessary’ usually bore a striking resemblance to ‘never.’
No matter. Phil was fairly confident, first opening his mind to the presence of deep magic in the cavern, coursing through the bones of the Earth, circulating from its very core outward into space and beyond to the stars. He felt the presence of the Sun, and the movements of the planets, as if he were standing at the center of a larger version of the Empress’ Orrery, and could feel the subtle tug of their motions around the Sun, then traced the even more diaphanous thread that marked the Sun’s path through the plane of the Milky Way.
From there, he looked with ætherial sight down toward the South-East — where his New Jersey quarry was located — and selected his structural basalt slabs in order, wafting them into the air like curiously buoyant giant dominoes, freed from the surly bonds of Earth, then silently streaming them toward the top of the valley high above their heads.
He built the structure from the inside out, placing first the focal point, a flat slab of dense stone at the core of the structure, allowing the Earth to embrace it snugly to its bosom, then surrounded it with the first of the fifteen focal stones, forming the inner layer of the complex structure, and only then the imposing trilithons, five of them in an intentional parabola, all of them likewise deeply embedded in the welcoming Earth, but each joined at the top with a horizontal lintel, each locked together by a massive stone joint which both stabilized and welded them into the individual elements of a complex phased array.
Then came the circles, the first true enclosures to screen out any influences not directly related to the magical power he wanted to enhance, the inner circle consisting of thirty individual elements, rough cylinders that plunged into the Earth and anchored the entire structure, grounding it, connecting it to the surrounding grasslands and the mountains behind. The outer circle was the most elaborate, another thirty stones, likewise deeply embedded in the soil — more deeply than the originals — but larger too, all joined together with another complex series of joints, a topological ‘knot’ which joined thirty crosspieces to span each gap between the circle stones, creating an unbroken chain of stone and earth surrounding everything, although one could as easily say that the outer circle was actually the true inner circle, which encompassed the entire surface of the wide Earth, and was in turn enclosed by all the rest, trilithons and all, so although one might fairly say that the structure looked like a sanctuary, from another viewpoint one could as easily say that the structure sanctified the Earth itself, and made it holy.
The final step was the most delicate, and the one which differed most notably from the roughhewn original model, since the edge of the Catskills wasn’t anything like Salisbury Plain, and the valley dropped away beneath them, so the Sunstone, the final piece of the puzzle, looked something more like an obelisk, well over a hundred feet tall, although of course a substantial portion would be buried. This single stone’s placement was critical, for it marked the rising of the Sun on the summer solstice, and required a delicate sense of alignment with the ecliptic, taking into account the future position of the Earth, a little more than two weeks into the future, and so placed the final seal upon the structure as a whole, fixing it in both place and time.
“Remind me to look into this caram billious game of yours,” Akcuanrut said. “That was masterfully done.”
Phil laughed in pure happiness, then said, “The real proof lies in the pudding itself, though. Shall we go up and try it out?”
“We shall, but if you’ve succeeded — and I have every confidence that you have — you’ll no longer be able to wallow in the luxury of being a mere Apprentice, but must take up the burdens of a Journeyman Wizard of considerable power.”
“Then I’d better hope that it worked, I suppose.” He smiled. “You make it sound so enticing.”
“Hmmf!” the wizard grunted. “You’ll be very lucky if you ever see a decent meal again!”
To Phil’s surprise, considering the late hour, they were met at the top of the gated shaft which led down to the cavern by the Empress and both of his wives, these last two by now visibly pregnant, and all three of them resplendent in new clothes from a recent shopping expedition in the City. Selene and Rhea were both in high-waisted black leather maxiskirts with matching jackets, but each outfit had subtle differences in cut and the coloring of the stitchery and design details, although his wives’ outfits did share a thigh-high slit in common. The Empress was in heavy silk, and all three looked as if they had charter memberships in the top ranks of the glitterati.
“How do you like our outfits?” Rhea held up her arms and twirled, dangerously tall in stiletto heels. She reached down as if to brush at her leg, but suddenly a naked sword was in her hand, then tossed spinning lightly into the air before she slid it back under her skirt and into some hidden sheath. “This skirt is designed to allow concealed carry for six daggers as well,” she said happily, “but the saber is really my favorite with this outfit. Straight swords tend to tangle slightly when they’re drawn from under a skirt, and I’d hate to have to replace this lovely skirt when it’s still brand new. We haven’t tested the self-healing properties of our new outfits yet, so don’t know if they share the indestructibility of the old ones.”
“It’s beautiful, Darling, and I assume that Selene’s outfit is similarly versatile.”
“Of course!” she said, as pleased as Punch. “They’re even better than our old ones, at least in looks, and much nicer in the chilly weather here. We even have hooded leather capes, so we can swirl them around and trap people in their folds.” She lowered her voice to almost a whisper, “You’ve really got to drop by our new designer, though. Some of the stuff she has on display is seriously kinky!”
Selene added with a wink, “Who knows? We might even pick up a few ideas….”
“Ahem!” the wizard said, brusquely imperious. “We’re gathered here for an important purpose, not to discuss the latest fashions for warrior women in the modern metropolis, much less ‘kinky’ outfits.”
“I heartily agree, my dear Master Wizard,” said the Empress D’Larona-Elvi. “As I understand it, we’re here to judge your young Apprentice’s Master Working, whereupon we two will decide whether he meets the criteria for full membership in the College of Wizards.”
“Actually,” the wizard said, “he here submits two Workings, not just one, and each in my own opinion individually sufficient, but together worthy of higher honor than mere membership, if both of us agree upon the worth of these feats.”
The Empress said merely, “Proceed with your exposition, then, Master Wizard.”
He nodded. “First, an intractable problem in this world is a formerly-anomalous depletion in the total store of magical power. Through careful observation and experiment, young Phillip has not only deduced the cause of this depletion, but has formulated a general theory of where the best sources of magic might yet be found, and worked out a method of bypassing certain aspects of this general depletion by drawing upon what might be termed ‘fossilized’ magic left behind from other ages and workings.”
“So has this theoretical ‘method’ been proven in practice?”
“It has. Phillip has shown that exposure to a general attitude of factionalism and hostile skepticism on this planet has decreased the overall level of magic over tenfold, at minimum, and in many places much more. As a proof of concept, he has discovered and used a pristine source of magical power located deep within the Earth — where human beings have rarely stepped foot — and as a measure of the sort and amount of power available offers the new structure outside this very cave as proof. You may have noted it as you entered the cave during construction, since it took some time, but the separate parts of this massive instrument were fashioned through pure magic and then transported through the air a distance of many hundreds of miles, then aligned to the plane of the ecliptic in this solar system using a fine sense of time and place as accurate, I think, as that which is displayed in your own Orrery.”
“Very pretty, I’m sure, but what good is it?” the Empress asked.
“It is,” the wizard said, “according to Phillip, a focal point and amplifier of magical power, and he offers as proof a personal inspection of same. In fact, we were on our way to do that very thing when you and your dangerous entourage showed up.”
“Well, then, let us essay,” the Empress said, and turned toward the exit to the wide world outside the cave.
“It’s over this way,” Phil said. “You should be able to feel the power as we approach.” He hadn’t created a path, other than the one that led up the valley past the Sunstone toward the structure itself, but then he hadn’t planned on using it in the middle of the night either. There wasn’t even a moon, so their first approach was by starlight, and he could feel the great mass of stone as much as see a deeper darkness where it hugged the Earth, then became aware of a looming shadow against the starry sky. “Rhea? Selene? Could you please keep our guests headed in the right direction while I run on ahead?”
“Of course, Sweetie.”
He couldn’t quite say which one had spoken in the darkness, so simply said, “Thank you both,” and stepped up the pace, guided mostly by his memory of what he’d just made, plus the feel of it, pulsing with hidden power, until he’d passed the inner horseshoe, then trod upon the focal stone.
Instantly, the magical power flooded through his body, and he tossed a little constellation of glowing white balls into the air with a shout, turning night to day in an instant, but with many shadows crisscrossing the interior of the structure, more like the flattish illumination of a football field during a night game than true daylight. “I thought that this might help you to avoid running into anything,” he called out as both of his wives whooped in triumph.
“Nice one, Phil!” they both called out in synchrony.
“I always aim to please, dear hearts,” he said, as they walked up to the focal stone, followed closely by Akcuanrut and the Empress.
“Oooh! It tickles!” the two women said as they stepped onto the stone proper, and then Akcuanrut smiled, as he too felt the sudden rush of power.
“Congratulations, Master Wizard Phillip,” the Empress said. “You’re the first since Master Wizard Akcuanrut here to progress directly to mastery in our craft.”
“Thank you, my Lady Empress, I’m honored to stand in such august company.”
“I take it, then,” she said, “that these devices can be constructed anywhere on Earth?”
“They can indeed,” Phil answered, “anywhere one can buy sufficient land to hold one. It’s not really necessary to construct them using magic, merely a convenience. Heavy equipment would do just as well, and indeed the first examples of this general sort of structure were done during the Late Stone Age on Earth, without the benefit of metal tools or any machinery other than long levers of wood.”
“First examples? Is this not a new invention, then?” she asked frowning.
“Yes, and no,” he said. “The earliest examples we know of are quite unlikely to have worked, because they weren’t fashioned with the necessary precision, so they’re possibly copies of some lost structure that was properly-formed. Then too, the societies which last made them were pre-literate, so of course their meaning — if any hint of their original purpose remained by then — was completely lost to history.”
“Then how do you extrapolate a so-called ‘original purpose,’ if the only examples don’t actually work, and nothing is really known about them.”
He smiled. “Through guesswork, really, plus a long association — not quite a tradition — with magic of various sorts connected to these sorts of structures. The original of this one, for example, is said by some to have been constructed by Merlin, a famous — or perhaps merely legendary — wizard and magician thought by most to have lived thousands of years after it was actually constructed, and certainly not contemporary with the builders, if he ever really existed at all. Others believe that it was created by super-human beings from Atlantis — as far as we know an imaginary island, or continent which never existed in any way other than as a legendary retelling of the destruction in a volcanic explosion of an island named Thera, located in the Mediterranean Sea — of which there is no trace in the geologic record, so it seems as if the real Atlantis — if ever there was such a place — was not on this world at all. It’s entirely conceivable that it exists somewhere in some other world, possibly even a distorted report of your own world as related by the ancient centaurs, since it now seems likely that they visited here at some point in the distant past.”
“But how do you get from imaginary islands and anachronistic wizards to anything like the truth?” The Empress was obviously frustrated, and there was an edge to her voice.
“On this world, science quite often progresses by what they call ‘hunches,’ intuition, really, but intuition informed by a systematic and interactive system of investigation and analysis of the results of one’s tests of the tentative theories, hopefully getting closer to a coherent and comprehensive theory by approximation. I started from the knowledge that — for some unknown reason — there was a source of magic inside a particular building, the church used by Na-Noc, and that it wasn’t uniform, so Na-Noc was more-or-less trapped in one portion of the room. I also know that there’s a full-size replica of the original of this structure on the other side of the country, in Washington State, and that it’s not terribly effective, possibly because it was constructed using concrete — a hydraulic mixture of lime, sand, and gravel — instead of hewn native stone. My challenge, then, was to discover why the power existed, and why it wasn’t uniform. Added to that was the fact that a limited form of magic was used inside the Lanyon home. In both cases, the walls of the physical structures were of stone, but it was also true that huge gaps existed in both structures which weren’t stone at all, very many windows in the case of the church, and a wooden roof in the home. It was a puzzle.”
“Yes, yes,” she said impatiently.
“So I made a lucky guess; that the great mass of stone was effective because it was parallel to the surface of the Earth, and that exposure to the sky was either inconsequential or beneficial. From there, it was simply a matter of visiting quite a few buildings and seeing what worked, and what didn’t. Rounded shapes were better than rectangular shapes, for example — several football stadiums and the Rotunda of the State Legislature in Albany proved that, despite the fact that they were made with concrete, but using massive amounts of the stuff, so there’s evidently some sort of tradeoff there — and orientation to the ecliptic also played a part, which I deduced from the most powerful examples of the many random alignments of various otherwise similar sports stadiums.”
“So, why isn’t this a sports stadium, then?”
“Two reasons. First, sports stadiums are very expensive, and take many years to build. Second, and most important, they weren’t particularly efficient, and I had another thought; what if the ancient centaurs, let’s say, had explored other worlds during their war with the Dark? What if they’d been trapped — or inconvenienced, makes no matter — here by the same scarcity of magic that we encountered? We know that they were masters of portal technology — far in advance, I think, of anything we’ve done lately. We also know that they had, and have, at least one portal connected to the Earth — for whatever reason. What if they’d constructed the original of the structure I created here? If Stone Age people had seen one of these ‘miraculous’ things in use, they may have tried to duplicate them, just as certain South Sea Islanders made replicas of airplanes during their spontaneous development of ‘Cargo Cults?’ That would account perfectly for the presence of the megalithic structures, even though they wouldn’t have actually worked, no more than ‘airplanes’ made out of wood and palm fronds could fly. It would also account for the fact that the legends of centaurs on Earth shows them both as warriors — they were at war, after all — and as wise counselors and teachers, friends to human beings.”
“So your existing ‘examples’ would be ‘primitive’ copies of more sophisticated devices that are now lost to history, but which may actually have worked!”
“Exactly! It’s only a hypothesis, of course, but I took a leap of faith, and began thinking about the first principles of magic here on Earth, that it appears to be rooted in the Earth, and is influenced by the alignments of the Sun and Earth at least, but also that magic has been diminished in recent history — by which I mean the last few thousand years at least — because of the rise of competing systems of magical theory and practice. We can see that this is possible because at least some of the magical influence of the Dark Gods is readily thwarted by the rite of consecration we now know of and use. I think that monuments like this may have been first constructed by the centaurs as artificial caves, to both focus the underlying magical field and to shield the practitioner from the influence of what might be seen as ‘counterspells’ cast by millions of believers in competing systems. These devices would have been refined by trial and error until a fairly stable form evolved.”
“But this looks nothing like a cave!” she said with some heat.
“Actually, it does, on a macroscopic level, but magic — whatever energy it actually consists of — obviously has a long wavelength, since there are large gaps between the elements that make up the pseudo-cave, just as the intervening windows in the stone structure of the church made little essential difference to its ‘cave-like’ nature, as far as magic was concerned. We also know that the magical field was strongest in the nave, that part of the church that most strongly resembled this one, and that the church itself was oriented more or less on an east-west axis, facing the rising sun, although I have no idea why, other than accidentally, because the city streets themselves have a similar alignment. That being the case, what we call a ‘phased array’ antenna structure of widely-separated elements is perfectly adequate, and allowed me to focus the power much more efficiently, resulting in a twenty-fold increase over subterranean power levels, which in turn are well over ten times greater than the poorly-focused field that Na-Noc used in the church. You can feel the result here and now, if you stand upon the focal point.”
“You mean there’s more?” the Empress said.
She stepped onto the stone slab, then walked around, feeling the incredible strength of the magic being focused on one particular spot — greater even than the magical field back in Myriad — then said, all business now, “Master Wizard Akcuanrut, be sure to tell someone with our liaison in the US government to provide diplomatic passports for Master Wizard Phillip and his wives. Give them some official title or another to impress the locals. It may save them some problems if the New York authorities take issue with the weapons and accoutrements of our official bodyguard.”
“Good point. I’ll do the same with all the twins, since they all have the same issues.”
“You should also take note, Master Wizard Akcuanrut, that both of Phillip’s wives felt the magic, so it’s my thought that we have at least two more potential Apprentices.”
“Already noted,” Phillip answered, “but it’s also true that both of my wives’ abilities in the martial arts are undoubtedly suffused with magic, since their weapons recreate themselves from nothing at all and their abilities are well beyond that of ordinary humans. I suggest rather another class of Sorceress entirely, call them Valkyries… or Furies… whose magic is innate, like that of the centaurs, although of course it would be wise to explore this at greater length.”
“What makes you believe that this magic is innate?” Akcuanrut asked mildly.
“Because the character upon whom both my lovely wives drew inspiration for their separate transformations was described as being descended from the inhabitants of Atlantis, the fabled land I mentioned in our world where magic was once supposedly common, and was ultimately granted divine powers by a Goddess. My wives discovered these abilities — as I understand it — at the moment of their transformation, without training of any kind, and retain those powers — or recreate them — from their original model, who was a fictional character drawn from a book. Like her, they are indomitable against any merely mortal opponent. By extension, all their sisters must share their supernatural nature, so I suspect that — as with the new race of more powerful centaurs — there’s something entirely new coming into being, impelled by forces greater than our own. You’ll also note, I’m sure, that each and every one of these powerful women is even at this moment pregnant — bringing forth a new generation even as we stand here talking — and both our worlds are changing, right before our eyes.”
Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 Jeffrey M. Mahr — All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2012 Levanah Greene — All Rights Reserved
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