BUY

 

CHAPTER 1

“Magic. What is it? Well, for one, it’s made up of a lot of things, and for another, if just one of those things is out-of-sync, then your spell is not going to work. At best, your first attempt will fizzle like the damp wick of a cheap firecracker. Magic must be embraced like a hallowed promise.”

The Egyptian witch, Dr. Melaina Makris, senior lecturer of spell casting and ancient magical documents, paused to allow her statement sink in. She scanned the auras of her clutch and was not impressed. Although, there were a few … but does that young man over there near the wall even belong here? She corrected herself. The first lecture for a freshman rarely went well. For them sheer survival with a barely passing grade was considered a victory. There will be no ‘participation’ grades given out by me. How sad these times have become.

“I can see that you’re not listening. So I’ll try again. To successfully cast a spell, you must do many things … right.”

Her pause was accompanied by a drumming of long and spider-like fingers on the wooden surface of the antique lectern. Remarkably, no one had yet to take a note.

“I see that you’re still not listening. Fine. You’ll flunk out … and … I don’t give one wit about the failure rate in my classes. Grading curves and retention ratios do not count in my world. You see, I’m a freebooter. I do this class for fun, and the dean and president of our society know it. In short, if you do not apply yourself, then … well … you’re screwed.”

This time she paused to rearrange her lecture notes cursively written in black ink upon aged and perfumed papyrus. Much to her pleasure, the witch noted a mounting unease within Old Main’s venerable lecture hall. She actually saw several furtively glance toward the exit, in confirmation that an actual escape route existed. Makris gripped the sides of her lectern and waited as a bit of odd and unfamiliar dizziness passed.

Now what was that? She soldiered on nonetheless.

“Be advised that the first step in becoming an adept is the firm belief that magic exists. There is absolutely no sense in pursuing something that you don’t believe in. You must have certainty. The second step logically follows from the first—you must commit to magic. Making a commitment to something is far more tangible than some loosey-goosey feeling that something might exist. A commitment is a conscious forward step, a physical action, even a goal. Again, something tangible, something that your six senses can latch on to.”

She now sipped from the chilled glass of water, around which a conjured wisp of hoarfrost slowly circled. When she had lifted it to her lips, many jaws dropped at the wonder. Again she leaned into her podium, this time because of an upset stomach. What the hell is going on? She thought as a slight sheen of moisture formed on her forehead and upper lip.

“Once you get your collective heads wrapped around the difference between belief and an outright commitment, then we arrive at everyone’s favorite—memorization. You can’t cast a spell if the words aren’t right. Your next hamburger order, without the right words, in the right order, and with the appropriate options mentioned, will not be a hamburger. Instead, it will be a zucchini salad, but only if you are lucky.”

She paused again, this time to stretch the growing tension out of her aching lower back. Must be some kind of flu. The lectern’s blond oaken edges were worn smooth by the callused grip of generations, who had stood before their charges over the centuries. Old Oaks Academy, established in 1813, had been after all the heartfelt gift of a grateful United States president. Many within the society had sacrificed much to defend the young nation in its most dire time of need.

“Doubly important is the language of the spell. Facile translations, like botched pizza recipes, don’t work much less taste good. So master a foreign language. Better, several. And … get the accent and pronunciation spot on. When properly delivered in its native tongue, a spell takes on a luster and power like no other. And most important, your opponent’s counter spell must also be expressed in that language, and that’s what I call a distinct advantage.”

She adjusted her half-reading glasses. A low grumble began to sound, the subtle shuffling of feet yearning to march. They have yet to realize the perfect acoustics of this old wooden lecture hall… better … chamber.

“Perhaps the most difficult part of spell casting is the sheer ability of the individual to do so. While everyone has some modicum of innate psychic ability, not many possess it in sufficient measure. Yes, yes, I well-realize that one’s psychic ability can be bolstered through training—much like prepping for those useless and faulty university entrance exams. But that tactic is only a temporary fix. Fortunately, for all of you here present, your entrance tests say that you possess the needed acumen. But what most of you do not possess is a disciplined mind capable of maintaining focus under stress. You see, that’s where the great divide occurs. And, this is why you are here—to … be … challenged … and stressed under contest-level conditions. Why? Because in the real world there are no do-over’s. Because the real world is a frightfully brutal place, where only the prepared earn the right to live another day. When charged by a werewolf or vampire, your ability to cast defensive magic will be painfully apparent.”

Another sip of water. She saw her words had her students shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Good…

“Finally, the proper casting of a spell requires will—not to be confused with emotion. Will provides the conduit through which an adept’s energy triggers the spell. You cannot start an automobile without its electrical system. You cannot cast a spell without your will to power it. Will has endurance. Will does not easily tire. Will provides focus.”

Makris paused for effect and saw that some were taking notes.

“Your will possesses an endurance that emotion never will. In a life and death contest, your will can provide sufficient defense against the most furious of emotionally-driven magical attacks. Our most bitter enemy, CMES, teaches its students to use raw emotion to power their spells. They deal in raw fear, rage, hatred, you name it, instead of mastering the will. As you all well know, the expenditure of emotion is exhausting. As a result, in any contest they tire quickly. This is why your mastery of the will, when used responsibly with restraint and logic, rules the day.”

Again Makris paused, but this time she saw that a young man had raised his hand.

“Yes, Mr. Grissom.” She encouraged after gently peeking into his mind to find his name.

“Ah, Dr. Makris. Is there some kind of handbook on all of this?”

“An excellent question. On your thumb drives, which you all received on the first day of classes, is a copy of The Knot of Eternity, provided in your native language. Our society believes that knowledge is power. The Knot of Eternity is our guide to that knowledge. I suggest that all of you familiarize yourselves with it.”

Makris glanced at the time displayed on her personal device that rested next to her right wrist. “Consider what I have said. I fully expect that fifty percent of you will immediately drop this introductory course in spell casting. If unsure, drop and come back when you are more fully prepared to embrace it. Kindly don’t waste either my time or yours.”

*          *          *

Four weeks later and six time zones away, the same Dr. Melaina Makris put her opening lecture into practice as she sang with arms outstretched a melodious song in her family’s ancient Egyptian Demotic tongue. The effort added considerably to the effectiveness of the spell’s casting. She delivered this spell at the behest of her society in retaliation for a brutal vampiric attack upon the Vatican. The target of the chanting was a lavish Roman villa that she stood before. This structure contained the international headquarters of a much-hated and scurrilous coven, who had sent the vampire on its bloody rampage against a treaty ally.

To foil Makris’ detection, the witch wore an Urban Combat Suit—just as did her heavily armed husband who stood next to her, which among other things, rendered the witch and her guardian invisible, because of a technological leap in light-bending materials.

Life, life, life is to be again granted to this place.

For too long it has been denied its place.

Wenet and Wenenu, the favorites of green Osiris,

Wenet and Wenenu, the fecund and abundant,

Goodly Unnefer,

He of ‘Beautiful and Bountiful Renewal,’

Breathe life into this place that has been denied for so long.

The witch repeated this chant thrice without blemish. Finished, she bent down and removed a beautiful and frisky male rabbit, perfect in every way, from one chamber of her also invisible shoulder bag. It was the very Egyptian image of Wenenu—aggressive fertility. Then, she lifted out of the bag a female, Wenet—the very personificaton of Egyptian procreation. Around their necks the witch had tied a white ribbon inscribed with the chanted spell of renewal.

Makris gently placed Wenet’s and Wenenu’s magical Doppelgängern down upon the sun-scorched, noon-time soil. With a whispered spell of encouragement and a gentle push, the rabbits began hopping forward. As their sensitive paws heated up, they quickened toward the villa and its cool shade. As the rabbits progressed, wherever their paws touched the barren soil, a marvel of nature occurred. Long dormant life germinated. Spotty at first, each point where the rabbits touched sprang to life, greened, and spread out like water dripped upon a paper napkin.

Smiling down upon this glorious miracle, Makris turned to leave, but could not help herself as she stopped, and turned around to see the rudimentary beginnings of a lawn forming, filled in here and there with colorful wild flowers.

The rabbits, those venerable images of fertility, now safely within the villa’s shadow, nuzzled one another. Overcome with nature’s own zeal, the rabbits began doing what rabbits do—the male vigorously coupled with the female, while she encouraged him ever on. With every thrust and every contraction, magical procreative vibrations, oscillations, and outright tremors were sent throughout the villa’s isolated hillock.

The initial reaction of the life-giving renewal spell affected the villa’s immediate grounds. Its secondary effects would take more time soak in, for deep beneath the hillock existed a vast labyrinth of inhabitable spaces, tunnels, chambers, and yes, even catacombs.

Within many of these places long-interred organic remains began rustle. Those high dignitaries buried intact stirred in their places. For those not so fortunate, the plaster that imprisoned them began to crack and give way. Their bones often supported tunnel walls. Their skulls sometimes formed archways and convenient places for torches or electrical lighting. These less-fortunate, uncountable numbers included the tortured, the half-devoured, those buried alive, institutional dissidents, and the merely hated—not to mention troublesome witches, wizards, werewolves, wraiths, vampires, and ghouls by the score. These wretches represented centuries, lo’ millennia, of safe storage for the great unwashed and unwanted. They were consigned to the black inkiness of a forgotten pit with no name, by their masters who believed themselves better.

These pitiless forms, both the venerated and not, now tasted something rare and special—hope. They had been granted the gift of life once again—a hallowed promise, which also endued within each and every one of them a natural allegiance to something other than their former coven masters and oppressors. For most of them, sweet revenge was on their minds.

BUY