The Fifth Age

by D'Artagnon

Chapter 2

Overture and First Movement

We didn't get much talked about that night. Which I know sounds kind of contrary to where I left off telling you all about this great change in my life, but there were a couple of factors in play. First, it was getting late. I do have parents and they do expect me to follow curfew rules, even during summer. Second, I was really suddenly feeling dehydrated. I guess when an armored uber chick blasts open all your magical channels with a sword thrown into your brainium and you wind up making magic for the first time with a giant, semi-invisible, homicidal chess board, it takes a lot out of your electrolytes.

So, with a quick promise to return, I scooped up my backpack and made to head home.

And promptly fell on my ass. Lots and lots of electrolytes, it seems.

"You can go home, as soon as I get some fluids in you," Meryl said. "Can you stand, or will I have to float you?"

"Float me?"

He sighed loudly. "If you insist." And suddenly, I was hovering about a foot off the ground. He only raised his hand, twisted it palm up and I lifted. He smirked at my wonder and turned, keeping his palm out, and walked into the building. "Since it's a bit of a walk to my kitchen, you can listen and learn."

"Yeah, I can do that. How are you doing this?"

"This is a simple use of Forces. And that question is an excellent place to start. What do you know of magic?"

"Only what I read in fiction."

"Well, in a way that's good," Meryl said. "You wont have to forget much to learn more. Your brain is a cup."

"A cup?"

"Yes. Most people have a small cup. For some it's shallow, for some it's narrow. But it is, as always, a cup. A vessel."

"Okay," I said, feeling a little dizzy.

" Stay with me here," Meryl said, suddenly acting like a college professor. Little guy had a certain swagger when he walked. "So, if your brain is a cup, what fills the cup?"

"Learning, I guess. Knowledge?"

" Yes. And wisdom. So in not having much about magic IN your cup, we wont have much to pour OUT before we pour more IN. Yes?"


"Saying yup is not the same thing as agreeing," he said darkly. "You need to be more positive in your thinking."

"Okay," I said still a bit dizzy.

"Humph, we'll work on that. First thing is first, I believe you understand that magic is, in fact real?"

"Definitely truth there."

"Very good. Here comes the first bit of knowledge. There are nine spheres of magical interaction between enlightened beings, such as us, and the magical energy of the universe, which we call Quintessence."

"Quintessence," I repeated. "I heard you say that before. That if I couldn't see the Quintessence, I'd never see the chess pieces."

" Yes. And you found a sensory way to interact with them, which opened all your senses to it. If you concentrate, you will find ways to experience Quintessence all around you. It is in everything, in small amounts. But it is also flowing between things, surrounding us. And it can concentrate in things or beings. Even deep within the Earth itself."

"Like the Force?"

"Yes," Meryl said, his inflection implying he wasn't a Star Wars fan. "They got at least that much right. Bloody film makers!" We passed from the chessboard to a sort of back patio area. I saw typical metal outdoor furniture. There was a high fieldstone wall around the patio. It was long and narrow, seeming to wrap around the giant stone church structure. We entered through the large double doors that led to a short set of steps going down. I noticed that there were stairs to either side of the down steps, only they seemed to go up to the main level of the church. Sort of a split level thing.

"So, nine spheres?" I asked.

"Indeed. In order, they fall into a pattern. Patterns will be very important to your training. I hope you are good at learning them."

"Will I need to learn a new language for all of this?"

" Eventually. For now, let us concentrate on getting the patterns and terms right inside of your cup." He led me down to what looked like a kids version of paradise. A kitchen that opened directly upon a TV area with a huge flat screen and multiple video game platforms, all spread out and sprawling across the floor. There were stacks of books, piles of what I hoped were empty pizza boxes and a few candy wrappers. Someone, it seems, is a Three Musketeers fan. I made a mental note for the side of my cup.

With a few simple hand gestures, he got a chair under me and deposited me lightly. He then turned to his fridge, and pulled out a jug of orange juice and a small bottle of PowerAde. A plastic solo cup drifted his way and he poured some of the OJ into it. The jug went back into the fridge, hands free, and he presented me with the cup.

"First with the juice, then with this concoction. It might have a lot of sugar, but it also has plenty of what has been drained from you." I drank the one quickly and felt almost immediately better.

"What was in that?"

"Well, it wasn't eleven herbs and spices, if that's what you mean," he grinned. "Just juice. Vitamin C. Calcium. All the good things growing boys need. Fresh from concentrate." He took the empty cup from me and I uncapped the purple sports drink.

"Okay, so… Nine spheres. Patterns," I prompted.

" Yes. Each sphere covers a unique way of looking at the energy and matter of the universe. There are aspects of each in all of them. And in fact, they will blend together in different patterns. We'll save that for another lesson. Tonight, as you find yourself tucked in at home in your snug bed, I want you thinking about the nine spheres."

"Okay," I said around gulps of sports drink.

" The Spheres fall into this pattern," Meryl said, emphasizing the particular sphere names with a sort of bouncing hand gesture.

>"Prime, which creates a conception in the Mind, which gives focus to create Spirit, which is given form by Forces/Matter/Life, which is perceived by Correspondence/Time, which gives way to decay to Entropy, which causes everything to return to Prime."

From the emphasis he placed on certain words I could guess which ones were the names in question. But I must have looked at him with a completely baffled look. "Are you still awake behind those hazel eyes?"


"Repeat what I spoke boy. Take it in steps. Remember that pattern. Well, what are you waiting for? Speak!"

"Prime, which creates a conception in the Mind, which gives focus to create Spirit, which is given form by Forces, Matter and Life," I repeated.

"Which are all on one level together," he interrupted.

"Which is perceived by Correspondence and Time."

"Also on the same plane to each other."

"Which gives way to decay to Entropy, which causes everything to return to Prime," I finished. It didn't make sense yet.

"You remember everything you read and hear, don't you?"

" Pretty much. I've had a straight A average since about 4 th grade."

" I'm guessing that's the only straight path in your life," he muttered. I ignored it for now. "Do you have any questions about this so far?"

"Well, I can sort of guess what some of the spheres do, based on that pattern, but the names of a few have me confused."

" Ask," he commanded simply, dropping his butt to the floor, his legs crossing Indian style; crisscross, applesauce.

" Mind, Spirit, Matter, Life and Time are pretty much self-explanatory," I said, ticking them off on my fingers. "Prime, Forces, Correspondence and Entropy are unclear."

"Yes, three of those give students the most trouble. Forces can be considered anything you can feel but is not substantial. Gravity, as I manipulated to move you, is part of Forces."

"So, electricity, radiation, light, heat, all of that?"

"And their opposing forces, as modern physics knows it. Shadow is part of Forces, as is cold."

" I'll be able to manipulate shadows? That doesn't sound much like physics."

" Yes, it's really quite simple. But when you get really good, skilled I should say, you'll be able to affect how energy transmits in nature as well. You can eventually learn to use Forces to construct and direct storms."

"That's awesome!" I breathed out.

" Indeed. An awesome and terrible use it is. So, that's Forces. Correspondence is an understanding of locations."

"So you can, what, see other places?"

" Yes, among other sensory feats. But you will also be able to stack locations. Reach into another place and see, hear or take something there to here," Meryl explained, moving his hand from his right side, and crossing it over his chest, rolling the wrist down, on his left. "Be literally in two places at once. Or travel vast distances instantaneously."

"Like teleporting?"

"Not like. Actual teleporting."

"Mad nice!"

" As for Prime and Entropy, they are obverse sides of the same coin. Sort of. Prime is the energy of magic. Quinessence! Raw power from which all creation is drawn. Different magical traditions refer to it by different names. The werefolk call it Gnosis and revere it as spiritual energy. The changelings know it as Glamour, the fuel and stuff of raw creativity. The fuckin' vampires," he paused, inhaling to sigh, "screwed it up and locked it into blood, calling it Vitae. And with the exception of the leeches perversion, they do all have it right. It is all within Prime. The stuff of magic and reality itself."

"So, it's a power source?"

" More than that. It's not just the power of magic, it is the flow and pulse of all reality. Everything that is has form and substance and energy because of Prime. It can be the most wondrous stuff of creation, or it can be the most destructive force imaginable. At higher levels of mastery, it can level mountains with a single bolt of raw Quintessence released."

"No way?!"

"It is that kind of thinking we don't need in your cup. Yes way! The final is Entropy. It is the natural process of decay, but it can also be thought of as luck. Eventually, all matter, all energy, all mind and spirit and life will resolve to its lowest energy state. Living matter will decay after death, matter changes from one form to another as energy interacts with it. Things break down. Entropy magic can help that along, or slow it. It can also be useful in putting curses and misfortunes upon people, even whole bloodlines."

"Sounds like that one's complicated."

"They are all complicated. Feeling better?" Meryl asked, standing up. He noticeably adjusted his junk as he stood, but I guess he was in his own home. His rules.

"Yeah. Thanks. So… what now?"

"For now, I've filled your cup enough for one night. Time for you to drink and grok."


"In all your fiction reading, all this Harry Potter nonsense, you absorb, you've never encountered the term grok?"

"Is it magical?"

" It is from one of your most prolific and controversial science fiction writers!" Meryl said, looking slightly upset. He gets that look a lot. Looks weird on a kid his age. "Robert A. Heinlein. Stranger in a Strange Land. Look it up in your google machine, when you have a moment not taken up by 'wingardium leviosa' and such drivel."

"Geeze! Okay!"

"In that book, the term grok comes into popular parlance. It means to drink in, deeply. To understand something at all levels. To know and comprehend the good, the bad, all facets of a thing. If you grok something or someone, you take them completely into your being to understand. Does that make sense?"

" Sounds like a lot of mental gymnastics, but… I think so. Yes," I said, drinking the last of the sports drink. I felt enormously better, but also was getting tired.

"Good. What do you have on your schedule for tomorrow?"

"Just work. I got the four to close again tomorrow."

"Can you be here tomorrow then? Say 10 o'clock?"

"I can. Provided my parents don't ground me for being late tonight. What time is it, anyways?"

" If you had studied sphere of Time, you'd know already. However, I will show you something with Correspondence tonight. Think about your bedroom."

" My bedroom?" I asked, feeling kinda dumb. His hands went to his hips, weight shifted. Petulant and annoyed.

" If you keep asking me the same thing I ask you, we are going to spend a lot of time wasting time, which we should not and must not do. Now… close your eyes. Think about your bedroom. About the walls. The things on the walls. Where the furniture is placed. Where the door is. All of these things. Where in the house it is. Where the house is. Grok your bedroom."

I closed my eyes, put myself into my bedroom. Standing between the door and the bed, how the window seemed a little higher than should be since that part of the house was into the hill. I felt my backpack dropped into my lap, kind of close to my hips, if you know what I mean. That shocked me enough that I opened my eyes.

And I was sitting on my bed! I glanced around. The light was off in the room, but I was clearly sitting on my own unmade bed, my backpack sitting across my knees. >How the hell! I remember thinking.

" Don't forget! 10 o'clock!" I heard Meryl's voice, as if shouted through a very long tube. I put my backpack down and noticed I was missing my pants. Looking around, they were folded over my desk chair. I stripped off the rest of the way and lay down on top of the covers. It felt too hot to have a blanket and sheet draped over me all night. Seems like almost instantly I was asleep.

Woke up at the very crack of 8:39 AM, feeling refreshed and ready for the world. Got up, dressed, ran through the bathroom and found that neither of my parents, my younger brother or my twin older sisters had taken up residency there. I did what I had to do and booted for the back door, intent on being early.

That's when the family snags hit. Dad was heading out the door to put in some overtime hours at the factory. Seems he was always putting his name in for bonus time lately. Felt wrong not having him around all weekend. Then again, I have a job now also, so I know what it means to be responsible. Two jobs, if everything Meryl was teaching me rang true. Such complications.

Anyways, Mom had me march back upstairs and collect my little brother. Ethan is only 9, so he's not much of a hassle to get moving. It's the getting moving that's his problem. But he's still simple. I started looking at him in a different light after last night. He quite literally was still a sleeper to Meryl's way of thinking. Simple, uncomplicated, unaware. Part of me felt sorry for him. The other part remembered what a wound up ball of calamity and terror he could be at times. Don't get me wrong, he's a good kid. He's just, well, a nine year old boy with more energy than sense to know what to do with it, a crazy imagination and probably more than just a little bit too much stubborn for his own good.

Counterpoint, my older twin sisters. Brilliant, two sport athletes. Always on the honor roll. Both involved in student government, Rene as Treasurer, Cory as Communications Director. The very model of proper teenage efficiency, decorum and propriety. And more of a bookworm between the two of them than I'll ever hope to be.

So, I got Ethan into the shower, practically having to hold the door shut as I shoved him in, pajamas still on. It's so weird how that kid can hate to bathe so much, but once he gets in there, you practically have to get a Shepard's crook to yank him out. I got him started and headed down to the kitchen. Mom ordered me to sit and put a plate of pancakes in front of me. Who am I to say no to that?

"What are your plans for today?" she asked, in "Mom, Master of Schedules" mode.

"Uh, got work later tonight. Was gonna go hang out at the library for a while."

" Do you think you could wedge in dropping by Uncle Morris and Aunt Bev's house. They're traveling for the next five weeks."

"Five weeks?"

" Apparently," Mom began, rolling her eyes for dramatic emphasis, "All of Uncle Morris' brothers and sisters have children getting married, starting this weekend. Four weddings in five weeks. New Jersey, Georgia, Nebraska and that one really smart one that works for Amazon all the way out in Seattle. And your Uncle wants to drive there, with their three kids and drag my sister all across the country in the summer heat."

"That's ridiculous," I said softly, punctuating it with a mouthful of buttery, fluffy, maple sodden goodness.

"So, they've asked if you'll drop by once a day and pick up the mail. They already put a hold on the newspaper, so you wont have to do that. Oh, and take care of Ivy."

"The cat?"

Mom held up her hands defensively. "She mostly takes care of herself. The cat box is even one of those automatic sifter types. All you have to do is empty out the bin twice a week and make sure that Ivy has food and water available daily."

"Okay," I agreed.

"The left you a little money. It's not much, but enough for your trouble."

"I'm good."

" Thank you," Mom sighed, "one less thing on my plate," and then screamed towards the ceiling, "Cory! Rene! One of you kick Ethan out of the shower, please. We need to be leaving in ten minutes."

"Big plans?"

"Both of your sisters need their braces adjusted. Your darling little brother wants to sign up for both the summer art program and something at the Y called Jedi Class. And I need to take the Beast into the shop for a tune up and oil change." I shuddered at the prospect of that. The Beast was mom's huge late model "soccer mom" SUV. Something minor was always wrong with it. But money was tight, so repairs sometimes had to wait. Yet another reason I envied rich kids like Donny Winchell. Everything about them was shiny and new, without any effort. And here my family was constantly struggling.

I eventually had to boot back upstairs to boot Ethan out of the shower, convince him that going commando probably wasn't a good idea, and pour him into sneakers before booting both of us back downstairs. I helped Mom and the girls get all their stuff for the day together, strapped Ethan into his seat and got out of the way as Mom headed out for her daily missions. I made a dash over to Uncle Morris and Aunt Bev's house, topped off Ivy's water and meow mix supply and booked it over to Meryl's place.

I walked up the broad fieldstone walkway to the old church, just before 10 that morning. I was kind of excited about learning how to do real magic. The events of the previous night seemed so strange to me, but that sense of strangeness somehow made it all the more real.

Meryl was up, strolling around the house in his boxers and a Pokemon T-shirt featuring the Squirtle Squad. His grin was odd when he noticed my expression about his wardrobe. He bolted the door behind me after I came in and slung my pack onto the floor.

"Dressed for the day, I see."

" The first rule in this house is just that: it's my house. If you don't like how I do things around here, you can leave anytime you want." He stood in front of me, looking me up and down, like a butcher sizing up a piece of meat. "You are what, seventeen?"


"And never been kissed, I'll bet. Pity. Well, that's not the course of our instruction today. Maybe we'll eventually work up to love potions and such."

"Those are real?"

" Almost anything can be real, if you want it to be," Meryl said, inclining his head. "This isn't like Aladdin where the genie has certain rules he can't break. Death is only the beginning, changing someone's mind or emotions is possible, although not easy. True magic like you are going to learn to perform does have simple tricks and startlingly easy tools for the Mage to use to make things in life go his way, but the big stuff we'll be learning, that quite literally alters reality."

"Okay. So what do we do first?"

"First you can get comfortable. I want no distractions for your mind."


"Meaning comfortable. No one can enter this building without my approval, and anyone trying to approach my house will have to get through my guardians first."

"What guardians? I saw no one while walking up."

" If they were obvious, they would either be vastly more powerful than is necessary, or not good at remaining unseen. I will show you the house defenses later. You can be as comfortable as you want around here. Normally I go for less clothing when alone, but I figured for the sake of your gentle American modesty I'd at least cover some skin up, until I know what you're comfortable with."

"You mean you do magic stuff while naked?"

"History of Magic," he said, as if introducing a chapter from a book like a professor. "Before fancy textiles or even simple weaving, Mages of old practiced their arts wearing stitched together animal skins, often not properly cured, or nothing at all. Just like the rest of what eventually became humans. I think you are going to find that clothing is as much a status symbol as it is useful, outside of a blizzard, of course." Sounded really weird hearing that kind of speech with his little boy's voice. What was really weird about it was how much sense it made.

"What about pockets?" I asked, countering his logic with my own. "Or belts?"

" Mages with a simple understanding of Correspondence sphere can make do without pockets. Hell, they can even have pockets that just hang about anywhere."

"How's that?"

"Like this." And from about ten feet away from me he slipped his hand into the front hole of his boxers, you know, the one you pull out of to pee, and he fished around for a bit. I felt something shift in my back pocket and he suddenly pulled his hand out of his undies, holding my wallet. My hand immediately went to the back pocket where I kept my wallet, normally, and found it missing.

"Wow," I said. "So that's Correspondence?"

"One part of it," he said, handing me back my wallet, and readjusting his undies with the other hand. As I took the wallet from his hand, he held onto it. "This is another use of Correspondence sphere," he said, and suddenly, we were standing on top of a high mountain peak. Crushing cold surrounded us, dusty dry snow skittering around on dark hard rock and clumps of white crystal ice.

" Where…" was all I got out before the chattering started in my teeth. The air was thin, frigid, and racing around me, tugging my sleeves and flapping the bottom of my T-shirt. My dry-fit basketball shorts were no match for the biting wind.

" The locals call it Denali, but on your United States official maps it is referred to as Mount McKinley. Alaska," Meryl's tiny voice sang out over the winds. He lifted his arms and seemed to embrace the crispness and harshness of the environment. "Invigorating, no?" He looked bad at me with a twinkle in his eyes. "Through Correspondence you will be able to co-locate yourself or others, effectively putting them in two places at once. You will be able to stack locations, one atop the other, in as many ways as you can dream of. I keep one such stacked location available at the house. One of the many traps I have. It allows me to put someone in there and they wind up continually falling until I pull them out."

"Falling? Like down a mountain?"

"Not in this case. My endless drop has them falling through the night sky, literally sideways from one side of the planet towards the other, always falling. Really screws with your head to pass through different weather patterns for three hours, always falling. It's kind of funny if you think about it."

"Okay, can we go back now?" I asked, shivering. I was partially crouching and had my hands tucked up under my armpits. My breath streamed out of me as steam just far enough to freeze against the end of my nose as tiny icicles.

" Think of this as the first real lesson for today. Technically speaking, while we are here, experiencing the top of Denali as very few actually can, we have never left the front hallway of the house."

"But…" I started to say, but the shivering and chattering of my own teeth got in the way.

" This is co-location. We are here at Denali, yes, but we haven't physically moved. We are still in my foyer. The lesson is this: All places are one. When you fully understand that, you will be able to co-locate whenever you wish, to wherever you wish. You could even choose to step off here and stop being in my foyer."

He let go of the wallet and instantly we were back in the foyer. The wallet hit the floor with a solid smack! sound. Meryl smiled up at me as my body began to warm.

"That was intense," I breathed out, as my teeth stopped trying to chew each other.

"That was just a beginning. And I apologize for putting you through that without warning. You needed to be reminded that what you know is only what you think you know, or rather what you were taught to know. There is much for you to learn, and in order for those lessons to sink in, you must possess three key things."

"Which are?"

" Glad you asked. Let's sit down and get comfortable." He walked into the living room area with all the toys and goodies that a pre-teen boy, or any teen boy, for that matter, might want. Electronics overload! He hopped up into a huge couch, taking up about three-quarters of it as he reclined. I choose a soft armchair that had the faint aroma of pizza about it. The AC felt good, and not nearly as intense as the whipping winds atop the tallest mountain on the continent, so I decided to follow his example a little bit and took off my t-shirt. There were small melty spots on it from where the snows of Mt. McKinley had followed us here.

"Okay, so the three things I need," I said, reminding him. He pulled his hand back out of the top of his boxers as I spoke.

"Right. So, first is belief. Without that, no amount of talent will ever be enough to do things as you will them to be."

"I've seen you do things enough. And I found a way to make the chess board work when you thought for certain I never would. Guess that means I got belief down."

"Next is will. Belief alone means you accept that the universe can be bent. Will is the exercise of that belief. It is enforcing your desires upon the universe to make things happen."

"Okay. And the third thing?"

His eyes took a dark turn, and he blinked slowly. It was one of those moments when the ancient wizard showed through the face of the young boy. "Knowledge. Understanding the true nature of the universe and its laws so you understand the penalty and cost of breaking those laws."

"I thought you said we can do anything?"

"We can. But there is a price to pay for making too many changes, too rapidly or for too long."

" I don't understand. You just had us on top of a mountain half way around the planet. How can there be a limit?"

" Because there is!" he thundered at me, his voice booming. I stared at him in shock for a moment. He blinked several times, seeming to get control of some emotional battle happening behind his eyes. "I apologize again," he said at length, his little boy voice sounding weak and sorrowful. "I forget at times how difficult it is for your kind. You were brought up with magic as illusions on stage, or camera tricks, or things that can only happen in movies or books. Where I am from, originally, magic is not the antithesis of what you can science. In my world, they are one and the same. A fact which your people will not discover for quite some time, sadly."

"Meryl, I don't mean to upset you. I'm trying to absorb what you are teaching. I believe. Help me to understand."

"That's the real trick, isn't it? Believing, having the talent, having the will to manifest the talent, all of it means nothing without understanding how. You've already prepared yourself for this, Marcus. And thanks to Donna Trag blasting open your mind with more energy than you were ready to handle, all of your talents are ready, waiting."

"Is that what happened?"

"She… among the changelings, which she is the local leader of, there is a simple ritual called the Enchanted Stroke. Basically they charge up something pointy and jam it into someone. But instead of that penetration causing fatal wounds, it imparts a sense of the supernatural to you. It can alter your sense of reality, show you things that only the enchanted and very young children can see. If enacted upon supernatural beings, it can have various other effects, depending on how much magical umph! they whip into it. Apparently the Countess uncorked on you, big time."

"So, I had magic talent all along, and she just supercharged my battery?"

" In a very real sense, yes," Meryl responded. "And in doing so, she opened all nine spheres in you at once. That is very rare. Usually a Mage will start out with three, maybe four sphere affinities open. Hardly ever all nine, not at first. Maybe over a few dozen decades they might gain all nine. But you are starting out with all of them opened. That is why you felt so drained last night. Your body was reacting to the shifts in energy within you."


"Marc, I cannot express this seriously enough. Most humans these days walk around in a mystical daze. Their spirits, the magical side of their existence is asleep. Literally. It is a protection for them."

"I don't get it?"

"Think about kids you go to school with. How many of them would be able to handle the true power of magic, as you have been shown? Could they be trusted with such power?"

"I guess not," I had to admit. "A lot of them aren't really responsible enough with their own lives and stuff. Can't see them being able to toss around fireballs and such, not for it being safe for others."

"And that is part of the reason why most of them are still asleep. Unlike you, they don't have the maturity to go along with the talent. Hell, even those with the talent rarely have the sense of self control needed. It is also safer that they don't have the knowledge and power for other reasons," he intimated, darkly. So much angst in such a little body, must drive him nuts with all the hormones struggling with his ungrowing self.

"Why do I get the feeling there's a lot more to that than you are telling me."

"Because you are already two steps into a much wider world than you knew of yesterday," Meryl grinned. "There are perils that await beyond just the shores of our pretty little world here, my young friend. Let us pray that those things don't choose to look our way and come calling. The fewer creatures with reality altering magic, the lesser chance we'll attract unwanted attention."

"Then why train me?" I asked, sensing for the first time some of his legitimate unease.

" So you don't blow it and do something stupid. Okay, so, comfy?"


" Then let's begin."

For the next two weeks, I was over there every day before work, and sometimes I'd spend a few days there, telling my parents that I was sleeping over at a friend's house. Meryl showed me how to focus, how to control my energy and how to sense the spheres. I wasn't doing amazing things yet, but I got a full understanding of how my supernatural senses work. Which all by itself was fricken' amazing!

I mean, I was seeing reality in totally old ways. That statement is misleading. The things I could perceive were always there, but folks in the modern world aren't trained to perceive things in this way. Which is kinda a shame, because science tries to define the universe in this way and gets a lot of it right, but they go about it the hard way. Then again, according to Meryl, we've been getting things wrong since the fall of the Roman Empire, and even most of that was murky at best.

But that's another story.

Speaking of stories, I went through four Heinlein novels, two Andre Norton books that were only in hardbound editions and practically ran through the Mercedes Lackey Last Herald Mage series in those first two weeks. The librarian must have thought I was on crack going through all those books so fast.

Anyways, my perceptions. As I said above there's nine spheres of magical interpretation. In the path they are Prime, Mind, Spirit, Forces/Matter/Life, Correspondence/Time, and Entropy. I could go into lengthy descriptions of what was opened to my senses in those first few weeks in each sphere, but it would take too long. I can easily tell you that ghosts are real, as are nature spirits, I talked to both. Not a lot of understanding on both parts since they mostly speak and don't listen. And a lot of ghosts mostly drift, like emotions lingering in a place, not ready to move on. Also, for the record, New England seems to have a lot of both. I passed by the cemetery near my house and was stunned to see so many faces looking back at me. Even pets!

But I was able to perceive energy patterns in the wall, following electrical current and water flows. I could tell where everyone in my house was just by listening for thoughts, which also was confusing as hell. I could hear people thinking, just couldn't interpret what they were saying inside. I was able to accurately judge distances between objects simply by touching one and thinking about another. The scariest one was passing people on the street and feeling their life forces as they passed. I could feel sickness and health in them, sense the energy of their existence and in small ways could touch the emotions that rode the waves of their life energy. It was sad.

Now, you might say to yourself, "how can this be? You gotta be making this up, kid. There's no way." The proof is in the numbers. They don't lie. This was the ultimate proof for me that I was actually perceiving things with my awakened senses. One of the things about the Entropy sphere is luck, chance and in small ways, perceiving the future. Meryl had me meditate with him after lunch and put a small note pad and pencil by me as we sat, partly clothed, in his living room and meditated. After meditation, he had me concentrate on Entropy for a moment and write down the first six two-digit numbers that appeared in my head. He took the numbers and then had me go do something else. I didn't think anything of it.

The little prick then showed me the numbers after about ten days, all of them lining up with the winning lottery numbers for the last week. Every day, over ten hours before the random numbers were drawn, I had picked perfect winners. Every freakin' day! He looked up at me and said, simply "I can see you now have no doubts about your powers. Very good. We shall move on to the next level."

I finally understand the absolute true nature of the word flabbergasted, now. "You mean I could have picked million dollar winners at any time?"

"Could have, but you didn't. Oh sure, you got the numbers right, but you did so without understanding or having a selfish motivation. Also, you are too young to play the lottery, so the numbers were just an exercise in trusting your instincts when focusing on the sphere and the patterns it presents you."

"But, I could have won!" I countered. I thought back to all the kids at school, decked out in the latest clothes, riding around in hot cars, just oozing money. How I could have been doing that if I'd just known the right numbers and picked them. How my family would be set for life, living like kings and Kennedy's instead of both my parent's working so hard, fuming every month about bills and mortgages and stuff.

" Let's get a couple of things straight here, Marco. We don't go about using our magic for casual financial gain."

" There's nothing casual about a couple dozen million dollars from the lottery! That could get my parents out of debt, by a lot, and they wouldn't have to worry every again. About anything."

"Money doesn't change things for the better," he replied, snarkily.

"Lack of money doesn't make it better, either, oh wise one," I replied.

"I have two points to make, and you are going to sit and listen to them, whether you like it or not."

" Oh, really?!" I challenged with arms crossed over my chest, towering nearly two feet over him.

His eyes grew cold, and for a moment I was afraid he was about to uncork a bolt of Prime with his gaze alone. "Don't tempt me, boy," he said, softly but with menaces. "My reasons for not just handing your father the winning numbers of the lottery, or telling him to bet on which horse to win the Kentucky Derby or even if he should just go sit on a certain slot machine in Atlantic City at a certain time and date to hit the big jackpot has nothing to do with greed or status or even the inevitability of me being right."

"No?" I asked back, still somewhat pissed at the little jerk.

" No. And it's not even some Back to the Future altering time lines crap either. The two reasons are the same as why I can't go back to my last home. If you start handing out the right numbers to people, you get noticed. If you start winning all the time, it gets noticed. Knowing the future and acting on it is one thing. Profiting from being a prophet, that kinda shit starts wars. I'm not saying we never take advantage of it, but it can't be too big. It draws unnecessary attention and stuff like that starts Inquisitions and Witch Trials and race riots and-and-and swinging corporate raiders and such," he said, working his arms to show his frustration, his voice getting faster as he spoke. He paused, his arms dropping to his side as if exhausted, and a sort of sad expression fell upon him. "Five previous students of mine suffered such fates. I barely escaped being burnt alive for that very thing in my own youth. So that's one key reason we don't… do… that."

I had to think about it. He did sort of have a point. I was still a young enough Mage to realize that I didn't know all the implications of what using my powers might bring about. Altering reality, interpreting it, knowing the unknowable. Those things needed a lot of thought on my part before I just did such things to suit myself.

Even admitting that the little shit was right, I had to ask. "And the other reason?"

"Your parents, they are honest folk, yes?"

"You know they are?"

" Oh, aye, that I do know. But do you know it?"

"Of course." He was starting to anger me again.

"And they are proud of their home?"


"Their family?"

"I believe so."

"And everything they've accomplished, and worked so hard for?"

"Is there a point to this coming sometime soon?"

"Impatient whelp!" he snorted, standing to his full 5'2" height and crossing his thin arms over his thin chest. "The point is, would you take away from them everything they've worked so hard, sacrificed so much and put so much love into simply because you could whisk them away on a tide of glorious money?"

"If I could save them from a life of drudgery and worry, yes!"

"And would it mean as much to them to simply have no worries, or do you think they value what they have built and earned all the more for the sweat and toil it took to do so?"

I sat stunned. He plopped the lottery number list down in front of me. "Things have value beyond just the price tag, Marc. Lives are all the sweeter for the victories in building them than just the cost of what they're made of. It's what they're made for that will matter more in the end."

Meryl walked away, down the hallway, and apparently used the bathroom, because I heard the toilet flush before he came back to the table where I sat. "When you've wrapped your head around that bit of kitchen table philosophy, come to my work room. Tell me what you've decided about this particular lesson, and we'll begin your second levels. I think today we'll start with Forces." Took me several minutes just sitting there, thinking about it. About the up side and the down, before I walked back to his magician's laboratory and admitted he had a point.

Which is not the same as saying he was right, but for the moment I would stand by his teachings and not whisper the next batch of winning numbers in my mother's ear while she slept. I was mad tempted to, though. Wicked.

So, that next week he had me learning to harness all manner of unseen things in reality. I began levitating while I meditated, which was a way to understand gravity. I could cause minor sparks of electricity, radiate heat and cold at will, even generate shadows and light from just mere thoughts. Apparently, I was really good at that. Thursday of that week, he showed me a few Correspondence tricks, like when he pulled my wallet out of my pocket while rooting around in his undies. I was able to grab small items from across the room with that. And extend my senses into other places. I literally had my eyes watching a local little league baseball game as if I was behind the umpire at home plate, the whole time sitting back in Meryl's work room. I combined that with the Correspondence trick to steal a hotdog. It was tasty, and worth the stern look Meryl gave me.

Week four of my training saw a renewed look into Matter sphere. I was basically doing almost alchemy! Like Full Metal Alchemist sorta things. Okay, maybe not to that extreme. But I was able to perceive the pattern of things in ways chemists and physicists would give both arms and perhaps a sexual organ or two to understand. More than that, with just a touch, I could boil or freeze water, squish granite stone in my fingers to shape it however I liked, even cause small bits of one type of material to slip out of another material that the first was mixed in. Sounds kinda useless, until Meryl showed me how to draw water out of stone. Or how to draw tiny fragments of gold out of quartz boulders.

I was totally hooked on doing magic. I would practice at home, performing small acts here and there. Mom nearly caught me rolling an old tennis ball across my desk and making it change directions, roll up a stack of books, things like that. I really wish she'd knock. I mean, I could be doing, uh, private stuff in there, if you know what I mean. It would have been almost that embarrassing had she seen me still waving my hands and watching the ball slither hither and yon at my command. She walked in and I jumped, turned and saw her retreating as the door closed, quietly. The tennis ball bounced up off the desk and landed in my lap. Ironic, the one ball I was playing with choose to leap over my head to the two I wasn't messing with.

But goddamn was it fun.

Week five we delved into Mind. That was freaky. First off, he showed me how to touch objects and learn things that had happened to them. It's not as complete a picture as you might think. Like a cup at a restaurant has touched a lot of people's mouths, a lot of hands, been washed thousands of times over its time in use. But I was able to sense the person who last touched the glass, got all kinds of impressions about them, could even sense (though Correspondence) where that person was. It was a mind numbing experience. I touched a statue down town, of which there are many in Canterbury. This one was the World War Two memorial, down in Washington Square, across from the post office. Meryl, disguised to look like the little brother I never had, stood by me and bid me open my mind to Mind sphere and lay my fingers gently to the bronze plaque bearing the names of those from our small Massachusetts town who died in the war.

I fainted. There was so much sadness and grief. Mothers and fathers who lost children, lovers forever separated by death, young brides made widows before they could even become mothers, and children, innocent and unknowing of what had befallen their fathers, so many of them had come to this place, had laid flowers, shed tears. It was overwhelming. So too was a sense of sacrifice, loss, honor, pride, shame, and in one authentically scary case, a twisted sense of hatred and victory over all the names commemorated there. That last one haunted me. To know that someone had been to that simple needle of white granite with the bronze plaques attached and that such a person could feel a sense of almost glee... that would be one cold-hearted son of a bitch. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for that individual. Thankfully someone beat me to him.

But that, too, is another story.

Thursday of that week we traveled to a nearby shopping mall in Salem, New Hampshire. We sat in the food court and practiced reading minds. Just surface thoughts, mind you. I could only pick up a little bit of what people walking around were thinking. Frankly, it made me hungry, horny, happy and horrified, for different reasons. And I had to practice screening, because just opening myself to that many thought-centers at once is a lot like trying to have a conversation with three other people while the TV volume is turned way up, someone's got the microwave making popcorn and my sister is using her hair dryer with the bathroom door open. I learned to focus. I learned to relax and let the voices speak to me rather than try to sift what they really meant with my own preconceived notions. And that works despite language barriers. I was practically speaking Spanish a few times, as if I was born to it.

That session almost made me barf. We had found a guy in there who was, as the song says, watching little girls with bad intents. Some of his surface thoughts while looking at a little dark haired girl who couldn't have been older than 8 disgusted me. Meryl suggested I do something about it. I didn't know what he was talking about. I mean, he'd told me that public use of direct magic was referred to as vulgar and often had the consequence of the mage in question needing to run or dodge bullets. But here we were presented with a valid evil threat and needing to do something. This man intended to kidnap that little girl, or some other child, and have his jollies at the child's expense.

For the record, we are talking about a man who is literally into stealing, hurting and sexually abusing children, and then leaving them for dead some place, if not outright killing them himself during whatever he was inflicting on them. A real scumbag. We would be doing the world a favor in putting him under stone, or making him stone. Meryl said that the man had only abused a few kids so far, ones he knew, in his neighborhood and family members, but this time, this man was hunting for his first actual rape-kill.

We had power, we could justify what we could openly to do the man. But he hadn't yet done what he was thinking. He wanted to. He planned to do it now. But what could we do to him. More to the point, what did Meryl want me to do to him. I flat asked him what to do, hissing it under my breath, and he used our mind link.

He's in a highly charged state. This moment could either break him of the habit or force him to wait. It could be his ultimate sick fantasy, or you could put the fear of the world into him. Put a suggestion into his mind. Force him to realize that he isn't invulnerable. That he isn't invisible in his thoughts. Make him see what he chooses not to see.

How? I sent back.

The simplest commands work best when enforcing your will upon the weak minded. I thought your science fiction hero movies taught you this already. And again with that maddening little boy grin like he knows more than anyone else around him. Which in this case was probably true. Hell, with Meryl in most cases it's true.

So I walked up behind the guy, moving with the crowd. Meryl stayed in link with me in case something should happen I should know about. Like my eyes on the side of things. I stood behind the creepy dude's chair and was wholly disgusted. Dude had a bag of stuff he'd already bought here in the mall. Candies, pieces of kids costume jewelry from a store on the mall's upper deck, a pink dress with frills and lace, and what looked like a pair of little girl's panty hose. I dunno what sick fantasy he had in mind when coming to this place, but he clearly had the bank to get the props for it. I could see another bag in there as well. The black plastic kind that they give you when you buy something from the "novelty" shop. Must be some kind of sex toy or something. I really didn't want to know.

Standing behind this guy I can see him massaging a boner through his khakis (which in New England is pronounced like Cah Keys). He had chosen a spot to look for his prey well, using the natural cover of the food court to his advantage. Boxed palm fronds and fake sprays of broadleaf plants at the base of a pillar covered most of his back. The half-eaten tray of soba noodles and stir fry had long ago cooled, and the table hid his manipulations from almost anyone. You'd have to be just about right on top of the guy, or standing behind him unnoticed, like I was, to witness things. But his gaze had become fixed. Unwavering. And his thoughts…

I nearly barfed again looking at his surface thoughts. So many questions burst into my head about why he wanted to do that, and how did he think he was going to get away with it, and what kind of sick mind wanted to do that to a little girl. I barely kept my composure, but it fueled me to prevent this guy from doing this to that little girl. Or any little girl.

"She sure is pretty, isn't she?" I whispered, leaning over. His hand squeezed his bits tighter.

"Yeah," he breathed out, softly, languidly. He must have thought that the whisper came from his own sick imagination. Maybe he heard voices. Who knows. I felt such revulsion for this twisted maniac. But I kept it together. Had to.

" I bet she screams really loud, too," I whispered, leaning back. His hand quickly left his junk. The rest of his body seemed to go tense. I could almost hear the sweat starting to form at his temples.

"I know what you're thinking," I said. "And you'd better never do it."

He turned, twisting in his seat to look at me and that's when I made my move. Literally, I stood up and took a step to the side from him, facing him directly. I put all of my 4 th grade Thanksgiving Play performance into it.

" No! I don't want you to take my pants off, you sicko! Stop touching me!" I shouted and then sank an impression into his mind. RUN! All sound around the mall dropped to dead silence as people turned to look at the two of us. The look in his eye was pure terror. Several cell phones turned our way and I backed up from him. I sank the impression in his head again Busted! RUN!

He got up so fast and ran for the nearest exit like someone had lit the place on fire. He didn't even grab his bag of swag. Just high tailed it like a deer on steroids. The cell phones, cameras no doubt active, followed. Wicked! Just earned some peeps some hits on social media tonight, I thought.

Meryl was a little miffed at how folks looked at me as well when it happened, but it didn't stop him from giggling like a middle-schooler, reliving the memory as he teleported us back to his home. We later found out that the police had been looking for this guy. The vids went viral and police put a mug shot and a digital wanted poster to a couple of the vids. He was caught a few weeks later, trying to lure a 4th grader into his car at a local school. The girl was digitally savvy, though. She'd seen the vids, recognized the guy was who he was, and what he was, and she whipped out her own iPhone. The guy tried to get away, but she took video and got the tags of his rental car. Long story short, he was caught soon after.

It made me feel good to know that we prevented someone from doing something horrible. Made me feel better to know that he'd likely not see much daylight for a long time. Made Meryl feel better knowing that my face was a mostly hair-colored blur in all those vids. I suspected he had a hand in that, but when I asked, he only smiled and shook his head.

"Magic isn't responsible for every coincidence," he said, later, wearing only his Ninja Turtles tee shirt and munching on pizza. "We just make use of coincidence in the presence of the unenlightened."

"What does that mean?"

"Ah, well, think of it this way. If someone sees something that they believe could happen, then they don't challenge it. Their sense of what is reality doesn't screw up your magical effect."

"So, wait. You mean that what other people think can cancel what we do?"

" It can make it harder," he explained. "You might have to force it. Use more energy than you normally would. Magic is as much a battle of wills as it is energy manipulation. There's a fine art to doing things so that those still sleeping don't wake. So if something happens that is within the realm of expected possibilities, it's more believable."


" Say you are in a situation where you need to have a key, to open a safe or open a lock chain or something. It is conceivable and believable that you might have that key in your pocket, or hidden in the bottom of your pack. Something you ran across in your travels and just picked up, pocketed and kept. Like it was conceivable and believable that I could have your wallet stuffed in my shorts, remember? Your first lesson on Correspondence."

"Okay," I said, remembering what particular hat he pulled that rabbit from.

" So that is a coincidental effect. However, if I just waved my hand and POOF!" he said, waving his hand. I felt motion in my pants and opened my eyes in surprise. His fingers fluttered over his palm and my wallet dropped out of empty space. "And that is a vulgar effect. It works fine when anyone observing it is of the right mindset. An audience at a quote-unquote 'magic show,' fellow mages present, even other supernaturals. The presence of those watching can have a profound effect on when something that is conditioned to be impossible happens due to your magic use."

"That's screwy."

"It can be. The clever Mage utilizes coincidental magic rather than direct magic."

"Because challenging someone else's idea of reality can make it harder to do magic?"

" That. And because challenging someone else's idea of reality can get the unwise Mage, or anyone else for that matter, dead, dead, dead," he intoned, smacking one fist into another like a hammer pounding a ball of clay, and that ball flattening out with each hit.

"There are a lot of rules to this. So if we can't use it, all this reality altering stuff you are teaching me, why do we do it at all?"

"It is not that we can't use it. It's in how we choose to use it."


"I thought you were smarter than this," he sighed. Another slice of pizza entered his hand as he set up this next pearl. "You are familiar with guns, yes?" He took a bite and I nodded. "How about nuclear weapons?"

"I'm not carrying one, if that's what you mean."

"Oh yes you are," he mumbled around a mouthful of pepperoni, mushroom and sausage. "Okay, so your government…"

" Don't you mean our government?"

" Mercy, no! I didn't vote for those assholes! And stop interrupting me!"

"Sorry," I grinned, getting another slice myself.

"Your elected officials," he said, momentarily affecting what I assume was his true British Isles accent, "In their infinite stupidity, have far more nuclear weapons at their disposal than they will ever need. The things aren't practical in any battlefield where you intend to claim territory, they are ridiculously expensive to produce and maintain, and any enemy who needs to fear them has the technology to detect them and either counter them or launch their own similar weapons. So in a very real sense, they're practically…"

" Useless?" I finished, following his reasoning. "But… but balance of power? Nuclear deterrence? All of that crap from history class?"

"Oh sure, it makes political sense. Give the tax payers something to fear to keep winning elections, give your global adversaries the worry about the big stick, since your government is the only force in history to actually use these things offensively. And since the other side has them as well, have to keep the arsenal up to date. The sharpest spear, and all that rubbish. The weapons are there, they work, and they are constantly being refined. But they haven't been used in battle, ever. And even the two weapons that were used offensively were mostly aimed at industrial and population centers, not at taking out enemy forces in the field."

"So magic is like a nuke?"

" In that respect, yes. We train in its use so if we need it, we can do it. But we don't go flaunting that use because the moment we do we most assuredly will find someone that will challenge us."

I thought about his implications for a moment, paired it with something he'd said to me weeks ago. "Perils that await beyond just the shores of our pretty little world?"

His eyes narrowed and he took a bite of his pizza. That was all the confirmation that I needed to know about aliens.

"So training and nothing else?" I asked at length, having thought about things more.

"Not exactly," he shrugged, nibbling the cheesy edges off the crust in his hand. "When you are ready, we have a mission."

"Uh, whut?"

" Such eloquence," he deadpanned, tossing the crust up into the air behind him and Correspondencing it somewhere else. "Are you sure you're not a Kennedy?"

"Quit stalling," I returned. "What's this mission?"

"Oh, well, we're going to steal an artifact of great magical power from the presence of some lesser yet still quite potent and ancient artifacts of mystical power from one of the most secure places in Boston."


"In simpler terms, in deference to you, my young pupil," he said grandly, standing with a fresh slice of pizza in his hand. He raised the slice up overhead, which raised the hem of his shirt high enough for me to see his boy bits. I turned away, but had to look back to his face when he next spoke, dramatically. "We are going to get back my stone from the Museum of Fine Art Egyptian exhibit in Boston, three nights hence!"

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