3 Jan 2006
The fog dissipated and they were suddenly in the parking lot of a church in the deep south. The lawn sloped gently toward the road which did the same to the left. It was overcast and chilly. A slight drizzle had fallen and puddled on the sidewalks. But most had simply run off.
As soon as he got out of the passenger side of the ’86 Cadillac, Matt reached inside his duster and adjusted the humidity setting. The dampness made it feel at least fifteen degrees cooler than it was. His beard, which he kept trimmed at about an inch and a half had curled up in a frizzy array. But it was the pressure on his chest that made him dislike the current weather.
“At least there are no gnats, Matty-boy! In the summer, they’re hellacious,” said Agent Dan Grant, locking up the car. “So what did you think of that healing lesson Lars taught?”
Matt put his hat on and grimaced a bit. “I was not expecting that! It would have been less surprising if Smith had been the one to stab me in the ribs than Anderson.”
“Yes, Old Man Smith seems more the type to press his students into violence. That’s for sure!”
“I now see what I didn’t that first day when you told us to ‘enjoy the mayhem!’ I mean, I understand why he did it, but it was such a shocker. After that, fighting with real weapons and seeing my arm cut to the bone wasn’t nearly as frightening”
“Right. If you’re fast enough, you can heal anyone.” Grant just smiled knowingly as he walked toward the northeastern corner of the chapel.
“I had a two-on-one mêlée against the Twins...”
“Your squad had a set of twins?”
“They weren’t really twins, they just acted like they were. And they were aggressive. Let’s just say, I learned to fight dirty.”
Grant paused and perked up his ear. He turned around. “What is Rockwell’s counsel on war?”
“‘Don’t be guilty of the first or the second offense, but take them out, on the third.’”
“What is his counsel on the defense of a client?”
“’Always assume there’s an assassin.”
He glanced around the gloomy landscape. The thing that had surprised him the most in the sudden drive between locations was the change of temperatures. What passed for the dead of winter here in Tifton, Georgia would have been more like early spring in Orem, Utah after the snow had melted and before the green came back. But it was chilly. All the grass was brown, like dead thatch. It crunched when he walked on it. The evergreen trees didn’t look like they were exactly dormant, but they weren’t at their best either. The others had all lost their leaves. There was less foliage around the chapel than the houses, in the surrounding neighborhood.
Matt eyed Grant hoping to nip the lesson in the bud, and asked, “Now, just what is our mission?”
“We’re here to check the warding on this chapel.”
Matt could see the three golden lines of mana almost like an electric fence that his uncle had on his farm in Idaho. They surrounded the entire five-acre site. There was no roofing and the entrances to the parking lot were not warded, either. The building itself, however, was somewhat warded.
“What’s with the fence around the site? It doesn’t seem to be effective in keeping out much of anything.”
Grant chuckled. “That’s not what it’s for. It’s advertisement that this is our boundary and if you’re well behaved you can come in through the front entrance.”
“Oh, that actually makes sense.”
“You remember the intense warding on the Salt Lake Temple...”
“Yeah, that’s why I was surprised about this chapel. Mine in Orem is much more warded than this one.”
“Yours is probably a huge Stake Center. These smaller chapels aren’t as heavily guarded.”
They walked to the entrance. Grant unlocked the glass doors with a subtle glow, and they stepped into the foyer. They stood near an ornate couch next to a small end table holding a lamp and a vase of silk flowers. Cloud filtered sunlight was streaming in through the wall of windows that the doors were attached to, so they didn’t turn on any lights. The walls had paintings depicting scenes from the life of Jesus. The one before them showed him healing a blind man.
Grant activated a menu window. “You haven’t been added to the system yet, have you?” He turned his attention from the information in the golden lines and looked Matt full in the face.
“Uh, no, not yet,” he stammered. “I’m on a tag-along-and-observe mission.”
“Yes, you’re still a Cherub. This mission is so easy that I could actually do it faster alone. But we always work in pairs for safety. Part of my mission is to babysit you through the process. Some of my colleagues just do the task and ignore the kid. But, it’s going to be less boring for both of us if I talk you through it. Tell me what you see.” He clicked on a small image and a much larger one popped into view.
Matt looked at the image before them. “I think this is the chapel outlined in mana.”
“Good. Why are the outlines like that?”
“It must show the usage of mana in holding and maintaining the wards around the building.”
“The fact that the caption says that didn’t hurt did it?” the mentor chuckled, pointing at the words below the image. “Why do you think we need to ward a chapel? Isn’t this holy ground?”
“I am not really sure what warding does. But maybe it protects the building from being altered by a mana override? or alerts DAHQ that an attack is underway? I can’t imagine that it happens very often.”
“You’re right on all three accounts. It shunts the energy of the mana down into the ground, away from the building. No one can change the wardings or enter other than by the doors. And we were sent here because HQ got word that there was an anomaly of some sort. I don’t see one here in the chapel wards.
“Curious.” He ran his finger along several of the lines. down the edge of one wall of the image, and along a major, mana route. He turned his head and then frowned. He followed another route to the very same spot and then a third. “Curious. What do you see, Matt.”
“Lines,” he shrugged. “I really don’t recognize any of it.” He paused. “Wait, I think there’s an imbalance in the usage of the available mana.”
“Well, yeah, That’s why we came.”
“No, I mean right here.” Matt pointed at a very small line coming off the south end of the chapel, the same place his mentor had located.
“Sharp eye. That’s powering up the boundary barrier.” Grant locked the front door and reset the warding. “Come on,” he said as he walked down the corridor toward the back of the building. They put their hats back on, exited, and walked along a small line of mana three-eighths of an inch above the asphalt to the back boundary.
“Okay, this barrier, here along the southern edge of the property, is not supposed to draw much power off the spike the chapel uses. But like you saw on the image on the window, something back here is drawing more mana than expected.” He stood in the chill winter air and pointed. “You take the western edge and I’ll take the eastern. We’ll meet in the middle..”
It didn’t take very long. “Grant!” he called. “I found it.” His mentor came running over.
“You found something, Hamblin?” It was the first time that a manamancer had called Matt by his last name. It was as if he was suddenly worth listening to. He couldn’t help smiling as he pointed out an obvious splice in the boundary line town into the ground. He threw down a small spike, merged it with the splice and followed it.
“It goes to that house over there.” He pointed to his right. It looked just like the other upper-middle-class houses in the neighborhood. But it glowed a bit.
“Someone is using mana over there.”
“Yeah,” said Matt. “Our mana!”
“Calm down, Matt. It’s not very much, and it’s probably been going on for quite a while. Let’s go pay them a visit.”
They walked to the street on the west side of the property and took the short trip south to the house by the corner of the parking lot.
It was a rambling one-story, brick house with brown shutters. There was a huge Live Oak tree in the front yard and a row of ancient pines between it and the next house over. They crunched across the winter dried lawn to the steps, rounded the little American flag and rang the doorbell.
An old man opened the door. He was nearly bald, stooped a bit, and glowed faintly of mana. He took one look at Grant and his eyes opened wide. He shifted his glance to Matt. “Um, hello,” he managed to say, but his voice quavered just a bit more than age alone could account for. “May I help you?”
“Yes, Hello. My name is Agent Grant this is Agent Hamblin. Could we come in and talk to you about the mana line from the chapel to your home?”
“Who do you represent and what do you mean?”
“We work for the church next door. And there is a line siphoning off our mana. It leads to your house.”
“Look, I really don’t know what mana is.” He was nearly begging at this point.
Grant’s left hand began to glow. He stretched a large ball of mana between his hands until it looked like a baton. Without advancing on the gentleman, he pivoted his wrist so that the baton swung in an arc until it came close to the man’s nose.
When the man jumped back, Grant said: “This is mana,” he opened his fingers slightly and it retracted into the ball which faded away. “We’re also called the Destroying Angels. We work to protect the interests of the Church. But we don’t hurt ordinary people like yourself.”
“So you’re not here to arrest me?”
“No,” smiled Grant. “Why make an enemy when we could have a friend? We just want to see what you’re doing with our mana.”
He said his name was Toby McRae and that they should come in and sit. He then continued “Until today, I had never met a person who could see the ‘mana.’ I always called it the ‘fireline.’ They sent some missionaries here who insisted that it was the spirit of God that I was seeing. But when I kept describing it in detail and didn’t have any “fire in my chest,” they began to think I was crazy and have since left me all alone.”
“I can see why you stopped talking to them,” said Matt. “We call those who cannot see mana, the Earth-Bound. And those who can see mana we call Manamancers, or Mages. There are only about thirty thousand mages in the world today.”
“Mr. McRae, I’m just interested in hearing what you are using the mana for,” said Grant looking at the line at the edge of the carpet.
“Can’t you tell?”
“You have it along your baseboard around the room, But I don’t know why.”
“At first, I couldn’t see the fireline at all. Then I walked through it one day while mowing my lawn and accidentally stood with the line running through my head. Suddenly it began to glow brightly. The next week I found that I could bend the line a little. I practiced it and soon found that I could stretch it. So I put it in my house and use it to walk around at night. My wife --God bless her-- always thought I could see in the dark.”
“So you’re using it for a night-light,” said Grant, nodding. “There are easier ways to do that with mana than how you’ve done it!” He grinned. “We can show you. Do you have an old glass jar that you’re not using anymore that we can fix for you?”
The old man hobbled to the kitchen and rummaged around for a bit. He returned with a nearly empty bottle of mayonnaise.
“I bought this at Piggly-Wiggly a while back. I don’t use it as much now that Peggy has passed.” He handed the bottle to Grant who held it gingerly.
“Could you show me the trash can for a moment?” he asked kindly.
Matt decided he’d better follow the two before they disappeared through the door. Mr. McRae pointed at a cabinet door and said: “It’s there under the sink.”
He said thanks and pulled a small trash receptacle out. “Agent Hamblin, observe.” He held the bottle upside down and called out “I’bid!” The lid turned into a silvery liquid and dripped into the trash. The yellowing mayo changed to a milky fluid and poured in as well. Then, the paper label flowed down and was gone.
Grant lifted up the clean and shiny jar. Then called “Mohep a’sih.” The jar flowed into a puddle in his hand and then reformed into a perfect crystal.
“We can write several overrides onto this and it can maintain a spike of your own.” He opened a mana window from one of his several crystals and pulled out and replicated three patterns, which he placed into the quartz crystal. He then opened the door to the pantry by the fridge and said: “I am going to attach this to the wall here behind the door. It will not be visible from the front. But you can feel it here since you know where it is. If you ever move from this house, take this with you. There is a small menu that will allow you to detach it and reattach it where you want. The second item maintains the spike and the third allows you to adjust temperature and lighting settings. You won’t need to spend as much on electricity this way. ”
Mr. McRae was in tears when they left. “Shall I ever see you again?” he called off the porch to them.
“We’ll try and stop by from time to time!” said Matt.