The Fifth Age

by D'Artagnon

Chapter 3

The Minor Third

To say the least, I was skeptical. I was still new to this whole magic thing. I definitely wasn't sure I was up to the challenge of pulling a "breaking and entering." Much less breaking into a guarded museum. And besides that, considering what he'd just done to that nibbled down pizza crust, it brought one clear thought to my mind.

"So, you know where it is, this stone?"

"Of course I know where it is," he replied, impishly, dropping onto his butt, his legs crossing as he took a bite. Around some sloppy, and kinda gross, chewing, he said, "Anywhere on this planet I'd know where THAT stone is. It's been mine for longer than Christians had a new god to lie about."

"Well then, oh wise one, how come you couldn't go get it for yourself? Simple matter of Correspondence for you, I should think."

The scowl he threw my way could have melted concrete. This I know because I've seen him do it! Thankfully, he only intended to display his displeasure at my insolence rather than turn me into a puddle inside my own clothing.

"It's not so easy as I make it sound," Meryl replied at length. There was much hurt and humbleness in that reply. "If I could just reach out and take it, I would have done so long ago. As you know, working magic is not easy. The stresses it places upon even the body of a strapping young lad like yourself can be difficult to handle. Moreso on a body as physically young as I find myself stuck in for the last several decades.

"So that's why you need to train me?"

He sighed, laying he slice in his hand on his thigh, crossing his arms. "That artifact is one of the most powerful items on this planet. The fact that its true nature has gone unnoticed in all the time it's been where it rests is only a testament to how truly backwards your culture is. It is imperative that we get it out of there before it has more interactions with the other mystically charged instruments there."

"You say that, but I don't understand what that means," I said, using logic. "If I understood, maybe it would help me realize what the hell kind of crazy you're trying to talk me into now."

"Now you are thinking like a Mage," he grinned, leaning back into the cushion of his couch more. "Okay… nutshell," he said, sliding one hand under the pizza slice on his thigh, and the other hand under the hem of his shirt to adjust his bits and pieces. "When I lost possession of the Philosopher's Stone, it was paired with a similar object. The person who put them together thought it was Egyptian glass jewelry. And I can see that, the similarity. It matches many of the physical properties of ancient glass from that region." He looked over his slice of pizza for a moment and then took a huge bite. His way of stalling while he thought of how to express his thoughts more completely.

"The Stone sits with a pair of red gemstone earrings, carnelian, a wide glass bead and gemstone collar piece and a gray-gold serpent-shaped arm band ornament. It was set into a ring, mounted with a silver ankh holding the Stone in place. On top, the ankh bent slightly at top and bottom to hold the Stone in place."

"Wow, sounds amazing."

"I had created that silver ring mounting when I first found that Stone. I thought it to be my Foci, at the time. I soon learned it was far more than that."

"What was that word? It sounded important."

"Foci?" he asked, for clarification. I nodded. "A Foci is an object that either enhances a Mage's power and concentration, or enables the Mage to connect to a specific aspect of the Spheres."

"Oh," I said, not understanding at all.

"In some traditions, it is a wand made of a specific type of wood, or it could be an amulet, a crystal, some sort of charm woven into fabric or burned into wood or clay tablets. Some less savory types have used ceremonial daggers or other edged metal. It could be anything, really. As long as it meets two key criteria. The Foci cannot be currently living or inhabited by an Aware spirit. That's a different kind of object entirely. The Foci must also be something that the Mage can carry readily, for it may have to be part of his daily meditations. You see, it sort of resonates to you. Aligns its pattern with your own, either naturally or though sympathetic attunement."

"So, do I need a Foci?"

"By Jove, I believe you do," he said, as if coming to a realization. "I apologize, my pupil. Should have seen to explaining that lesson well before now. Something we should put to rights."

"So how will I know what to use? What sort of tradition do we follow?"

"Well, technically speaking, we don't follow the Traditions, purely. I've studied them all, been part of a few for a couple decades here and there, but only to figure out what they're about. I may have bought the t-shirt, but I didn't drink the Kool-aide, if you know what I mean." My face remained impassive, with a brief shrug of the shoulders indicating that I didn't get his point.

"Bloody colonists," he mumbled. "Let's assume we are making our own tradition here. Which means you aren't bound by any preconceived notions of what your Foci may be. Now, keep in mind, a Foci isn't a magically imbued object in and of itself. At least it may not necessarily start out as such. It is merely a guide. A crutch, if you will. Something to help you do the heavy lifting without actually doing any of that work on its own."

"So like, jewelry would work?"

"It could. Part of it what makes a Foci work is in what you use it for, too. Like a crystal or viewing glass used for divination."

"Crystal ball," I nodded.

"Or a cauldron for those making potions. A ritual knife, as I said before, if cutting or bloodletting is necessary for whatever magic you are performing."

"I get the feeling that someone can have more than one Foci," I said.

"It is possible. Different uses, so different objects. I have had to use different Foci throughout my learning experiences. But it's not just an object either."

"You lost me," I blurted out after several seconds of curious blinking. Felt like he'd just reset my software with that statement.

"Foci can be non-physical things."

"Durr, okaaaaay?"

"Chanting, like in Native American ceremonies, specific sung or played melodies and rhythms, reciting mantras, spoken phrases in ancient languages," he enumerated.

"Like magic words and spells?" I asked.

"Er, well, yes. But we'll get into more of that later. But even dances or walking a pattern laid out upon the ground, all of these can be Foci. The action can be a stimulus to the fueling of a pattern. Anything from a simple exercise routine to highly involved martial arts movements."

"This is complicated and weird."

"Indeed. Weird. Or more to the point, Wyrd."


"Didn't we go over this already? The word you call weird, meaning strange or uncommon, comes from the original word wyrd, meaning a force that affects mankind. Weather is wyrd. Fire is wyrd. Music and the spoken word are wyrd."

"Which means that magic itself is wyrd?" I asked.

"There may be hope for you yet," Meryl smiled, shoving another mouthful of pizza into his face.

"So, could something like food be a Foci?"

He nodded, finishing his chewing. "Or ritual fasting. Oh, and drugs. Although you should probably avoid those unless you are prepared for what they may do to your body and consciousness. But yes, there have been cultures throughout history that use medicines to alter their states of consciousness in order to enact magic, or at the very least touch the spirit world. It can be a powerful experience."

"Good to know. Okay, so… I'm a Mage and I'm looking for a Foci that will help me do my magic. It needs to be something either personal, practical or something that resonates with how I do magic, right?" He nodded, finishing up his 'za. "What is your Foci?"

"Oh, I have many. Sometimes I use a wand. Sometimes I use a knife that I looted from an Egyptian mummy."

"I'm sensing a lot of Egyptian stuff from you."

"I spent a few centuries bouncing around the Nile," he said dismissively. "You pick up a few things."

"You do know that your timeline isn't really making a lot of sense to me, right?"

"Time magic is a curious thing," was all he said, grinning and leaning back on the couch. His shirt moved up some and I sort of instinctively looked away. "Wish I could bring modern tech back to the true glory of the ancient times. What your culture doesn't know about the ancient world would blow your friggin' minds. Not only their social norms, but the stuff they could do. Mind boggling how far things have fallen."

"Sounds like some ancient astronauts bullshit," I chuckled. Then I looked over, at the serious look in his eyes. "Nosir!" I breathed out in shock.

"Yeeeess," he grinned back, nodding.

"Are you saying…" I began, but he sat up abruptly, cutting me off.

"We are going 'round in circles here other than what we must focus upon. We can discuss the actual uses of the pyramids and what your government is keeping secret from you at another time. Right now we have two goals we must work towards at once. First, finding you an appropriate Foci, and second, preparing for our little trip to the MFA."

"You still haven't told me why you can't just reach out and grab it like when you shuttled me off to a mountain top in Alaska without even stepping out of the foyer."

"Like I said, in my present form I am limited to how much energy I can use, and how much stress I can take in working higher magics. Altering reality might be something I'm good at… very good at," he emphasized, inclining his head. "But for what we have to do to get the Stone, I simply do not have the stamina, energy or resistance to pull it off."

"Why not?"

"Because," he said, "I'm a millennia old Mage stuck in the body of a child."

"I get that part. What aren't you telling me?"

"The museum is owned by a powerful group of individuals. Not all of them from this world, originally."

"More aliens," I groaned.

"Closer to demons, in this case. Among other things. Some are Mages as well. Regardless of their origins, even those from this world are not to be taken lightly. Some of the artifacts stored there, in plain sight, are potent magic items in their own rights. So just like any normal person would do with valuable and potentially dangerous things, there are… precautions."


"At the very least," he sighed.

"Traps?" I asked, starting to think this was less and less a good idea.

"More than likely."

"Magic using guards?!"

"I use them, why wouldn't they."

"I'm not ready for this, Meryl," I said, standing. I went to go put away the pizza, but he got in my way. I tried to move around him, and… he literally multiplied into three bodies, holding the central part of my path and one copy to either side. "Stop dickin' around," I said, moving to go around him. To be honest, I wasn't sure if he'd just used some sort of illusion or if he'd actually triplicated himself. Neither answer would have satisfied me.

Okay, yeah. I was kinda nervous about what he had in mind. Even using magic to do so, which sounded like a really cool movie idea, actually, meant we were breaking into a place to steal some shit. I mean, how could I ever walk past that place ever again without knowing what I'd done. I'm not a bad person. Stealing just isn't my thing. Nor is busting into a museum all because a centuries old pipsqueak tells me his magic ring is in there and he wants it back. The guilt would be like, overwhelming. How could I look at my parents, my sisters or my little dweeb of a brother, knowing that I'd betrayed everything I was ever taught about right and wrong?

"We have to do this, Marco," he said, his voice echoing in triple. Either he was making the illusion complete with sound, or he really had made himself a triplet. "We must."


"The Philosopher's Stone… it is more than just a magical object. It focuses and funnels magic energy. It bleeds magic into this realm from a place where it has a slightly different feel to the magic here. A different flavor, one might say."

"Oh, might one?" I asked, sarcastically.

"Indeed. One… might," he intoned, asserting his side of our student-teacher relationship. "As a result of this blending of energies and the patterns involved, certain powerful artifacts have created… there is no simple way to say this… alternate effects to what they were intended by their original builders."

"You mean, the magic from your ring, from the stone of your ring, because of where it is kept, which is out of your reach, it is screwing up other magic things kept at the same place?"

"Yes," all three of him nodded.

"Has this caused problems?"

He looked up to my eyes with such a sad expression. "It has. And the consequences are dire indeed."

"How so?"

"Do you recall the night you were brought to my home? The night you defeated my chessboard trap?"


"You met that night four different flavors of supernaturals, not including me. Changeling, Werewolf, Psychic and Ægyptian."


"No, say it with me. Aeey-gipt-shan. Ægyptian."

"Ægyptian, okay. Werewolf is pretty self-explanatory. Psychic seems pretty cut and dry too. And you said the Changelings were like the faeries of myth. What are Ægyptians?"

"We Mages aren't the only beings who can warp reality at will. All of those groups have some way of altering the structure of the world around them. Not at the profound and complicated levels that we can, but they trade our cosmic power and strength for more direct and facile ways of doing things. Werewolves are closely linked with nature and spiritual matters. Mother Nature's body guards, you might say. Changelings are sort of stuck here on their own repeating path of immortality. Refugees from a world they can't get back to, although it's actually much more complicated than that. More complicated than most of them can remember, actually. The last two types… that's where the legends of gods and monsters spring from."


"Eventually," he said, clearly agitated, "all of humanity will evolve and develop to the point where they are like us. Mages. That sort of enlightenment may take millennia to finally happen, but it is where the race as a whole is headed. The Psychics and Ægyptians are early signs of this happening. And there have always been such people around. Just not in the numbers I'm seeing lately. Certainly not as concentrated into an area like this."

"Does this have to do with the moon landings again?"

"Clever boy. Yes. About the time I was cast backwards, biologically speaking, and the ring came into possession of its current… curators," he couldn't bring himself to say that the ring had someone else as an owner, "it was placed with those other artifacts, each of which has a slight amount of intrinsic magic to them as well. Spells for health, virility, cunning, that sort of thing, were often laid on personal objects during that time period, similar to how in Christian sects blessings are placed upon things. The Catholics do it all the time, although I have to admit that when actual faith is instilled in their holy water it does have interesting results."

"You're drifting off point," I reminded him.

"Right, so, as you say, Psychics have an unusually close connection to the Mind Sphere, occasionally touching on Life, Spirit, Forces and Entropy. And there have always been Psychics. Different theories for that, but that's for another time. The Ægytpians are another story entirely."

"You said, gods and monsters."

"You have to understand, from what we've discussed before, that belief is the thing. It is the powerful force that controls what reality is. The more people that believe a thing, the more real, the more reinforced the reality of it is. Even though you and I could alter some common aspect of reality at will, if enough people are around who don't believe what we are doing is possible, it may rupture reality in many strange and dangerous ways, or it may simply cancel out the magic entirely."

"But not these Ægytpians?" I asked.

"They come around in large groups only once or twice a millennia. They tend to gather at times, maybe adopt a certain culture, maybe just advocate for the culture that raised them. When they band together, all across the Egyptian kingdom periods, through Greece, across lower Asia, they sometimes inspire tales of the gods, or children of the gods."

"So, they have abilities like us?"

"Yes and no. Often there is some component of enhanced physical abilities. Usually some form of direct energy manipulation. Always some form of heightened senses and mental abilities. They are stronger, faster, quicker than normal humans. And generally they don't age, healing at phenomenal rates only bested by the Were creatures, who heal almost instantly all but the most grievous of wounds."

"So, like Hercules? Achilles? Atalanta?"

"Yes. All based off of real beings. And there have been many over the centuries. El Cid in Spain. Solomon and Samson from biblical times. Musashi. Joan of Ark. Rasputin. And probably thousands more that you never heard of, both as heroes and villains. My point is, I have traced a sudden explosion in such Psychics and Ægyptians in recent years. I've even made contact with several. And this most recent swelling of both has a trigger."

"Your Stone?" Might have sounded like a question, but we both knew it was an answer.

"I have been to the museum many times over the years. I've felt the powerful enchantments laid on the displays. Some are there to keep the objects inert, some are to prevent theft. Sadly, most aren't done right and the patterns occasionally bump into each other, entangle, share energy."

"And you think that your Stone has done this?"

"I will show you, and you can witness for yourself the tangled mess of patterns there, all feeding off the Stone and altering each other. All save for one."

"Why am I sure I'm not going to like this?"

"Because you actually do have a head above your shoulders that you think with, as opposed to just the one in your undies that you don't," he smirked, reaching out with three right hands to poke the front of my pants. I almost expected a cartoon sound effect. "The one that the Stone hasn't altered is very old. Egyptian. A stele with the ancient Egyptian incantations from the Book of the Dead carved into red granite. Some bright boy got the idea to actually post the translation beside the stele. And the words still work because the stele is a powerful resurrection artifact."


"He may have known about it, but let's not go down that path just yet. Suffice it to say, the Stone and the stele have been interacting for a while. And while the old magic in that carving is not being used as intended, with all the ritual and directed quintessence as it should, the spoken words, the mere touch of flesh to stone and the energy flowing through the Philosopher's Stone seemed to have combined. It has altered several people, likely jump starting genetics within them. I believe that this went on for a very limited period about 20 to 30 years back. We are seeing now the results of the mutations that combination of patterns has caused."

"So, this is a good thing?" I asked.

"Look at the state of the youth of this country now. School shootings. Children getting pregnant at younger and younger ages. Crime rates among juveniles skyrocketing. Sexual assaults. Kids attacking each other if one of them shows even a hint of belonging to an alternative sexuality. The breakdown of family relationships and moral behavior. And now, the rise of more beings with powers, more ritualized killing. Unstable kids becoming more unstable and a culture that pushes them towards violence while simultaneously telling them they cannot have an outlet for those violent feelings. Now give those young people just one extreme ability like ours, or like the Psychics and Ægyptians. What does that equal to you?"

I sat down, dumbfounded. So much of the world had been stripped bare for me, laid out for what it really was as far as magic and the cosmos was concerned. And now, bringing it back to the human level, I realized that this was a level of power and understanding that humans just weren't ready for yet. I mean, it's one thing to read it in some trashy sci-fi novel, which are among my favorite kind, concepts like racial maturity, commonality of conscience or even responsibility at a global level. But to realize that if you give a bunch of unstable, unaware, unconscionable folks powers like this they'd become the worst sorts of despots, scum and villainy… it boggles the mind.

Modern people suck.

"So," I said at length, realizing yet again that he was right. "I need a Foci?"

"Meditate on it tonight, before you masturbate," he said simply. "Nothing more will I teach you today."

I did meditate on it, so much so that I didn't finish the last of his "proscription" for my evening. I did get woken up about two in the morning when my little brother passed through the "jack-n-jill" bathroom between our bedrooms. He gets night terrors and sometimes wakes up and just comes into my room. Kills any sort of privacy in having the door unlocked all the time. But then again, Ethan never did anything quiet. You could have a clear eight-foot channel with no obstructions between his bed and mine and he'd find every wall, piece of furniture and scattered thing dropped on the floor on the way and bang into in some sonically significant way.

So I scooted over, let him have some covers and tried to get back to sleep. Wasn't happening. My mind kept wandering.

Dawn came too soon. I got Ethan out of bed and off to his Jedi class at the Y, barely making it to the bus on time because he forgot his athletic supporter and we had to scramble all over his room to find it. For the record, it was stuffed into a ball in the bottom of a bucket of Legos. Without missing a beat, he dropped his pants, pulled one leg out, wiggled himself into the jock strap and then shimmied his leg back into the pants, all without taking his shoes off. Kid's got talent.

I cut out the back door and hiked over to Meryl's home. I sent my vision forward to see what Meryl's state of dress was. I had accidentally walked in on him stroking it a few weeks back, and I had no intention of doing so again. It was odd to see such a little kid being so sexual, even if only with himself. That's kinda a private thing, and as much as I rail on him for being a dirty prick, I also respect him enough to give him his own time.

I walked just to the edge of the property, bounded by a hip high wall of local stones, mostly flat ones cut just so they stack better. As I approached the wall, I noticed that the bird and bug noises were absent. Not entirely uncommon for things to be quiet, especially since I usually just walked up to the wall from the back side of the house, parked my butt on the wall and just swung my legs over.


Something was off, however. I couldn't put my finger on it. So I choose to put my powers to use. I set my pack on the wall and made like I was looking into it. That gave me a moment. I tapped into my Correspondence point and sent it way up over my head. From there, I could look down on the world below, as if I were looking through a drone camera.

I swept my gaze around me from above, slowly panning the forest and hillside. Nothing moved on the trail. Nothing stirred in the grasses up the hillside. Nothing moved in the tall waves of growing sweet corn stalks that had shot up in the last month, bracketing Barnie's Burger Barn on one side. All seemed clear, all seemed calm. Not a creature was stirring.

And then I saw it. And man, oh man, am I ever glad I saw it first.

Something jumped from behind one tree to behind another tree, closing the gap on me, from my backside. It was upright, walking or running rather well. But it was only about four and a half feet tall. I couldn't make out any details because of how quickly it moved and the foliage between my sensory focus and the ground. But it was definitely moving like it was trying to sneak up on me. And I got the feeling that it loped about on all fours.

I needed to make a choice. It was close enough now that I felt a little threatened. It was maybe four or five trees back, so a short run and it could be on me. Clearly the thing intended to get a little closer before making its dash, if attack was its goal. If I wanted to use my full potential, I needed to remain unseen by normal folk. Which I guess worked in my stalker's favor as well. Neither of us had any advantage in being seen doing our thing.

I was still about a hundred yards from the wall surrounding Meryl's place, and the static magical protection awaiting there. The thing following me was less than that, perched halfway up an ancient elm tree, hidden in the shadows of the forest. Which meant I was on my own. I suddenly wished I had only had one glass of milk this morning while getting Ethan breakfast. My bladder was in need of some nervous relief.

I should explain, I'm not a good fighter. I suck at sports, never did well in PE. In middle school I was termed "coordinationally challenged" by my peers. Well, that's the polite version of what was said. They actually said I had the reflexes of a dead pregnant snail, whatever that means. So as you can guess, thinking that I was about to be attacked made me feel kinda sick. I needed to calm myself, be ready to focus. Which just reminded me even more that I didn't have a foci yet.

I closed my eyes. Inhaled. Exhaled, making that breath out longer than the breath in had been. Just like Meryl taught me. Find my center. Relaaaaaaax.

I heard a branch shift suddenly as the stalker jumped from one tree to another. Then the movement of underbrush as the stalker dropped to the ground, whether by accident or design, I didn't know. All I did know was that it put the creature on my level. The ground. That opened up options for me.

"I know you are there," I said, opening my eyes. I could feel the magic gathering behind my eyes, ready to drop into a number of patterns I had already hung about me, some for weeks now. It was a simple idea. You create the pattern, then when you need to use that pattern, you fuel the pattern with quintessence. Voila, magic!

"Don't matter," the thing said, it's voice sounding squeaky but dark. Twisted-like. "Gonna rip your head off and feast on your neck blood, Magi!" the creature shouted, stepping out of the shadows. It strode around the thick bole of an oak tree, stooped over. It wasn't all that big, but very muscular. Wispy long hair caught the morning sun and gave the thing a sort of halo, enhancing its size but still transparent enough to let me see its sinews. Not exactly the most elegant of nature's creatures, but certainly built for speed and moving well in the trees and on the ground. No clothing, no weapons, but some creatures, I much later discovered, did extremely well in the universe without the need of either.

It was set up mostly along the human pattern. Two arms and legs, evenly set up, a head set above the body, although for some reason the head looked more like a cross between a lizard and a dog of some kind. The eyes were feral and focused upon me as if I was between it and its next meal. Which based on his statement, I probably was. Both.

"Leave!" I said, with confidence I didn't feel.

"I must destroy you," it replied. Crap, I thought, as it rushed me. It was covering ground towards me far faster than I could muster to reach the border wall. Time to unleash that reality altering power of mine, I thought.

It leapt for me, impossibly, from over twenty feet away. The arch was high but relatively flat, its body coming at me like a missile, arms flashing forward to reach for my ME. I wasn't sure what he was going to grab when he landed on me. Didn't much care. Anything he got a hold of likely would mean I'd be lunchmeat.

I reached into the ground with my mind, tapping into the Matter Sphere, linking it with Forces and ripped upwards. A large boulder, buried several feet beneath the ground, shot up at my command, intercepting the creature's path. You would have thought that such a rupture of the ground would have made more noise. Or that the sudden appearance of tons of rock blasting up from the ground intercepting the short menace charging me would have given the creature some pause.

I shit you not, it grabbed the rock as if said rock were moving in slow motion. And then… there is really no other way to describe this. I mean, you gotta picture it. The rock was easily as big as a small car, rotating, shooting up out of the ground with all kinds of dirt and grass particles flinging into the air. Like really impressive, at least I thought. The creature grabbed onto the rock and crawled around it like a spider. Like it was locked onto attacking me and just used the rock as part of some obstacle course to get to me. Would have been wicked impressive if it wasn't trying to kill me.

It climbed about on the rock as it rolled and rode it back to the ground as my concentration lagged and gravity reasserted itself. I didn't have a lot of time to react. I closed my eyes and grabbed the energy, the quintessence itself, and focused on the Forces Sphere. I needed something that was universally feared and could be rapidly deployed.

You guessed it, brother. I conjured fire! Grabbed the wrist of my left hand with my right, focused my attention while my left fist curled into a fist and then let the quintessence flow as I opened my left hand. A torrent of flame blasted out of my palm, far faster than I had expected it would. It actually had a recoil effect and I took an unconscious step back.

I guess my aim sucks too. The creature hit the ground to the left of the gaping hole I'd pulled the rock out of and tumbled to the side as the line of fire passed over its head. I moved to track the tongue of fire after the creature but it jumped behind the boulder for cover. So I kept pumping energy into the stream of flames and covered the rock with them. I expected the creature to come around the other side of the rock, using the fact that it was on fire as a way to hide from me just the split second it would take to get to me.

Shows what I know. The thing bounded up over the rock, nearly intersecting the stream of flame and rolled. It came up on all fours, like a miniature gorilla. And in that sort of bent over position, it rushed me again, coming at me from my right side away from my personal flame thrower trick. It moved fast, faster than I should have been able to turn to redirect the flame. It was going to get me, and rip my head off and drink my neck blood as my heart spit it out like some hyper-gory anime.

So I cheated. You might say that all Magi cheat. It is, after all, what our powers are based on. Changing the rules of the game. But I'm still alive to write all this stuff down, so I guess that cheating on physics was the right thing to do. Still channeling quintessence, I let the fire go, stepped back so that I could see the creature and the burning boulder in the same view and hoped my aim was good today. I let it get almost to me, it's arms reaching out high with extended claws way over my head. I could smell its horrid breath, feel the heat of its hairy body as it leapt to spear me, bite me, rip my fuckin' head off.

And that's when I dropped the quintessence in my body into the pattern I had with Correspondence. It ran into a razor thin plane of my own thought and it shifted from right in front of me, to barreling headlong into the burning boulder, at full leaping speed. It slammed into the rock with a crunching, wet sound, punctuated by a pain filled grunt, and then the weird, meaty sound of something smashing into the ground.

It lay still, but I could see it still breathing. So I gathered the last of my energy and pulled the flaming rock on top of it, crushing it slowly as the boulder rolled, making a very gross sound as the fluid remaining in its body squished out through its skin. Not sure which way it went out… pretty sure I didn't want to know.

A moment later, I realized I was sitting on the ground, winded. My body felt tingly, but weak. Like my every pulse didn't seem to move around in my body, just jumped in place, in and out, in and out. But I was still alive. None of my juice was on the grass, ripped out of me.

I also realized that I wasn't alone. Meryl stood beside me, his hand on my shoulder asking if I was okay. My only response was to point at the flame shrouded stone, the thing that had tried to digest me from the neck down, and the huge hole in the ground. I just gestured and mumbled wordlessly.

For his part, Meryl shoved a bottle of that purple sports drink he's always guzzling. I felt really dehydrated all of a sudden and didn't complain. I think I almost Correspondenced it direct into y stomach, I drank it so fast. It felt odd going down so cold in my body like that. I could feel my esophagus contract at the sudden change in temperature down my body's core.

You never really understand adrenaline rush and fall off until you have to fight for your life, and win. I almost tossed up the sports drink, but had the presence of mind to keep it down. I needed that oddly after-tasting liquid right then, as much as I needed air.

"Fucking kobold!" Meryl said, coming back to stand by my side. "Rimbor tribe, from the smell of him. Did he say anything to you?"

"Was gonna rip off my head," I said, gesturing with my hand flat, slicing across my neck.

"And drink down your neck blood, no doubt."

"Tha's what he said," I answered, letting my hand drop to my leg.

"Yes, they normally do. It's part of a ritual they use for replenishing their strength and vitality."

"He had plenty of that," I replied, feeling whoozy and angry in equal measure. "He said he had to destroy me. What's up with that?"

"The Rimbor tribe of kobolds can track magic. They smell it. Like a bloodhound. Makes them really good at finding and digesting Mages. They believe that by drinking Mage blood they can renew themselves eternally." He sank to his knees beside me and looked me in the eyes.

"Can they? Am I an eternity juice box, now?"

Meryl looks at me with that little boy's face and those eternal eyes. "If they get enough, and its potent enough blood, they can. Several different ways." I lay back in the grass, feeling a little less happy about being a Mage. "Kobolds have a strange ability. They can hold fluids in their stomachs for up to five weeks without digesting, making them the ultimate drug mules. You seem to have emptied him of a few weeks of stored liquids."

"Oh, is this gonna make me sick to know right now? Cuz I'm pretty close to being sick if it is."

"The details of the rituals they could do aren't important right now. We have a few decades for you to learn them." I should say now, that him saying we had decades didn't slip under my radar. "What is important is to figure out what extra was sloshing around in his corrupted innards."

"He moved pretty well for a drug mule."

"Yes, well, that's what they do. Move well, hunt well, drink without spilling a drop."

"Didn't need to hear the last bit," I said, punctuating my statement by lifting my hand as I spoke and then letting it fall to my chest as I finished, with a soft "ow," for my own benefit.

"Right. Can you manage to get back to the castle, pour yourself into a chair… or just kneel before the toilet and let fly in there."

"I can get there. No guarantees about not decorating the floor."

"Just get an orange once you get in. Slice it and inhale deeply before you eat it. The citrus smell will actually help you get your skull back in order."

I made it back to the Castle, as it were, not sure what I was feeling. My body felt weird, coming back down from all the magic I'd channeled as well as the adrenaline. I didn't puke, but I did surely contemplate it. I peed like a gallon and then just sat there on the pot, unsure of what I needed to do next. My head was swimming.

Kobold? Drinking my blood. Carrying my dead blood around in his body for weeks. I dunno what concept upset me more. Worse still, I wasn't sure I really wanted to know what all else was out there, ready to pounce me. I mean, was I now a target for things that wanted to use me for magical spare parts?

Okay, so I'd survived my first fight as a Mage. I'd used my wits, kept my cool, mostly, and fought with magic against a threat that I had no chance against hand to hand. I mean, none. At all. I suck at anything physical. It was going to literally take my blood into it's mouth! From my severed neck!

I heard Meryl walk into the house. Okay, walk isn't really the right word. I heard him dragging the kobold's body into the house and down to his lab. I didn't want to know what he intended to do with it. After he did whatever he did, I heard him walk into the bathroom. For the record, I had reacquainted myself with both the toilet and the floor, sort of leaning on one and unable to fall off the other. You figure out which is which.

"You feeling okay, kid?" he asked. I looked up and immediately looked away. He stood there, bare as the day he was born, covered in what I can only hope was the kobold's blood, and not whatever was in the thing's stomach.

"Awe, seriously?" I said, turning away. "Do you have to?"

"What, I don't want to smell like dead kobold all day. I'm getting in the shower. It's my house, my rules."

He got into the shower mumbling again, and the water soon started up. For someone so short, he sure managed to get a lot of overspray to rain on me over the shower curtain. I leveraged myself up off the toilet and stumbled out of the bathroom. I didn't risk a look back, knowing he might be doing something less than PG 13, although I'm pretty sure all 13-year-olds do it.

I returned to the kitchen and the second half of orange I had cut open. He had been right about the scent reviving me, clearing my head. I sat in the living room, watching the pendulum motion of the grandfather clock, recounting the events of the attack in my head. I realized that I hadn't grabbed my bag when I left the battle scene. Meryl apparently was on top of his game, however, and had brought the bag in as well. Good thing, because I wasn't in much of a mood to go get it just yet. Returning to that spot right now was about the last thing on my mind.

I kept returning to how fast it had been. How intense the look on the kobold's face was as it advanced on me. How it had run sideways on the rock, like a monkey only with more evil in it's horrible eyes. How the thing was trying to kill me for my blood. I mean, my freaking blood! What else was out there trying to kill me?

And how casual was Meryl about the whole thing? It didn't even phase him. It didn't even spark a bit of worry in him that I'd been attacked. Was this sort of thing going to happen over and over in my life now?

How the hell did he think I was anywhere near ready to break into a magically fortified, alien and/or monster guarded, trap filled museum, steal his magic rock ring and get out in one piece if just facing one nightmare was enough to do me in like this. How the hell?

I mean… seriously?

Meryl strode back from the bathroom in just a towel. Not even wrapped around his waist towel, draped over his shoulders towel. Open to the center, towel. He even had part of it in his hand, drying his messy hair, towel. I looked away, taking another bite of my orange half.

"Scary stuff, huh?" he commented, pulling the towel closed around his front, covering up all that made him a boy. For a moment, draped like he was in that teal towel, he seemed like he was the Merlyn of legend. Not the impossibly rude, crude and sexually lewd little jerk I knew he could be. He seemed suddenly compassionate, understanding, wise even.

And so fucking calm.

"Yeah. Scary." I could feel this was going to turn into one of those lectures where I act out of emotion and he puts me in my place. And that all by itself, knowing how this was likely to end, made me mad.

"Look, you're still new to this. And yeah, we're going very quickly through your training. But for a reason. I know this thing out there…"

"This thing?" I interrupted, indignantly. "You mean the blood drinking, head ripping engine of my possible death, that tracked me to your home… that thing?"

"Okay, calm your jets. Yeah, there's a lot of bad things out there that can likely kill you. Those things were always out there. It's nothing new, just new to you. If you think about it, which is still a new concept to you," he added snidely, gripping the edges of the towel up by his chest, looking like that midget professor from Hogwarts. He continued, in professorial manner, "there are a lot of unexplained deaths and disappearances that this newly revealed aspect of reality explains. And yeah, there's more danger in your life now that you're Awakened. That's simply the truth. But because of my training you survived. And you did so spectacularly. Not how I would have done it, but…"

"Meryl… I'm not ready yet. I tore up the country side. I-I-I nearly burned up the forest. He nearly got me. He nearly ate me!" He let me breathe several seconds without comment, those eyes of his just staring straight into me, like he was waiting for me to figure something out. "I'm not ready, Meryl. I'm not ready for Boston."

"No, you're not," he agreed. "You are getting there, however. This fight proves you are at least thinking like a Mage. Like a survivor."

"You knew the kobold was there," I realized. "You knew."

"I suspected. And in all honesty, I hoped it would do just as it did."

"Why?" I asked, almost in tears.

"Because moments of truth are never pretty. Nor are they predictable. But they are necessary."


"Yes, necessary. Stop repeating everything I say as a question. You are wasting time," he said, taking a space on his couch. He sat cross legged at first but just let his calves drop off the edge, thighs open, towel open. I didn't care if he was on display again.

"Look, Marco. It's a dangerous world we inhabit as Awakened. I had to know you can hold your own when the shit hits the fan. And you proved you could. I couldn't warn you or you'd be blasting stray cats and fire hydrants every time a shadow spooks you. I couldn't anticipate when something would try to eat you for breakfast because then I'd have to defend you, defeating the purpose. The only way you truly learn to swim is by getting wet. Today, you got…."

"Don't," I said, holding up my hand, "don't finish that."

"I was going to say you got your first taste of what's really going on. And you have learned well my lessons about controlling the power inside you, not losing your head. And you won."

"I outlived, you mean."

"In the end, that's all that matters," he said. "Survival. Have you thought about a Foci yet?" And just like that, he'd won the discussion and I was left having to admit defeat without knowing that I was fighting.

"I tried. Nothing came to mind."

"Well maybe it should be something to focus your Forces better. You did great with Matter, and the fire stream was a brilliant choice. But your aim was a bit off."

"Yeah," I replied, sighing.

"Give it some thought. I'll be back in a few hours. Get your head together." And he wandered up to his room.

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