Shadow mages vs. textbook. Perhaps. Maybe.
Two weeks later, as Thomas Arthur Chan attacked the vegetable beds with a turning fork and spade, Morgana sat with his parents in her living room, Familiars on lap, ottoman, or platform. “So, what do I need to update or to expand on?” Morgana had sent them copies of the hazards chapter of the gate magic textbook.
“Gate collapse backlash leaves permanent damage.” André glanced to Lelia, who reached over and rested one hand on his lower arm. “It flows back on the same channels, so to speak, that are used to reach through the proto-gate into the other plane to establish the connection. Someone who’s been burned can assist with stabilizing a gate, and can support the person casting the spell. Oh, and he or she can close the passageway, but that’s it.” He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable.
That sounded like painful personal experience. “That’s interesting. And it seems to confirm Del Sarto’s hypothesis about magico-cerebral structures and magic-induced injuries.” Morgana made notes off to the side. She needed to look into that a little more, mostly for personal reference if Krimhilde ever had a problem and needed back-up.
André’s lean features took on a very thoughtful expression. “You know, I’d never considered that connection.” He blinked several times. “But it makes perfect sense, since backlash seems to work like lightning does, with the step-leader being the worker’s spell. But that does contradict McHaile’s observations on energy transfers.”
Lelia had begun leaning farther and farther away, and removed her hand from her husband’s arm. “Dear, you speaking academese. You scare me when you do that.”
Morgana chuckled. “No. If he were speaking acadamese, I’d be fleeing for the hills, Smiley right behind and gaining speed. He’s not using enough syllables yet, and he hasn’t dropped in the words ‘post-structuralist’ or ‘pedogogical praxis.’ Yet.”
“And he’s not going to, or I will shed all over him,” Rodney declared from the top of the ottoman.
Both shadow mages made warding-off gestures in the kit fox’s direction.
“Back on topic,” Morgana said, lest something bad happen. “What else do I need to update or change?”
Lelia took a deep breath and leaned forward slightly. “I don’t know about other kinds of magic worker, but a mage can support clergy in sealing off a plane and gate.”
It was Morgana’s turn to blink, hard. Beside her, Smiley inhaled loudly. He demanded, “Gate and plane? How?”
Lelia and her Familiar, Tay, both shook their heads. “I don’t know,” the ring-tailed lemur said. “I know it happened, because Silver and I were there, and Shadow and Ears saw it too.”
“I channeled magic to the clergy member. He used that magic, and power from—” Lelia turned one hand palm up. “Somewhere. I don’t know where, or how, but it wasn’t our,” she made a circling gesture with that hand, “magic. And that closed the gate without unworking it, and it sealed an infernal plane away from ours. I don’t know for how long, but nothing is coming in or out of wherever that was.”
Morgana sat back against her chair. “Dang. So it still takes clergy. Even you couldn’t do it.”
Shadow and Ears shook their heads. “No,” Shadow said. “The clergy member passed out from strain, but there was no backlash, no power overflow, nothing.” He managed a faint chuckle. “I wanted to pass out too, but that had to wait until we got home, since I was driving.”
Lelia glared at him and said, “Since you insisted on driving, you mean, because you were too wired to let me have the wheel, and one of us had to look out for deer, and there is no, zero, way either of us are going to let Tay and Rodney behind the wheel of anything.”
Thppppth came from both Familiars. Smiley did his best to look innocent. It failed to convince. A small halo illusion shimmered over André’s head, then faded. Morgana worked very hard to keep a straight face.
“One other thing,” Lelia added. “It is possible to gate from place to place on our plane, if you go through an intermediate plane and you have a physical link to your destination. But it took a mage supporting a very powerful sorcerer of shadow, and then everything the mage had coming back, with a second mage assisting in holding and unmaking the ‘home’ gate.” She drooped. “So it is possible, it is dangerous, it uses a ridiculous amount of energy, and I’m never, ever doing it again, God willing.”
André had extended his hand, picking up Lelia’s and holding it. “No, you are not, because I will turn that sorcerer of shadow into a newt if he even mentions the idea.”
Morgana studied her notes for a moment. “In other words, it is beyond expert level, requires a lot of special preparation, and even then you have to have multiple magic workers at all points in the process.”
Tay nodded. “I don’t think a coven could do it, because they’d have to move everyone together through the gate, close the gate, find the second destination, open that gate, move everyone through…” His voice trailed off as the other two Familiars made gagging sounds.
“Possible, maybe. Probable, no.” Morgana filled in that bit. “Was there a link to the intermediate point?”
“Yes, but,” Lelia raised a cautionary finger. “Only the second time. The first time, as best Tay and I could tell, the sorcerer picked a random plane. We were probably fortunate that nothing wanted to bother us and that the plane didn’t seem to be abyssal.”
“Murphy’s Law says that abyssal is the most probable,” Morgana sighed. “You were lucky. You heard about the little oopsie in Utrecht?”
André scowled. “Who hasn’t? I know one of the people involved through a mutual acquaintance, and he wasn’t surprised that that individual would try a stunt that stupid.”
“No kidding, boss. If anyone would try it, it would be Heinrich the Twit.” Rodney’s sour tone made lemon juice sound sweet.
Smiley poked Morgana with one large claw. “Speaking of obnoxious items, Madame, do you want to show Silver and Shadow the irksome book?”
“No, but they probably deserve at least a warning of what might be coming.” Morgana set her notes aside and stood. “Potoo Brothers strikes again.”
Rodney sagged and flowed across the top of the ottoman until he looked like a miniature polar bear rug, but with giant ears. Morgana fetched the book from her workroom and handed it to André. “That bad?” he inquired as he unwrapped the silk around the book. Then he opened it to a random page and started reading. “Gottinhimmel!” He handed it to Lelia.
“Which chapter?” Morgana asked as she sat back down.
“Scrying and divin— Ugh. Really?” Lelia showed Tay the offending page.
His ears flopped flat against his skull and he fluffed to twice his usual size. “Really. That’s inexcusable.” The lemur bared his fangs. “Completely inexcusable.”
“In a just world, a delegation of mages and sorcerers of shadow, accompanied by the strongest light-inclined coven in North America, would call on that publisher and gently remonstrate with their staff about releasing such works. And with the authors of such titles.” Smiley too bared large ivory-colored fangs, ears back. “Alas, we live in an imperfect world.”
Lelia closed the book and shook a finger at her Familiar. “No lectures on following man-made law and working inside existing institutions, please.”
“No, this is the lecture about not squandering magic by gating into Potoo’s office and staging a book burning. Except I don’t think you can safely toss that tome into the burn barrel.” Tay sagged, as did Rodney.
Morgana removed her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She needed to get that pad replaced before it wore through. “And salamander fire won’t do it, either. I’m thinking about seeing if one of the industrial recyclers can chop it into pieces, then destroying the fragments separately.”
André’s eyes narrowed and he took the book back from his wife. Shadow magic flowed around the book, then cleared. André shook his head. “It’s got spells woven into the paper to protect it from errant spills, spells, and physical accidents.” He opened to the index, found what he wanted, and flipped pages. “Yes. Look at the book as if you were studying a pattern spell, Lake.”
Thus warned, she drew magic from Claws, shielded them both, and looked. Indeed, protections curled around and through the book, like the drawings she’d seen of electromagnetic charges around the Earth. “So both the accident and the essence are bad news.” She returned magic to Claws and closed her eyes for a moment. “I’m glad it isn’t in full production yet.”
“No shit,” Rodney sighed.
Lelia held out one hand. “May I see it again for a moment, please, dear?”
One thin silver-white eyebrow rose before André closed the book and handed it to his wife. She opened to the copyright page and read it. She bared her teeth a little as she showed Tay something. He leaned back. “To do that would be an abuse of professional connections, unkind, and richly deserved. Doooo eeeeeeettt.”
Should I be concerned?
Lelia showed the same information to André and Rodney. A hard, predatory expression suffused André’s countenance. “Madame, are you suggesting that I call upon a professional contact and encourage abuse of authority?”
“No. I am suggesting that Defender and Tik-Tik, being near the new offices, pay a social call and leave their visiting card. To do otherwise could be taken as a slight, and the magic workers world is rather small, dark sir.” Lelia’s words sounded like a Victorian manners book. Her expression made Morgana want to remove an icon of St. George from the icon corner and set it between them.
And this is why people give them such a wide berth at conferences. I can see why she’s been able to work for Saldovado for so long. “Which still leaves me with the problem of a very dangerous book that I can’t safely dispose of.”
Tay sniffed. “Um, you know, actually, there might be someone who knows someone who can take care of the thing.” He poked his mage with one claw. “Mr. Smith.”
Lelia closed the book and blinked very hard. She opened her mouth, then closed it. “You know, that is an idea. And if not, he might have a contact who—” She nodded once. “Morgana, I have a professional contact, an art collector, who has some very eccentric associates. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of them might know a way to deal with this.” She tapped the top of the book with a slender finger.
André nodded in turn and partly folded his arms. “Hold onto the book for now. Lelia will contact Mr. Smith and see what he says.”
It wasn’t great, but it was a maybe. She’d take maybe. “Thank you, for the information and for the book disposal suggestion. The first print run is scheduled for July.”
Lelia stood and set the book down on her chair. “Pardon me for a moment.” She walked briskly toward the guest washroom.
“Do you gentlemen need out?” Morgana inquired.
Three enthusiastic nods confirmed her guess. She let the boys out through the mud room and checked on Art in the process. André came with her. “I’ll drop a line to someone who might be in a position to have a word with Potoo. Enough’s enough.” His expression cleared. “Good lord, Art, that’s a record!”
The entire vegetable bed had been turned over, and the dark-haired teen had started work on the herb garden. “Is it?” He stopped and looked at the well-churned soil. “Um, I guess I had a few frustrations to vent.”
Morgana shifted to magic sight and observed several Earth Elementals cavorting in the nicely-loosened soil. He’d had a bit of help. Interesting, especially if he hadn’t noticed. “Well done, Art. If you want to stop for a few minutes, I’ve got snacks and drinks inside for you. And your parents.”
He tilted his head to the side and leaned on the large garden fork. “Thank you, ma’am. Maybe a little later. I’ve got a rhythm going.” Art resumed his attack on the loam.
“He’s going to be sore tomorrow,” André murmured as he followed Morgana back into the house. “He’s not used to that kind of physical labor.”
“Better him than me, no offense.” She pulled cheese, home-made crackers, summer sausage, and sausage balls out of the fridge, along with sauce for the sausage balls. She slid them into the microwave and set the timer. “What plans does Art have for when he graduates?”
Lelia had returned from the washroom. “He plans to make his parents feel old. Or at least, that’s what he manages to do most of the time. I’m too young to have a child graduating high school!”
“Dear, you don’t. He graduates in December, remember?” André stayed out of arm’s reach as he spoke, and Morgana sensed a shield forming.
Lelia gave her husband a look. Then she said, “He’s going on his mission. There’s some debate as to when, because of schedules and his age, but he’s going to do that, then college, here. At least to start.”
André had released his shield spell. He said, “After that? My mentor wants to work with Art. We’ll see. For one, Meister Gruenewald’s, ah, not young. And two, that means Art going to Germany for a while.” Art’s dad sounded less than excited.
The microwave chimed. Morgana retrieved the sausage balls, now hot sausage balls, and set them on the table with the other snacks. Lelia had gotten plates, and Morgana found the long, slender fork for spearing the meatballs and dipping them into the sauce. Lelia served herself, then said, “And three, Art is not his father, and might not want to take up Emm Gee’s offer.”
Tay snorted from the floor. “Offer? Demand’s more like it.”
“Well, what do you expect from someone who thinks he’s more entitled than Queen Victoria was?” Rodney sniffed. “I mean yeah, he’s earned a little of it, but sheesh.”
Morgana tried to recall who they might be talking about. Two academics popped to mind, and one solo witch who’d been tossed out of at least two covens on different sides of the country. “Have I met this person?”
André and Rodney both shook their heads. Lelia made a warding off gesture with her fork and one finger as she chewed a sausage ball. “No, ma’am,” Rodney said. “He prefers to stay in Europe. Him and airlines wouldn’t mix.”
Talk shifted to harmless topics, including regional gossip and complaints about the cost of tuition. “To be honest, I’m very, very happy that Hiram has an apprenticeship and doesn’t want to go to college,” Lelia confessed. “In-state tuition here is already fifty thousand a year for a full load, plus books and housing. I’m terrified of what a private college would cost.”
“Too much for what you get, based on the news,” Morgana replied, a touch tartly. “I realize that only horrible warnings make headlines, but really.”
“Indeed Madame,” Smiley intoned from his platform beside the table. “Although why one is surprised by the lack of employment for holders of a degree in ‘the philosophy of knowledge theory’ I fail to understand.” If his tone were any drier, he’d turn the Amazon Basin into a desert.
Lelia wrinkled her nose, then had more cheese and crackers. “For the same reason that certain authors throw tantrums because people won’t buy their books. Poor writing, lousy covers, and sketchy subject matter notwithstanding, of course.”
“That new series from MoonDrop Press?” Morgana guessed.
A head shake. “No, ma’am. The gal who writes as Gloriana Swansdown. The shimmery incubus romances.”
It was Morgana’s turn to wrinkle her nose. “Shimmery incubus. No thank you. I tangled with one of those once, or something close to it, in Japan. An import that preyed on round-eyes.”
Groans arose from her guests.
“That was sort of my thought as well. I managed to contain it until a local native magic worker could send it back to wherever it needed to go.” She’d been a coven witch at that time, and containing the spirit had taken all the starch out of her for several days. Ted, God bless him, had missed the excitement.
(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.