World of Sorcery
A Tale Begins
By Benjamin ford
Copyright © 2016, Benjamin Ford
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means whether auditory, graphic, mechanical, or electronic without written permission of both publisher and author. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.
“Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention please,” Carson said loudly with a bright, beaming smile. He held up both hands so that the crowd around him could see them plainly. “As you can tell, my hands are empty. If any of the ladies in the audience would like to come and hold them for a moment then I would gladly oblige.” The statement garnered a few low chuckles from his audience and also a few wary glances from the men who clutched the women near them a little tighter. Carson filed that observation away for later study.
“Now, I know that this is when other performers would conjure a ball,” Carson said with a smirk, throwing a hand over his shoulder. A little red ball flung off into the crowd, drawing a surprised ooh from them as a young girl caught it with a grin. Carson winked cheerfully at the child before continuing with the show. “Or maybe a tiny burst of fire to scare those of you trying to get a little closer.” As he said that, Carson clapped his hands and lunged forward, a wave of flames roaring out toward the people in front of him, making them lean back with a gasp of shock and fear. A few claps came, but he just smiled and waved them down. “But I have something else to show you. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t, but who can say? I’m no psychic.” He quickly pointed at a guy in the front row of the crowd. “Your girlfriend didn’t steal from your wallet. You gave ten bucks to your friend while you were drunk after you vomited in his car.” The man took a step back with a look of horror on his face as the rest of the audience laughed. “Now for the main event. My special technique, for your consideration, light dancing.”
Carson took a deep breath, bringing his hands together a few inches away from his chest. He muttered a few phrases under his chest where nobody else could hear. As the last word left his mouth, he began spreading his palms apart to form a diamond. The crowd leaned in, the air reeking of suspense. A collective intake of breath broke the silence as a ball of light sprung to life between Carson’s hands. He grinned happily at the audience and threw his hands out wide, holding the ball of light in one hand. He tossed it over his head, caught it in his other hand and then split it into three and started juggling, tossing the odd ball behind his back to keep the pattern interesting. The crowd was fixated, good. They were ready for the next stage. He tossed all of the balls into the air where they kept spinning on their own in the same rotations they had when he was juggling them. Another amazed ooh from the audience brought Carson the satisfaction that he always felt when performing in front of an engrossed audience. He snapped his fingers and the lights started sparking like fireworks, lighting up the late evening air with their brilliance. He poked one while it spun and the three of them lined up in perfect order. Carson waved his hands like a conductor as the lights became liquid and shifted in shape, quickly becoming something completely different. The lights formed into a scene out of a fairy tale, a woman of light in a flowing evening gown, her hair flowing in a long bun with a tail draped on her shoulder. Her hands were placed on the shoulder and the hand of a man in a suit reminiscent of the colonial days with a rat’s tail in his hair to match. The third ball had melted down to form a concert piano and pianist, and, though nobody around could explain it, and nobody outside the audience heard it, the soft music of a gentle dance was playing softly on the breeze. The enchantment lasted for a full three minutes, coming to an end as the music quieted. The three human figures stood as the piano disappeared and bowed before fading from sight. Silence followed, a sense of loss touching the atmosphere.
The clapping started slow, a single sound from someone unseen that gradually rose to a thundering roar of applause that compelled the magician to bow with a wide grin on his face. This adoration was what any performer practiced his art for, and Carson reveled in it!
“Thank you!” he shouted, trying to make himself heard over the applause. “Thank you!” As the applause began to die down, he gave one final bow. “I’m glad that I could add some magic to all of your evenings. However, I’m sure you all have better places to be, like telling your friends about this performance.” The crowd laughed at that, and Carson shared by chuckling. He kicked his top hat up to his hands and swept it around. “Thank you all for your kindness. You’ve been a great audience!”
The people walked by, most, if not all, dropping money in and more than a few were higher bills! Still, for every twenty there was the douche that put in a nickel or tried to reach in and be paid for watching rather than performing, but they found nothing, perplexed expressions painted on their faces. Carson just smiled. He knew the secret behind it alright, but he wasn’t telling.
After the crowd was gone, Carson tapped the top hat upon which point it condensed into a baseball cap sponsoring the Atlanta Braves. Carson placed the hat on his head, shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and started walking down the sidewalk.
Wordsworth was a decently sized city, if not gargantuan. Thankfully, it was more than big enough to merit its own subway system, which Carson had the pleasure of riding on nightly. Pleasure, right, that was the word for it. It wouldn’t kill them to hire a few janitors for the train. The smell of old vomit and stale alcohol wasn’t exactly the same as new car or pine after all.
Fifteen minutes later, Carson was able to escape the odorous underground prison and reach the relatively fresh air of the surface. As horrible assault on the senses as it was, the subway was invaluable to him. The almost hour walk back to his residence had been cut down to five minutes after the subway had worked its magic. Carson hurried along the sidewalk, briefly stopping in a small convenience store to pick up a few needed items before heading back home. Well, not all of them were exactly needed, but when you have the money.
Carson walked the short distance to an old, black and brown bricked building that stood with barely enough space between its neighbors to be noticed as separate. An old wooden sign creaked back and forth on its metal post, bearing a bright white pentacle and the name of a store in bold script, “Pandora’s Paradise.” Carson went through the door and immediately relaxed as the smell of old books and aromatic herbs hit him. He sighed in relief as the modern world was left behind. He was back in his world now, and he couldn’t be more relieved. He looked around for the sight of customers and saw none, but there was a sound, a sound that didn’t match with the emptiness of the store. Carson’s eyebrows crossed into a dark v as he put the bags of groceries down on the counter above a display case of rare books before heading up the wooden staircase to the second level. Up here were a few rooms mostly used for storage, but Carson kept a few open for special guests and his one permanent resident.
Carson went down to end of the hall and opened the door marked with a simple wooden sign with a black cat sigil. Exactly as he knew it would, the sound of purring had gotten much, much louder. Without bothering to knock, he barged right in to find a huge congregations of cats! Small cats, big cats, old cats, young cats, white cats, black cats, orange cats, take your pick, they were there in mass. On the bed above the milling felines was another cat, slightly larger than the others and possessing a glossy black coat with only a few splotches of white around its paws and eyes. Its tail was sweeping back and forth on the bed until Carson’s arrival had been noticed. The cat’s tail stopped moving, and it jumped back, back arched in surprise. Carson crossed his arms and starred at the feline, raising an eyebrow.
“Kitty, we’ve talked about this,” he said sternly to the cat. “You can’t bring a pack of cats in here while I’m gone, especially when you’re supposed to be working!” The cat hissed angrily. Carson shook his head furiously. “The decision is final, Kitty, now hurry up and shift. Speaking with you in this form is just tiring.”
The cat hissed once again, but it relaxed reluctantly. Already, the change had begun. The cat’s body had begun to grow longer, its limbs gaining length and redefining. The tail had shrunk and disappeared, and the head was growing. The glossy black fur had become a short, black dress and stockings. The cat’s head had become the face of human framed by long black hair and cream colored skin. Before long, the body of a pretty young woman had taken the place of the head cat, the only trace of her feline form left being her eyes, bright green with a cat’s pupils. The woman’s arms were crossed in opposition to Carson’s, and her face was twisted in a pouting expression to show her displeasure.
“For your information,” Kitty said huffily. “A group of cats is called a clowder. A pack is a nasty word used for dogs.”
“And you wonder why I’m a dog person,” Carson replied, uncrossing his arms, He pointed at the clowder of cats that had filled Kitty’s room. “Get these guys out of here. If you want a pet, you may keep one.” Kitty’s face brightened so much that Carson felt the need to reinforce what he’d just said. “One! And if I find any surprises out in the store or in my rooms, then it’s out, got it?”
“Aww,” Kitty said with a frown, looking at her numerous companions. “How can you ask me to choose just one? They’re all so adorable!”
“Right,” Carson replied doubtfully, catching sight of a cat that looked like it had been caught in a street cleaner. He’d seen road kill that looked more alive to be perfectly honest. “You can have one. That’s all. So pick or set them all free.”
“You’re no fun,” Kitty pouted, laying back on the bed. “No wonder Van left.”
“She left to find your mother,” Carson replied a little defensively. “Besides, she hasn’t been gone long.”
“It’s been years!” Kitty argued with an evil smile, knowing that this topic was painful for Carson to talk about. He and Van had been an item for a long time after all, and for her to just up and leave with just a note left as explanation had not been something easy for him to stomach. Then again, it hadn’t been so easy for her either. “Face it, old man. She got tired of you, just like she gets tired of everyone.”
“Are you sure you’re talking about your sister and not yourself?” Carson said pointedly. Kitty turned her head with a frustrated noise escaping her. Carson softened slightly. “She’ll be back soon, Kitty.”
“You don’t know that,” Kitty said sadly, not looking at her guardian. “Last I checked, you couldn’t find her with your little spells.’
“Your sister is an accomplished sorceress in her own right,” Carson replied as he always did. This was not a new argument. In the letter Van had left, she’d asked Carson to look after her younger half-sister while she was away. Carson had pretty much watched Kitty grow up from a little girl to the young woman she was today, being more like an older brother than a friend. Still, Carson knew he couldn’t fill the void that Van had left behind. “She’s always been good about not letting herself be found. Still, we would know if something had happened to her out there. I promise that she’s okay.”
“Whatever,” Kitty replied dully, looking back down at her herd of cats. “You know, it might help me cope with her being gone if I could keep at least three of my new friends around.”
“Nice try,” Carson answered with a chuckle, expecting her to try something of that nature. “One or none. Your decision.”
“Awwww,” Kitty drew out the whine, slumping down in defeat. Carson went to the door and was just about to close it before he turned back.
“Oh yeah, I got you something,” he said with a smile, tossing an item that he’d pulled from the bags before coming upstairs to the blue Kitty. Kitty caught it with cat like, pun intended, reflexes, and her strange eyes lit up in glee as she saw what it was.
“Tuna sandwich!” she shouted, quickly ripping open the wrapping. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!’
“You’re welcome,” Carson replied with a warm smile. He pointed at the herd of cats that were now eyeing the sandwich themselves. “Might want to tell your friends who it belongs to before they get any ideas.” Kitty looked from Carson back to the cats. She quickly hid the sandwich behind her back and began making shooing motions. Carson laughed as the cats were already advancing. He left Kitty in that tight situation before she could think to ask for help. She was a sort of cat after all, so she’d be fine. Then again, cats weren’t exactly social animals, or very respectful of others’ things after all. Carson hurried down the stairs and down to the basement level where he lived. He definitely didn’t want to be around for the aftermath of the showdown that he knew was building upstairs.
Carson knew that it was a little strange for people to choose to live in a basement in the modern age, but he’d always enjoyed living below the surface. As weird as it may sound, he liked the privacy, the coolness, and there was just a quality to the air, a certain scent or taste that he’d never experienced above ground. Everyone he’d ever met had called it strange, but a little strangeness kept things interesting. If anyone thought that the fact he lived in the basement strange, they were in for a whole new level of abnormal if they ever got into the rooms themselves.
Carson entered his basement apartments and breathed in the cool air. The basement was divided into three sections, the principal section being very large while the other two sections had been just large enough to convert into a bedroom and a bathroom. The central room was like something out of a fantasy novel. Shelves and shelves of books lined the walls, and a workbench covered in chemistry equipment stood in the right half of the room with a large, locked, metal cabinet standing off to the side. Everything about this space was organized and neat to a fault, a stark contrast to another, similar desk on the other side of the room. This desk was well lit by two lamps, and a candle stick with several sticks of vanilla scented incense that were singed down half way stood ready to be lit. Messy stacks of paper and more than a few books were sprawled out over the cherry colored wood. The largest book, a wide, thick, leather-bound tome was opened reverently, and was the only thing that hadn’t been treated haphazardly in the entire work space. This was the desk that Carson made his way to, taking a seat in the luxuriously cushioned desk chair that he’d specially ordered from Italy long ago. He studied the inscription on the pages in front of him written in his own flowing handwriting. He smiled at the details of his latest success, the spell he’d unveiled in front of his audience tonight. His “Light Dancing” had been his latest pet project, and tonight it had been an irrefutable success!
Carson wrote down the final details of the spell in his Codex, a record of all of his arcane knowledge that each and every sorcerer was given on the first day of their training. It was the single most important tool in any practitioner’s arsenal. Much of the knowledge inscribed within its pages was irreplaceable, and represented the culmination of a lifetime of experience on behalf of the owner. He finished with a few notes on manipulating the construct of the charm before concluding the entry. He sighed contently and leaned back in his chair.
“Well, now what?” he asked the empty room. The “Light Dancing” project had been his latest and greatest diversion in recent months. Drawing out its concept, manipulating magical energy into a workable construct that could be duplicated easily and without much cost with regards to energy while being both strong and flexible to allow the bending and turning to create various shapes without snapping apart. It had been challenging, but that had been the thrill of the thing. Now that it was done, he honestly didn’t know what to do next. He patted his hands on his thighs for a moment, but eventually stood and walked over to the third main feature of the room, a place where the concrete had been chipped away precisely to form the shape of a pentacle, a five pointed star enclosed in a circle representing the five major elements of the earth enclosed by the strength of human will. The shape had been filled with silver to enhance its strength as a conductor of magical energies, a quality that Carson would need if this was going to work.
Carson stood before the circle and rolled his shoulder. He popped his knuckles, then his neck, and, finally, cleared his throat. He raised his hands and the pentacle sprang to life in blue flames! The fires began with the encircling ring, and then spread through the star from its points. Carson focused his mind and spirit, forming the construct of his spell within his mind.
“I call out to places near, and to places far, through fog unclear, and out to the stars,” Carson spoke clearly and precisely, feeling the spell take shape as its accompanying mantra was spoken. “Let me see, as though from mountain’s peak, whatever my desire may be, show me what I seek.”
Upon the last word, the spell’s construct was completed like a brilliant burst of light in Carson’s mind’s eye. Energy rushed through and out of his body as the azure fires burned higher, giving off a smoke that hovered in place like a canvas awaiting an artist’s hands. As the spell did its work, a picture of sorts did form. A night’s sky was evident, and various lights could be made out, but nothing of detail could be discerned. The picture was blurred beyond recognition, and no person or animal could be made out, nor the identity of the city that was being depicted. Carson growled in frustration and slashed his hand out in front of him angrily, terminating the spell and dissipating the steam. The blue fires died down and the room’s lighting returned to normal with the faint smell of smoke wafting along the air. Van was still hiding herself from any attempt to search out her location with sorcery. He didn’t blame her for doing so. He would have done the same thing if he was traveling out in the field. In fact, he was doing so even now, but he’d built in certain exceptions to his, allowing those he gave permission to see him if they wished. Van had the necessary skill to do the same. She had simply chosen not to do so, and that was what pissed Carson off to no end.
“To hell with it,” he cursed finally, heading to his bedroom. It had been a long day, and he needed a good night’s sleep. The bedroom wasn’t anything special, just big enough to fit the queen bed and a single trunk that held a few souvenirs from his travels that he liked to keep close by. He plopped down in the bed without getting undressed, simply throwing his hat on the top of the trunk. He’d have to fish the money out of it tomorrow of course, but now he was simply too frustrated to deal with something so trivial. Without looking up from his pillows, Carson snapped his fingers and the lights in his apartment went out, leaving him in the quiet, cool dark of night.
Something was wrong, and it woke Carson up from a fitful sleep. He didn’t jolt awake, nor did he jump out of bed. Years of self-training and experience had instilled in him a cool demeanor in this sort of situation. His instincts told him that something was off, so he opened up all of his senses without giving away that he was now awake. He kept his breathing steady, breathing through his nose to pick up any strange scent, and pricking up his ears to try and sort out any unnatural sound. The sound of cars passing overhead was normal, so he tuned that out. The faint smell of vanilla was familiar, so he pushed that aside as well. There was definitely something in his apartment. There was light tapping on the concrete floor, and the smell of cinnamon was scarce, but it was definitely present. Whatever the cause was, it was getting closer, the light patter moving toward his bedroom. Carson shifted in the manner common to sleep to bring a hand closer to his chest. He gathered energy in that hand and formed the skeleton of a spell in his mind, something that would knock back whatever was coming and give him enough time to form a better defense.
He waited, every sense on edge and struggling to keep his body relaxed and his breathing normal. His body was threatening to give into the built in survival systems and give him away too soon, and doing that could get him killed! He listened as the light sound reached his door and stopped. There was a faint sound of rustling as something fell to the floor, and then the sound returned, but it was different than before. This wasn’t quite as quiet, and was sort of a slapping sound against the concrete that was just barely detectable. That told him that the newcomer was human, and both very skilled in the arts of stealth and light, so probably female. As she got closer, the scent of cinnamon became stronger, now combined with cocoa. Then it clicked in Carson’s head! He knew who the intruder was, and he could barely contain his excitement. The woman climbed into the bed behind him, putting her head next to his ear, her long hair tickling his neck and cheek.
“Figured it out yet?” she whispered in his air. Carson hadn’t turned his head, but he could feel the smile on the intruder’s face already. He turned and stared up into big, beautiful green eyes so like her sister’s.
“Van,” he whispered back, feeling like his chest was about to explode. It didn’t take him long to figure out that it had been Van’s clothing hitting the ground that had caused the rustling sound from before. It took him more than moment to figure out how to breathe again. Before he could speak, Van put a slender finger to his lips.
“We’ll talk tomorrow,” she said, her grin becoming something much more mischievous than before. “I can think of something much more fun we should be doing tonight.”
“Oh really,” Carson answered, matching her grin. He quickly grabbed Van’s naked shoulder and pushed her down to the bed so that he was looking down at her. “Maybe you should elaborate?”
“Gladly,” Van purred, quickly reversing the roles and throwing Carson back to the bed. More words came to Carson’s mind, but they were lost as the two long parted lovers became tangled together in a fight for dominance that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. By the time it was over, the two of them were breathing hard and Carson’s sheets were tangled around their bodies. The two of them lay next to one another, hands intertwined. Carson raised his hand and created a warm light that hovered overhead. He waved a finger and the light separated into a herd of horses that ran in a small circuit above the two. The lights illuminated Van’s amused smile at the scene.
“You always did know how to enchant a lady,” she said with a laugh. Carson smiled and nodded his head in acknowledgment of the praise. He leaned up and kissed Van passionately, the two them caught in a moment of complete bliss after being reunited after so long. The pair laid back and watched the horses run for a while in peace, but Carson had questions, and they had begun to nag at his mind.
“I’ve been trying to find you,” he said to bring up the topic. Van’s smile shrunk, but she didn’t pull away her hand away from his. “Where have you been?”
“Where haven’t I been?” Van asked with a sigh, looking into Carson’s eyes. “I’m sorry I kept you in the dark.”
“I know why you did it,” Carson replied. “You had a chance to find your mother. If I were in your shoes, I couldn’t have passed that opportunity either. But what I don’t understand is why you didn’t let me help.”
“Because this was something I needed to do for myself,” she answered quickly. “I know you wanted to help, but I knew that there would be things, things I had to do, things that you wouldn’t exactly approve of. There were times where I had to put myself in danger, and we both know that you would be your so damnable noble self and rush to the rescue and the opportunity would be gone. It’s the thing I find so annoying and damnably charming about you.”
“I don’t know whether to be flattered or offended,” Carson replied in a weak joking tone. “Whatever you had to do, I’m just glad you’re back.”
“So am I,” Van replied with a smile. She sighed tiredly and looked around. “Why do you never have a clock down here? How do you tell what time it is?”
“It’s just an instinct for us mole-people,” Carson joked. As he said it, a ball rolled into the room and stopped beside the bed.
“The time is now half past four,” a voice with a British accent said, emanating from the ball. “Do you still wish to be woken at nine a.m., sir?”
“That will be just fine, Hans,” Carson said to the ball. The ball didn’t say anything else before rolling out of the room and returning to its stand by the lab bench. “And that’s my instincts at work.”
“Hahaha,” Van laughed loudly. “Carson, sometimes I just don’t know what to do with you.”
“It certainly seemed like you figured it out earlier,” he joked dirtily, setting Van laughing again.
“Stop!” she said once she’d regained control of herself. “You really think you’re funny, don’t you?”
“Think? I know,” Carson said firmly. Van chuckled and laid back, staring at the ceiling.
“That’s enough talking for one night,” she sighed contently, closing her eyes. “We can talk later. At an hour more fit for human tolerance.”
“I’ll hold you to it,” Carson said, waving his hand and letting the light horses fade away and returning the room to darkness. Sleep found them both quickly, and, lying next to one another, they slept more soundly than either of them had since they’d parted.
The morning came swiftly, but the lack of sleep didn’t bother Carson in the least. The quality had more than made up for the quantity. He rose early, making sure to shut off his alarm to avoid waking Van as he showered and dressed. He tiptoed upstairs, quietly closing the door to his basement apartments as he went up to the store. It was just now reaching nine o’clock, and the store didn’t open for another hour, so Carson decided to go out and get coffee for everyone. Well, hot chocolate for Kitty, who didn’t have a taste for life’s finer things.
A Starbucks was just around the corner, like they always were. He went in and waited in the ridiculously long line to order the drinks. As he waited, he felt a twinge in his mind. His blood ran cold and his heart stopped for a brief moment. The world had slowed down, and it was all he could do to keep from breaking out in a cold sweat.
“Sir?” the barista said, restarting the world and breaking the moment of terror that had gripped Carson’s heart. He blinked rapidly for a moment before he could bring himself to the present and take the coffee.
“Sorry,” he apologized quickly, flashing a halfhearted smile. “Thank you.”
“Come back soon,” the cheery teenager replied, heading away to help the next customer. Carson hurried out of the store, his mind fixated on the feeling that had taken over his mind just a moment ago. He hadn’t felt something like that in a long time, not since….
Carson rushed back to his shop, barging through the door and looking over his shoulder to check if he’d been followed. He relaxed slightly when he didn’t see anyone. He shook his head and chuckled nervously to himself, walking over to the counter and putting down the coffee. It was probably nothing.
“Whatcha doing?” Kitty asked, springing up from behind the counter and scaring the hell out Carson in the process. He jumped back in shock, already preparing a spell to counterattack. Thankfully, he realized who it was and stopped before he’d turned her into Swiss cheese.
“Kitty!” he exclaimed, clutching his chest in a futile attempt to slow down his sprinting heart. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“Jeez, somebody’s jumpy today,” Kitty replied with a curious look on her face. She noticed the coffee on the counter and raised an eyebrow. “Do we have company?”
“Oh, right,” Carson said, nervous once again. He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to figure out how to phrase the groundbreaking news, but, despite all of his cunning, nothing came to mind. The chance was taken from him when the guest in question came walking up the stairs, stretching lazily in nothing but one of Carson’s long button up shirts.
“Morning everyone,” Van yawned, walking over and picking up one of the coffees. Kitty’s jaw had dropped, and her feline eyes had gone wide. Carson felt the overwhelming urge to scurry away before he was caught between two pairs of cat’s claws, literally. Van sipped her latte with a contented sigh, looking at her fellows with a question on her face. “What? Do I have cream on my lip?”
“When…how…” Kitty stuttered out. She tried to say more, but the words became random, strange noises. Van giggled merrily.
“Last night,” she replied, nudging Carson’s arm with a suggestive grin. “Sorry I didn’t call ahead, but I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“So,” Kitty said, wrapping her head around the news. Her eyes darted between Carson and Van as everything became clearer. “That noise I was hearing last night? That was….”
“Yep,” Van replied cheerily. Carson cleared his throat uncomfortably, the urge to run getting stronger. Van grabbed his hand before he could. Damn, he was trapped.
“Oh God,” Kitty groaned, her mouth becoming a big o. Van burst out into uncontrollable laugh.
“Good imitation!” she laughed, barely able to breathe. “You’ll have to lower your voice a little though if you want to do a Carson imitation.”
“Hey!” Carson exclaimed in surprise. “I wasn’t the only one saying it.”
“Can we please..just..drop it,” Kitty said, her cheeks reddening in embarrassment. “I don’t need the image of the two of you…..ugh!”
“You were the one who brought it up,” Van answered with a smile, sipping her coffee again. She calmed down a bit before speaking again. “It’s good to see you again, Kitty.”
“Yeah, well, I wish I could say the same,” Kitty replied stubbornly. Van frowned, putting down her coffee and crossing her arms. Kitty rolled her eyes. “Oh fine, I’m happy to see you too, sis.”
“That’s more like it,” Van replied, her smile returning. The two sisters ran around the counter and hugged each other for a long minute. Carson leaned against the counter and watched with a warm smile on her face. The gang was back together. Well, the gang minus one. Just like that, Carson remembered his feeling in the coffee shop, and his mood chilled.
“Van, I need to ask you something,” he said, hating to break up the moment. The sisters separated after another moment begrudgingly, with Van giving Carson the evil eye.
“Yeah?” she asked, clearly curious as to what was so important as to break up the family reunion. Carson’s expression of fear intermingled with hope quickly softened her hard expression. “What is it, Carson?”
“Did you ever run into Julius while you were traveling?” he asked, his voice cracking as he said the name. Van frowned and hesitated. That was all the answer that Carson needed. “You did, didn’t you.”
“I’m sorry, Carson,” Van replied apologetically, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know how.”
“You could have just said it,” Carson pointed out stiffly, but he didn’t pull away. He sighed and shook his head. “I think he may have followed you here.”
“What? Did you see him?” Van asked quickly, becoming deathly serious. Carson shook his head, tapping his chest.
“No, but I felt him,” he answered. Van looked perplexed, but then she remembered.
“The empathy link?” she asked knowingly. Carson nodded.
“Yeah, he’s here, at least he’s in the city, and it didn’t feel like he was coming to make nice,” Carson said, staring out into the city. Cars rushed by on the street, and a few pedestrians walked by, but there was no sign of Julius.
“Why is he back now?” Van asked pensively, putting a hand to her chin. “He must know he won’t convince you to change your mind by now.”
“I don’t know,” Carson admitted. “But I have a feeling we’ll find out. My brother was always the dramatic one.”
“You’re telling me,” Van agreed seriously. Kitty raised a hand.
“Umm, excuse me,” she began innocently, getting her elders attention. “Who is Julius? Why have I never met him?”
“Because it wouldn’t be good for your health,” Carson snapped angrily. Kitty was taken aback by the sudden ferociousness in the normally calm Carson. When he didn’t explain further, Van took it upon herself to inform her younger sister of the seriousness of the situation.
“Julius is Carson’s twin brother,” she explained, lighting surprise in her sister’s eyes.
“I didn’t know you had a brother,” Kitty said to Carson, who only grunted in answer, still staring out at the city.
“It’s not something he likes to talk about,” Van said. “The two of them were close once, but the two of them had one hell of a falling out in the eighteenth century.”
“Okay,” Kitty said, taking in the information without surprise. After all, she was almost a hundred years old herself. She knew her sister was around the four hundred mark, and since Carson had been the one to finish her teachings of sorcery he’d had to be a little older than that even. The exact number, however, she hadn’t been able to discover. “What about?”
“Salem,” Carson answered before Van could say the word. “We had friends there during the 1690s, the height of the witch trials. Sorcery has always been a misunderstood art, and those who merely wish to help and heal are lumped in with those who wish to do harm just because they do things that people simply can’t understand. So was the case in Salem, where several of our friends were tortured and killed by a so called holy man with a black book, spouting verses and curses of which he had no understanding. My brother and I returned to Salem after it happened, only to find that the good people that we’d known, the very men and women that protected and healed the people of the town for years, dead and accused of worshiping the devil and cursing their fellow townsfolk!”
“What did you do?” Kitty asked, her expression horrified. Carson’s hands clenched into fists.
“We had justice,” was he hard, stony answer. He didn’t explain further. “After that, I washed my hands of it all, but Julius couldn’t let it go. In his mind, if humanity was going to see sorcerers as monsters, then he’d give them the monster they so feared. Since then, he’s been responsible for death and destruction wherever he goes. We’ve run into each other a few times, and each time he’s tried to convince me to join him. Obviously, he’s failed, and that hasn’t done anything to help our relationship.”
“No, I wouldn’t think so,” Kitty whispered, sounding quite small indeed. Van took her sister’s hand and patted her shoulder.
“It’s an old wound, Kitty,” she said softly. Kitty nodded, trying her best to understand.
“What was he doing when you saw him?” Carson asked Van shakily. Van sighed.
“I don’t know. I only saw him from a distance in Cairo. He was talking to a pretty well known grave robber there, but that’s all I know. That was about six years ago.”
“I keep forgetting how long you’ve been gone,” Carson chuckled nervously. “Cairo and a grave robber, huh? The kings of old Egypt were well known to keep sorcerers in their employ, and more than a few were said to have powerfully enchanted objects in their possession. Hatshepsut had a fake beard that would alter the perception of the people around her to see her as a male for example.”
“I highly doubt that particular artifact would interest you brother,” Van said with a humorous grin. Despite himself, Carson chuckled.
“True,” he replied. “There were a few other items, like the crook and flail given to Ramses the Great. That would be more his speed, but those were reported destroyed by the Ruby Court ages ago, thankfully.”
“That depends if you’re willing to trust the Ruby Court,” Van pointed out. Carson accepted her point with a nod.
“True, but in this case I tend to agree with them. The crook and flail were powerful tools, but tools like are either used or destroyed, not buried. I’m willing to bet that they’re gone,” Carson figured. “But in any case, Julius wouldn’t go after something like those, it’s too risky, even for him. I’ll have to do a little digging in the archives to see if I can get a better idea of what he may have been looking for.”
“We’re also working under the assumption that he was after something that was still in Egypt,” Van built on the train. “He may have been searching for something that was found recently, interrogating the digger to find out who found it and where it went.”
“Which broadens the field a little,” Carson finished, shaking his head. “Damn him. He always seems to be one step ahead of me.”
“That’s because he’s moving,” Van muttered. Carson’s eyebrow crossed into a dark v at the statement.
“Care to speak up?” he asked, his voice taking on a hard edge. Van hesitated, but finally shrugged.
“He’s always moving forward, Carson,” Van answered strongly, but with an air of resignation. “Even though he’s an insane anarchist, he’s always had a clear goal in mind. Have you?”
“I have,” Carson lied defensively. In truth, he hadn’t. Julius had always been the one with a fire burning within him, a raging inferno that could never be quenched. The two of them may be identical in appearance, but their temperaments were vastly different. Carson had always been calm and collected, with only the rare outburst that matched the heat of Julius’ constant blaze.
“Carson,” Van said with a knowing expression. “We both know pretty lights aren’t exactly a grand goal.”
“Hold that thought,’” Carson said, looking back at the door to see an elderly man with a weathered can limping up to the store’s door.
“Oh come on,” Kitty whined. “I was having fun!”
“Duty calls,” Carson replied, going to the door and turning the lock. He knew the old man coming to the door. His name was Jeff Guthrey, an old hand in local arcane society. Wordsworth wasn’t exactly a center for the secret arts, but neither was anywhere these days. Even so, there were a handful of practitioners of varying levels of power and skill. Jeff was the unofficial headman for the group, and a former student of Carson’s.
“Good morning, Jeff,” Carson greeted his former student, opening the door for the elderly man. “You’re looking well.”
“You mean for an old man?” Jeff replied with a yellowed smile. He chuckled dryly as he entered the shop and stood straight, despite his weak leg.
“I mean for anyone,” Carson insisted, which only made the old man laugh.
“Ha, you know, I never can understand why I ever fell for your lies as a boy,” Jeff laughed. “You suck at lying!”
“Hey, I’m quite adept at the art of deception when I need to be,” Carson laughed back. He headed for the rack of herbs that he kept on hand. “What can I get for you today, Jeff? Same old mix of arthritis remedies?”
“I’m well stocked, actually,” Jeff said, tapping his cane on the hardwood floor. “We’ve got a gifted in town.”
“Really?” Carson replied, instantly curious. A gifted was a newly found person with the innate ability to work magic of some form. They could be any age, from newborn to senior, but whatever the case, they needed to be taught about what they were before they got themselves and the people around them hurt. “What kind? Do you know?”
“A sorcerer,” the old man answered certainly. “I’m as sure as I am of the sky being up and the ground being down.”
“Have you talked to him?” Carson asked, leaning on the table of herbs. Jeff shook his head. Curious. “Why not?”
“Because we both know that I’m in no condition to take on a new student,” Jeff said with a resounding thud of his cane.
“Nonsense. You’re as fit as..”
“I’m dying, Master,” Jeff interrupted loudly, silencing Carson in an instant. Carson swallowed hard, feeling like the world was spinning around uncontrollably. “Cancer. Nothing to be done about it now.”
“There are spells that we could try,” Carson tried to reason, but Jeff just waived it off.
“Bah, I know full well that there are,” he said, but was already shaking his head. “It ain’t worth doing. I’m old, Master. There ain’t no getting around that. I knew when I didn’t take you up on your offer to go to the fountain that I wasn’t gonna live forever, and if I had the choice now, I’d do it all over again. I have no regrets, Master, so don’t you be sad for me. Instead you should be helping out this young boy out there in the Performer’s Circle.”
“What makes you think that I’m the one to mentor this boy?” Carson asked, still in shock at his student’s revelation.
“Because you’re the best damned teacher anybody could ever have,” Jeff replied firmly, with a wide smile on his wrinkled face. “He goes by Frank the Fantastic, and he performs a few tricks every night for the crowds. Far as I know, he doesn’t have a proper home or education, but I have seen him tap into his talent every now and again. I doubt he knows he’s doing it, but without it he’d be a very poor magician. He’s obnoxious, arrogant, and completely self-absorbed.”
“Reminds me of somebody I used to know,” Carson said with a smirk. Jeff laughed again, but it quickly turned into a hacking cough that took him several minutes to get under control. He waved off the advancing Carson with one hand while covering his mouth with a handkerchief with the other. He sucked in a good breath as soon as he could and brought himself back up to his full height.
“Indeed,” he replied roughly, clearing his throat. “So, will you at least give him a trial period? As a favor for a friend?”
“Of course,” Carson replied, giving in to his dying student’s request. Jeff nodded and offered his hand to his former master.
“Thank you,” he said gratefully. Carson smiled and took his the old man’s hand and gave it a firm shake.
“You’re welcome, old friend,” he said warmly, releasing his grip. “If there’s anything else I could do, just let me know.”
“That I will, that I will,” Jeff chuckled, tapping his cane on the ground once more, looking behind Carson at the sisters over by the counter, Van still only in the long shirt. She gave him a friendly wave. Jeff raised an eyebrow and looked back at his teacher. “Where were you hiding them when I was your student?”
“You don’t remember them?” Carson asked in surprise. Jeff shook his head.
“Well, to be fair, we weren’t all living together until the seventies,” Van reminded Carson. Carson thought back for a moment and his memory came back to him.
“Ah, that’s right. This place wasn’t quite finished yet so there wasn’t enough room,” he said, remembering the time clearly. Jeff had been his student in the late fifties and early sixties. No wonder he didn’t recognize the sisters. “Well, allow me to introduce you all. The one who just spoke is Vanessa, and the younger one who is just waiting for a chance to cause trouble is her little sister, Kitty.”
“Sisters?” Jeff asked in confusion, looking at the pair closely. To the naked eye, the two shared very little as far as appearance. The two of them were the same height and shared the same eyes, but that was about where the similarity ended. Kitty had skin the color of cream and her body was thinner and less muscular than her sisters. Her hair was naturally straight, and her face was soft, giving her the appearance of a teenager.
Vanessa, in contrast, had skinned darkened by her father’s African heritage. Her figure was both more mature and possessed of more muscle tone than her younger sister’s. Her face was more angular, more exotic, but was softened by the warm smile she always wore. Nope, Carson couldn’t fault Jeff for his disbelief.
“Half-sisters really,” Gavin clarified for his former student. Jeff nodded, but Carson could still detect something brewing his aged apprentice’s mind. Jeff’s eyes were flicking between Van and Carson, a realization forming.
“I’m guessing you are…involved, with her then?” Jeff said with a knowing grin. Carson rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish smile on his face. Van giggled at his reddening face, but left him to answer the old man.
“Yeah, for a while now,” Carson answered grudgingly. Jeff laughed dryly.
“Ha! Blushing like a school boy!” he shouted humorously, drawing laughs from both sisters. Carson suffered through it with a grin. It was not an easy thing to do. The laughs finally died down, leaving Jeff to wipe a tear away from his eye. “I apologize, but I never thought I’d see the day I’d see you with such an expression on your face.”
“You’d be surprised what you see when you live long enough,” Carson admonished, managing to keep his voice from becoming completely sour. The laughing had gotten to him just a little bit. Juvenile, he knew, but hey, nobody could be mature all the time. “Take care of yourself, Jeff.”
“I’ll do that, and the same goes for you,” Jeff replied, tipping his hat to his old mentor, and giving a slight bow to the two women before limping out the door. Carson looked after his student, remembering Jeff as a young boy, hardheaded and impatient, ready to rush off and face the world. It was a stark contrast to the shambling old man that he had become. Carson fought back the tears. This wasn’t a new picture, but no matter how many times he saw it, it never ceased to be painful. He cleared his throat and flipped the sign on the store to open.
“Alright,” he said shakily, turning back to the sisters. “Kitty, be ready to greet any customers that come in. If you need me, I’ll be downstairs. Van, as much as I loathe to say this, please put some clothes on.”
“What if I follow you downstairs and just take this off instead?” Van replied, biting her lip, Carson raised an eyebrow at that! Kitty buried her face in her hands and shook so fast that Carson was worried her head would go flying off!
“Ugh! Get a room!” she shouted in a whiny voice. Van and Carson just laughed and headed downstairs, leaving Kitty to man the store as she’d been taught. Despite her lewd joking above, Van quickly claimed the bedroom to dress. Carson, though a little disappointed, had expected as much. In any case, he had work to do. With Julius around and a new gifted in town, things were starting to move a little too fast for the usually laid back sorcerer. It occurred to Carson that Julius might be after the gifted to take him on as an apprentice and partner in his bloody crusade. The thought of his brother spreading his poison lit a fire within Carson, one that hadn’t burned in decades.
Van emerged from the bedroom about half an hour later, dressed comfortably in what looked almost like scrubs, her long, wavy hair tied back in a tail. Carson barely noticed that she had entered the room, so engrossed he was in the enormous leather tome on his study table. He mouthed the words as he read, repeating them over and over again in his head to ensure that he had them memorized. Van walked up behind him and rested her arms on her shoulder.
“What you looking at?” she asked curiously, looking down at the old, yellowed pages of the Codex. Carson started, his body going rigid for a split second before relaxing again. He shook his head, closing the book.
“You and Kitty have to learn to respect people’s personal space,” he reprimanded her. Van rolled her eyes, quickly pecking a kiss on his cheek before he could do anything about it.
“You usually want me to invade your personal space,” she said with a laugh in her voice. Curiosity had her though, and it wasn’t going to let go. She motioned with her chin to the closed tome. “What were you looking at?”
“Insurance,” Carson replied cryptically, standing and going to the pentacle. He gathered energy within himself and snapped his fingers, bringing the magical focus to life. “Now let’s see what we can see.”
“If you’re trying to find Julius, I wouldn’t bother,” Van said tiredly. “No doubt he would hide himself from you just like I did. Probably better.”
“Most likely, but I wasn’t planning on searching for him,” Carson replied, refocusing on his spellcasting. “I call out to places near, and to places far. Through fog unclear, and out to the stars.”
“You’re using the mantra?” Van asked in disbelief. “I thought you were beyond that.”
“Let me see, as though from the mountain’s peak,” Carson continued like nothing had been said. “Whatever my desire may be, show me what I seek. I use it out of habit, and because it’s much easier to use the mantra to solidify the spell’s construct while I focus most of my energy on dispersing any obstacles that may cloud the view. One of the roaming veils rolled in last week, and it hasn’t exactly been keen on leaving.”
“I hadn’t even noticed,” Van replied in surprise, her eyes losing focus for a moment as she cast her mind outward. She came back to reality without a jolt or jerk, as if this was something she did often. “Imagine that. I didn’t think they moved this far South.”
“They don’t, not usually,” Carson explained absently as the misty window formed, showing a public restroom, and one not too clean to boot. Van wrinkled her nose, the thought of the smells enough to make the sorceress cringe.
“Charming,” she said, looking away. “I assume you are looking for the gifted?”
“Yes,” Carson said, focusing on a young man in a weathered green hoodie washing his hands and face in the sink. “I’ve been to the park that Jeff talked about several times, and I’m almost sure that I’ve seen the magician he’s talking about, at least in passing.”
“Then how come you never picked up on him?” Van asked, wagging a scolding finger. “You’ve gotten lazy.”
“Ted Carlton works that area too,” Carson answered huffily, a little miffed that Van would doubt him so much. “He’s not a sorcerer, but he does have some witch-doctor mojo going for him. Nothing too powerful, but it is the real thing. You know how that hoodoo crap makes everything feel funky.”
“Don’t I,” Van said in disgust, her nose wrinkling again, but for a completely different reason. “I spent some time down in New Orleans while I was away. The place is practically flooded with that stuff. I still feel it on me.”
“Try taking a trip to Haiti sometime,” Carson replied, several unpleasant memories rising to the surface. “That’s him. The guy in the hoodie. Frank the Fantastic.”
“Hmm, could be worse I guess,” Van said absently. “Could lose that ragged goatee though.”
“Should I be worried?” Carson asked jokingly. Van chuckled, patting her long-time lover on the shoulder.
“Nah. Unless you make me mad, then all bets are off,” she replied evilly. Carson swallowed hard, not quite sure what to say back. Their relationship hadn’t always been sunshine and rainbows. He’d seen her mad, and he didn’t know if he could put anything past her. He cleared his throat and looked back at the picture in the smoke, studying the young man who was to be his newest apprentice. He was thin as a rail, and his hoodie and jeans were well worn and ratty. His shoes weren’t much better. His shaggy red hair and goatee needed some serious grooming, but he didn’t bare the hallmark taints of drug abuse, thankfully. That was one less battle to fight in the future.
“Right, I know where and when he performs. It should be around six tonight. I’ll go and talk to him then,” he said in resignation, terminating the spell. He took one step away before he was hit by a splitting pain in his head! He stopped, barely staying on his feet. Van noticed what was going on and rushed over, supporting his weight before he could fall to the floor.
“What’s wrong?” she asked frantically. Carson couldn’t summon the mental strength to speak, all of his efforts focusing on the source of the pain. He’d felt this before, whenever Julius was trying to use their empathy link to worm his way into his mind. He growled inarticulately, fighting against the pain and finding his center, throwing mental defenses up and pushing them outward. Eventually, they hit resistance, a force like a wrecking ball that bashed against Carson’s hastily built walls. Despite the aching pain in his head, Carson smiled wickedly. Julius hadn’t changed at all. Carson reinforced the walls and searched to make sure the attack was as direct as he believed it was. When he was sure, he weakened the section that his brother was fighting to break through. When he did, he had a surprise ready for him. That surprise was the Eye of Sauron glaring down at his brother’s consciousness!
Julius reeled back in surprise, Carson quickly reversing the momentum and shoving his brother out of his mind and following the trail, rushing to find his brother before he could sever the link. He reached his brothers mind, which Julius had already fortified. Carson probed for weaknesses, worming his way into the cracks. Eventually, he brought the barriers down in several locations, leaving traces of his consciousness in each of the breaches before picking a random one to rush through. Julius was exposed for a brief moment as he tried to counter, and Carson was able to see through his brothers eyes for a brief instant before he was violently expelled from his twin’s mind. He came back to himself gasping for breath, sweat pouring from his forehead. Van had lowered him to the ground and was still there by his side with a worried expression on her face.
“I’m okay,” Carson said once he had enough breath to do so. “I’m fine.”
“It was Julius, wasn’t it?” Van asked seriously. Carson nodded.
“Empathy link,” he replied, sitting up. “He tried to breach my mind, but I managed to block him out, and do one better.”
“What do you mean?”
“I got in his head,” Carson said with a cocky smile. “I know where he is.”
Carson knew that he’d probably been set up. Julius knew as well as he did that mental combat wasn’t likely going to end in his favor. Carson’s calm demeanor gave him an edge in such a style of combat, and even in training Carson had taken to the technique like a fish to a stream. Julius had been there then, and Carson had the feeling that the attack had just been to get his attention. This feeling was reinforced by the fact that Julius hadn’t moved from the spot where Carson had seen him when he’d been in his brother’s mind, right in the middle of a several dozen tables set up with chess boards. People of all ages were playing, and a few others were waiting for a turn, but the seat across from his brother was conspicuously empty. Carson sighed to himself. Oh well, might as well play the game. He made his way through the crowd and sat opposite of his identical twin.
“It’s been a long time,” Julius began, looking up from the board. Carson stared into his brother’s eyes, dark brown almost black like his own, trying to get a clue to as to what his brother was planning. All he saw was Julius mocking him. “I hope you haven’t gotten rusty.”
“Why are you here, Julius?” Carson asked, only willing to play along so far. Julius looked at him in astonishment, as if he couldn’t understand where the question was coming from.
“Can’t I come to town to visit my brother? After all, it’s been, what?” Julius asked, looking up in thought. “A century? Two centuries? You know how easily time slips by.”
“It’s been closer to two,” Carson replied stiffly. Julius nodded his agreement, staring down at the board. He motioned for Carson to make a move.
“White goes first,” he said obviously. Carson looked down at the set board, and then back to his brother. He picked up a pawn and moved it two paces to begin the game. If it kept Julius talking, then he’d play this little game.
“We both know you didn’t come to see me,” he said as Julius made his move. He looked back down at the board and raised his eyebrow at his brother’s move. Regardless, he made his next move accordingly. “Why are you really here?”
“Did Van get back to you okay?” Julius asked, still deflecting. Another move done, and it was Carson’s turn again.
“What does it mean to you?” he asked, taking one of his brother’s pieces. Julius nodded, shifting his long black coat absently.
“Decent move. If you recall, she was my student as well. And my friend,” he answered, looking up at his brother. “If not as friendly as you are.”
“She’s fine,” Carson said quickly, leaning back in his chair as Julius considered his next move. “Still as feisty as ever, and even more accomplished as a sorceress.”
“I’d be disappointed if she wasn’t,” Julius admonished, finally making a move. “Only fools or simpletons don’t work to improve their abilities, and I never had her pegged as either.”
“That she isn’t,” Carson agreed with his brother for once. “She said she saw you in Cairo a few years back.”
“Did she?” Julius asked in vague surprise. “Funny, I didn’t notice her.”
“She’s pretty good at hiding when she wants to be,” Carson replied, countering his brother’s advance. “She said you were talking to a digger there. Would you care to explain?”
“Just a monument that was found,” Julius said, waving the question off like he would an annoying fly. “Turned out to be a waste of time.”
“Like this game,” Carson countered. “You’ve got maybe four moves left before check. Max of six before checkmate.”
“True,” Julius answered evenly, leaning back in his chair. “I guess it’s pretty obvious I haven’t been perfecting my chess game.”
“Very,” Carson replied, leaning forward. “What are you up to?”
“Why don’t you read my mind?” Julius taunted. Carson couldn’t help it. He slammed his hands down on the table, rattling the chess pieces and startling the players at the table next to them.
“Stop playing games, Julius,” he growled angrily. “If you’ve come here to…”
“Cause trouble? Start mass hysteria or anarchy? The thought had crossed my mind,” Julius cut him off, leaning forward as well and locking glares with his twin. “But why waste the effort? There are far bigger and fatter fish to fry than this armpit of a city.”
“Then why come?” Carson asked yet again. Julius smiled evilly.
“You’re aware there is a gifted in town, correct?” he asked. Carson nodded, his suspicions confirmed. Julius leaned back and relaxed. “It would be irresponsible to leave him without a master for much longer. The poor boy needs guidance.”
“He’ll get it, but not from you,” Carson replied seriously. Julius chuckled, standing, making one last move on the board before attempting to walk past his brother. Carson’s hand lashed out and latched onto Julius’ arm, holding him still. “I’m warning you, brother. Leave. Now.”
“Careful, Carson,” Julius said, removing his brother’s hand and dusting off his sleeve. “You might give me the impression we’re enemies. Remember, it isn’t the threat you can see that you should worry about.” Julius left Carson at the table with the chessboard, disappearing into the crowd. Carson slumped in his seat, feeling older and wearier than he had in his entire life. Van appeared from the crowd, coming up to the board and looking down at the worn sorcerer.
“He didn’t back down, did he?’ Van asked with a tone that said she already knew the answer. Carson nodded. She smirked. “I told you he wouldn’t.”
“It didn’t hurt to try,” Carson sighed, standing. “Come on, we have to get ready for tonight.”
“Right,” Van said, studying the board. “Wow, this wasn’t much of a match. Julius isn’t much of a chess player. His strategy is obvious.”
“It’s not the threats you can see,” Carson said, repeating his brother’s words, putting a finger on one of his brother’s bishops. Van looked down at the piece and saw it and saw the set up for what it was. Julius had laid a trap for Carson along the quickest path to checkmate, one that could only be avoided with the utmost care. “But the threats that you can’t see that you have to worry about.”
“Is this his way of saying he’ll fight you if you stand in his way?” Van asked, looking up into Carson’s eyes to find answers, and she didn’t like them when she did.
“It’s his way of saying that he doesn’t think I stand a chance of stopping him,” Carson answered, leaving the board, Van following him close behind. “That if I choose to fight, he’ll trap and destroy me, just like in our game. The only other option is to retreat, at least in his opinion.”
“And in yours?” Van asked, to which Carson smiled cockily.
“Julius isn’t the only one with a few surprises up his sleeve.”
The evening had come, and the street performers were out in earnest in Performer’s Circle, a little corner of the park that was famous within the city. Magicians, musicians, caricaturists, escape artists, you name it and they were there. Carson himself had performed here a few times, just for the hell of it. He’d tested out a few charms on the willing audience more than once, but mainly it was just the act of performing that he enjoyed, making people smile and laugh bringing him joy like nothing else. He wasn’t there to perform tonight, though.
“Now please, look closely,” the young magician Frank the Fantastic said, holding up an empty thermos, the cap removed so that everyone could clearly see that it contained nothing but air. Carson stood in the front row, watching closely, all of his senses attuned to detect any traces of true sorcery coming from the boy. If Jeff was right, he would know soon if the young man truly had the gift. If he did, then it would be a race to get him back to the store safely before Julius could act. Yeah, right, it would go that smoothly. “As you can see this is an empty container, but soon, it shall be filled.”
“Delivery could use some work,” Carson muttered under his breath. Frank continued his performance, unaware.
“Now,” he said, capping the thermos. “When I open it again, this container shall be filled with orange soda!” Carson raised an eyebrow at the odd choice, but to each their own. Frank shook the thermos several times, tapping his fingers along its side, and then tossed it high in the air. Carson saw it then, the poor slight of hand that the boy was trying. It was destined to fail, a switch of the empty thermos with an identical one containing the soda. Frank fumbled with the other thermos, and barely managed to avoid spilling it out of his hoodie. He fell to the ground, just barely catching the other thermos before it hit the ground.
Carson felt it then, a sudden burst of energy as a veil formed around the boy, hiding his actions from the rest of the audience. He switched the thermoses sneakily as he could, concealing them with his hoodie as best as he could. Carson, seeing past the crude veil easily, saw it as clear as day, but to the other onlookers, nothing was amiss. Frank hopped back to his feet, his flamboyant attitude back in place.
“Sorry about that folks,” he apologized with a fake smile. “Now, would someone kindly open the thermos and tell me what’s inside? Perhaps you, young lady?” he said, holding the thermos out to a young woman in the audience. She hesitated, but, pushed by her friends, she took the thermos and opened it, a startled smile of wonder spreading on her face as she saw the thermos filled with orange liquid. The audience clapped in amusement, prompting Frank to bow.
“Thank you, thank you, I will be performing again in a few minutes, but a magician needs his rest. Thank you all, and goodnight,” he said with a smile. The audience clapped halfheartedly and began drifting away. A few of them dropped a small amount of money in the poor performer’s collection hat, but it wasn’t nearly as much as Carson had pulled the night before. The magician picked up his meager gains and sighed, but nobody paid attention to his sad demeanor, other than Carson.
“Great trick,” Carson said, getting the young man’s attention. Frank looked up at the lone member of the audience that had remained. He shrugged with a cocky half smile.
“It’s a gift,” he replied arrogantly. Carson nodded thoughtfully.
“That is true, you do have a gift,” he said, patting Frank on the shoulder hard enough to drop the second thermos out of his hoodie to clatter on the ground. Frank shot back nervously, looking around to see if anyone had seen. “Though performing sleight of hand isn’t it.”
“What the hell, man?” Frank asked in outrage, quickly gathering the thermos. “You trying to ruin my act?”
“You do it well enough by yourself,” Carson admonished, holding up the empty thermos that Frank had just retrieved. Frank looked at it, confused, and then looked back at his empty hand.
“How?” he asked weakly. Carson chuckled, opening it and showing Frank the thick, warm, black coffee that now inhabited the once empty thermos. Frank blinked rapidly, pointing with a nervous but amazed smile.
“That’s pretty good,” he said with a nervous chuckle. “How’d you do it? You don’t have hoodie or a jacket to hide the spare.”
“Nope. Just magic, or, more technically, sorcery,” Carson replied with a smile, closing the thermos and tossing it back to the young magician. Frank caught it, a bewildered look crossing his face. He opened the thermos, which was now empty once again, and dropped it, his hand shaking.
“That’s…that’s…” he trailed off. He looked up at Carson with wild eyes. “Who the hell are you?”
“A friend,” Carson replied. “Take a walk with me and I’ll explain.”
“Maybe you should leave that to someone more qualified,” a familiar voice called from behind Carson. Carson closed his eyes and winced.
“Damn it,” he said, looking back up at Frank. “Look kid, stay back. It’s about to get dangerous.”
“What’s going on?” Frank asked, like any confused person would in his situation. Under normal circumstances, Carson would have gladly explained, but something else demanded his full attention.
“Just stay behind me, and for the love of all that is holy don’t run unless I tell you to,” he warned the young sorcerer-to-be. Carson turned around slowly to face his twin. He was always struck by how similar it was to looking in a mirror, the same strong features, height, sandy hair, and they’d even staid close to the same weight and physical conditioning! Julius had let his hair grow long, and was dressed in travel worn clothes, but other than that, there was very little to tell the twins apart. “I had a feeling you’d show up, but I had hoped you wouldn’t.”
“Surely you know me better than that, brother,” Julius said with a hollow smile. He took the steps down to stand level with Carson and Frank. “I was hoping you’d be smart enough to stay out of my way, but I guess we were both destined to be disappointed tonight.”
“Seems so,” Carson replied evenly, neither brother taking their eyes off the other. “I can’t let you take him, Julius.”
“And I have no intention of leaving without him, Carson,” Julius answered in kind, both brothers deathly serious. Frank was reeling, throwing up his hands in an attempt to pause the scene playing out in front of him.
“Wait, wait? Are you talking about me?” he asked in confusion, looking at the brothers with a weirded out expression. “Who said I was going anywhere? I have another performance to do!”
“To what audience?” Julius asked, pointing behind the young magician. Frank turned and gasped in shock. Everyone was lying on the ground, completely passed out. He couldn’t explain it.He couldn’t even think of a way it was possible for that many people just to feint all at once! Carson knew, however.
“Mist of Sleep,” he said to his brother. “Impressive.”
“Isn’t it?” Julius asked, taking off his long overcoat and tossing it aside, revealing the spiraling dragon tattoo on his left arm, matching the one Carson wore on his right. He cracked his knuckles and rolled his neck. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“You’re not leaving me much of a choice,” Carson answered in resignation, preparing both his mind and body for the battle that lay ahead. He crouched, holding a hand out in front of him, fingers making an L patter. “Just like old times.”
“Not exactly,” Julius replied, taking his own stance, his hand forming a claw. The two brothers stood like that for several tense seconds, not daring to move. This was the most dangerous form of combat any sorcerer could engage in, a duel, and often whoever made the first move was the one who died.
Julius was the one that broke the stillness, stomping a foot down and whipping his hands together. The air around him roared into brilliant red and white flames, focusing between his hands. Carson’s eyes widened and he brought his hands together, his fingers forming a double sided gun.
“Spirits of air to my aid, rise and become my blade,” he called out. The winds listened, whipping into a frenzy around the sorcerer in obedience. Julius threw his hands forward, sending a searing ball of fire rocketing at his brother. Carson’s hands separate and slashed forward, the air hardening around them and becoming a razor thin gust of wind that sliced through the fire, dissipating it. Julius was already moving, running toward Carson at a dead sprint, fire gathering around him in burning cloak. Carson rushed forward to counter, a dense cloud of air forming around him as the brothers clashed! Close quarters combat was difficult with sorcery, but the twins had more than a little practice over the years. Tiny blades of air and fireballs collided as the brothers fought to gain the upper hand, fists and feet lashing out to direct the close range spells. Frank was stunned, unable to move away from the spectacle before him. Who could blame him? The brothers hadn’t fought in nearly two hundred years, and it was always a sight to behold.
Julius brought his fists together and punched with both for Carson’s chest, a fireball bursting to life around them. Carson was midway into a counter when he noticed a smile on Julius’ face. Reacting defensively, Carson sent his wind blades into the ground with tremendous force, slicing deep lines into the concrete and throwing him several meters away from his fiery twin. Just in time too, because the fireball that Julius had conjured exploded outward, completely melting the concrete all around the sorcerer. Carson launched into a spin, sending a full powered blade in counter. Julius fell to his knees, going right under the attack like a limbo pole! The attack sliced cleanly through a light pole as easily as a warm knife through butter. The light went out, and the pole slid neatly into two halves. Julius popped back to his feet, throwing a hand to the air, the sky suddenly sparking with electricity! It was Carson’s turn to drop to the ground, placing a palm on the concrete and reaching out to the earth buried below.
“Hear me now, ye sands of old, hidden below, show me strength untold,” he recited, the concrete below him shattering as a fountain of earth erupted, arcing above him forming a protective barrier as a jolting spear of bright lightening thundered down! The lightning struck the earthen shield hard, showering Carson with debris, but the barrier held the attack at bay, allowing Carson to role away and avoid yet another fireball!
“Still using the mantras?” Julius shouted, laughing as his brother got back to his feet, flicking his finger and bringing his latest fireball back like a boomerang. Carson ducked and began running, but the fireball was hot on his tail! “So pathetic!” Carson stopped, throwing a hand to the ground, a gust of air boosting him above the fireballs path, allowing him to bring both hands together, the left bracing the right.
“Clouds dark and grey, lend me your breath. For this is the day, of my enemy’s death!” Carson shouted rapidly and clearly. Thunder rolled above, lightning flashing dangerously, but the attack did not come from above. Blue bolts of electricity sparked out of Carson’s braced hand and around his body. Julius’ eyes widened in fear. He brought his hands up, sending his large fireball flying toward his brother to stop his casting. It was too late, however. Carson’s body ignited in a veil of electrical energy, and a crackling blue and purple spear of lightning was already soaring at Julius! Julius growled, pooling energy around himself and calling up more flames, but not as an attack. The fire became dense and heavy, gathering around Julius’ left arm. A fiery circle was created, large enough to cover his entire body, Vulcan’s Shield, an advanced fire technique that absorbed the energy of oncoming attacks, if the caster was strong enough to hold the raging fires in check. Julius roared in rage, cowing the rebellious flames just as Carson’s jagged spear struck, driving the crouching Julius hard into the ground, taxing the mythical shield’s abilities greatly! The spells conflict induced an explosion of light, knocking Frank aside like a ragdoll!
The light faded, revealing Carson on the ground, panting tiredly, and Julius still crouched, his shield gone and arm burned, but not badly. Both brothers appeared winded, but neither showed any signs of quitting. Julius got to his feet, the concrete below him cracked from the intense pressure. He sucked in a deep breath and brought his hands into a diamond. Carson gasped. It couldn’t be.
“You wouldn’t,” he denied what he was seeing with a ghost of his normal voice. Julius grinned evilly.
“Wouldn’t I?” he asked, a green circle of energy buzzing to life around his hands. “How do you plan to counter this, brother? We both know you can’t, especially since you require the use of those silly poems to cast a simple spell like Wind’s Sword!”
“The Serpent’s Kiss isn’t to be used like this!” Carson shouted at Julius even as the buzzing green ring expanded into an aura that surrounded his twin. Julius laughed manically.
“You were always afraid of it, weren’t you,” he asked triumphantly. “Ever since our master taught it to us, you’ve used it what? Once or twice? Hmph, I can’t even count the hours of practice I’ve had with it over the years. So you have a choice. Leave me with the boy, or die and I take him anyway. Be a good little brother and make this easy.”
“You’re right,” Carson sighed, looking down at the ground. “I was always scared of it. It’s evil, destructive, and can turn on you in the blink of an eye.” Suddenly, an aura of blue energy roared to life around Carson’s body, startling the casting Julius. Carson looked up, his eyes hard and determined. “But it’s not the only spell of its kind.”
“What?” Julius asked, his gaze suddenly drawn to a blue glow at his feet, drowning out the green. All around him, a seal of a giant, monstrous eye had formed, signs of air and storms forming ordered rings at the edges. He shook his head in fearful denial. “No, you couldn’t have had time.”
“I never said I needed the mantra to perform simple spells like Wind’s Sword,” Carson replied calmly, the seal complete. “But using them allows me to focus on more important things, like the spell you see below you. You know of it, don’t you?”
“Typhon’s Eye,” Julius whispered in dread, naming one of the most powerful spells of air and storm that had ever been created in the history of sorcery. Truly, it was as powerful as the Serpent’s Kiss, and just as difficult to cast. He studied the seal below him, and it was flawless. If Carson released the spell, it would decimate him before he could even cast the powerful Serpent’s Kiss. He chuckled to himself. “Well played.”
“So now you have a choice, Julius,” Carson said, still calm and collected. He had to be. Holding a spell as grand as Typhon’s Eye required a sound mind. Any trace of doubt or fear would bring the spell’s structure crashing down, or worse, release the energy stored within it on its caster. He’d begun constructing it in the beginning of the duel as insurance, but he’d hoped to avoid using it. “Leave now or die.”
“I guess you’ll need to kill me then,” Julius replied, locking eyes with his twin. “If you think you can.”
“Julius,” Carson warned. Was Julius really this foolhardy? Did he truly want to die rather than give in to defeat? Thinking back to when they’d been close, Carson knew the answer. Julius hadn’t ever backed down, even when it had most likely meant certain destruction. Now was no different. Julius released his hold on the building Serpent’s Kiss and stood straight.
“Do it,” he commanded. “Or I won’t stop. You know my goals, brother, and I know that you oppose them with everything that you are, or so you believe. If I leave here alive, I will continue working toward them, and no doubt people will die along the way. Can you live with that? Or will you end it right here, right now.”
Carson growled, beginning the last phase of the Eye, but his heart held him back. He fought the feelings hard. Julius was right. If he were set free, people would die because of him and at his hand. Carson had a chance to save so many the anguish of losing those they loved to his insane brother, and he knew that it was the right thing to do. Still, something in him screamed that it was wrong. The conflicting emotions within his heart held him back, and eventually he realized that he wasn’t able to kill his brother, not like this.
“Get out of my sight,” he growled at his brother, tears forming in his eyes. Julius smirked. Typhon’s Eye was still active, but now Carson had rearranged it to a trapping spell of considerable power. A remarkable feat, but still one of defeat rather than victory. Julius picked up his coat and threw it over a shoulder. He traced a door in the air, and the air began to shimmer in front of him. He looked at his brother, his cocky smirk still painted on his face, but the fires of rage burned clearly in his eyes.
“I’ll be seeing you again soon,” he said, waving. He stepped through the door and disappeared. Carson dropped to his knees, gasping for air as he released the draining Typhon’s Eye. Spells of that magnitude had high demands on the caster, and Carson felt the strain keenly now. The sound of running steps coming toward him put him on alert, but it was only Van and Kitty, sprinting to help.
“Are you okay?” Van asked, kneeling beside him. He nodded, wiping sweat away from his brow. Van sighed in relief. “Good.”
“Why’d you let him get away?” Kitty asked, not understanding what had happened. “You had him right where you wanted him!”
“No matter what he’s become, or what he’s done, he’s still my brother,” Carson said breathlessly, allowing Van to help him to his feet. “It would be like you killing Van.”
“No way!” Kitty pouted. “She hasn’t gone over to the dark side like he has.”
“It’s still possible any of us might one of these days,” Van replied darkly. Carson nodded his agreement, even though it pained him to do so.
“Julius wasn’t always like this, Kitty. Pain and suffering can twist anyone. Everyone has a price, and his came up. It’s that simple,” Carson said sadly, shaking his head. “I hope ours never do.”
“As do I,” Van agreed, helping Carson to walk over to Frank, who had been knocked out by the shockwaves of the battle. “Kind of a lightweight, huh.”
“Maybe, but we’ll change that,” Carson said, looking back to where his brother had disappeared. “We’ll have to.”
“I’m guessing this wasn’t the end of it then,” Van said. Carson shook his head.
“No. If anything, it was just the beginning.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this first tale as much as I enjoyed writing it. Go ahead and leave me a review on goodreads or shoot me an email from my blog listed below. I look forward to hearing your opinions regarding my work. Have a great day!
For More Information on the Series, You Can Visit the Author’s Blog at benjaminsworkshop.wordpress.com
Or Follow Benjamin on Twitter @benjaminaford
Look Out For Episode 2
“Worms, Death, and Decay, Oh My!”
Sorcery, the very word conjures up a sense of brave knights, fireballs, and mysterious worlds that could only exist in the imagination. This isn't true. The truth about sorcery is that it is a powerful instrument that has been used for both incredible good and unspeakable evil. Carson James has lived a very long life, and has seen what the art of sorcery can do for both the light and the dark. Now, all he wishes is to live in peace, making the world a better place little by little. However, his sleepy life is interrupted by the appearance of his twin brother, Julius. Not only that, a new gifted individual has been spotted in his city, but which brother will reach him first? Will this new sorcerer be a tool for good, or a weapon for evil? That fate lies in Carson's hands, but will he have the strength to face his own brother in combat?