Night 1: Dusk
Theo Munroe is not his brother’s keeper, he is his murderer. Most days when he sat slurping on a particularly extended noodle strip from a silicone cup, watching aged episodes of Law and Order: SVU, he was reminded of that. Splatters of blood, gruesome fleshy mess all over the floor. It was an unclean picture in his head from which he couldn’t cleanse himself of. America, the land of second-chances, would not allow that for someone like him. The ethnic other who was guilty of a crime. He would be denied that second chance.
So with a whole hearted fuck you, he refused to participate in that land’s traditional rules. His half-brother had it coming, it was a just decision he really didn’t have any qualms about doing. Still, it was a human life. So trauma was ensured. Oh well. His new squalor for all of a month was an apartment in a shanty neighborhood of Columbus.
He could hear crack fiends shuffling down the street in cheap, leaning sneakers. The groaning walls shared his miseries and the smell of mildew and sewer waste made his stomach ache. It was just an uncharming place, but it was better to him because of it. He wouldn’t be surprised by anything except the deliberately fancy and attractive. If it was shiny, it was to be distrusted. If it was clean, it was to be shunned. If it was expensive, it was to be stolen and sold as fast as humanly possible.
This was just a hump in his life, he knew that, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like he was wallowing in the deepest, darkest hole possible. Surrounded by the tyrannical kingdom of frigid isolation. He daily made himself wonder if this was the day the world would end, and if it was: did he really do enough in that day to warrant his “Last Day Alive”?
If not, and this was a once in a blue moon scenario. Theo would get a call from one of the warring Barons who made up the underground’s personal hierarchy of command known as the Columbus Guild to perform a certain task that required a specialize thief like him soon. He would get up out of his couch-bed, and walk barefoot with his long, brown, and arm himself for a job.
When he got back from jobs like this, he usually had to explain to his neighbors a few things after he finished it. Ms. Magtagger– an elderly German woman from Johannesburg who thought every brown kid above the age of ten was in their twenties and were convicted rapists– would ask him why he was carrying an antique Egyptian urn into his apartment.
He, of course, wouldn’t tell the truth about what was inside of it—and how it would like to strip her flesh from her nerves and gnaw it pale and ragged. Inside, he would repair the damages to his personal securities and defenses by sipping on the energies rising from it. Magic wasn’t anything but finding a power source and applying it in a specific romantic way.
That vase being both supernatural and stolen, had power to a thieving sorcerer like him. He turned into the veil that kept that clay morphing bitch, Tiana out of his face. The barriers leaked often like a decayed roof during a rain storm. Deep in the night when he laid wide awake, frightened of the sleep apnea that snatched his breath when he was at his most vulnerable, he could feel the wandering eyes of those who wanted to make him pay—well, pay more than he already was—sneaking through the ether in hunt.
Sometimes those eyes appeared as oily black crows hovering just over his complex flying off in a sudden striking of confusion; other times they were a rabid onyx squirrel screeching madly two neighborhoods over before being crushed under a few tons of American steel and spotty workmanship.
On the table surface, eddying like a mad cyclone was a simple wooden top filled with magical power, a fetish. Symbolically, it represented motivated eternity. As long as it kept spinning thanks to an outside force, Theo didn’t have much to worry about—like ex-friends and family turned enemies from finding him.
Today, like those days, He pulled his firmly fitting black sweater over his agile form. When he stretched, the sweater stretched, when he bent it bent. When he spilled blood, it absorbed it. That special little armor of his was as perfectly adaptable as he was. Theo wore black jeans just loose enough to stay flexible bound with a leather belt and black leather boots that had lost a portion of color from having been dirtied and cleaned as constantly as they had been in his line of duty.
This land was not made for him, that American dream of second chances was gone. Theo would have to carve his name into the hide of this country with blood, sweat, tears, and a few centuries of African Sorcery. On his way out, he grabbed his father’s toolkit, a leather satchel sewn by his great-grandfather several times over since before a Mayflower desecrated the oceans and passed through their line. It was stolen of course, from his brother, Victor.
“Time to make my own chances.” He said and he left the apartment. The door shut behind him, and the top hiccupped against the tabletop, before falling over on the table. Theo opened the door and peeked inside and glanced at the felled fetish. “Well forty fucks! That can’t be good.”
Hell was hidden behind the door of an incinerated apartment that for the lack of reason hadn’t been condemned and knocked over. That is, if said incinerated apartment was actually a glamour masquerading a fine upper-class townhouse that hadn’t been destroyed because the sorcerer who owned it could give the mayor a heart attack without leaving his kitchen.
Theo was watching the place from afar. He was hot. He was sweaty. And he only had a few hours left on his Taboo before he’d lose a majority of the power he had stockpiled for his magic up and vanished. And the next time someone came looking for him, they would find him. Theo was afraid of kicking the door down and walking in like NYPD. He wasn’t ever called on for the simple jobs like normal professional thieves, no, his jobs usually required a magical background. A lot of thieves in his area of expertise weren’t even specifically servants of a primordial spirit, the Thief like Theo; mostly they were poor unfortunate souls who thought stealing from Magicians was a good way to make money. Rookie mistake, the money wasn’t the point of a job like this, it was the power.
When he first arrived at the place after locking up his apartment—for the first time since moving in–he came expecting some form of simulacra protecting the place. Maybe a golem of some sort. Instead, he was met with a Boundary ward of an unspecified effect. Touch the windowsill, you may have your head splattered across the pavement; step through the backdoor and you may have your insides scorched by hexed flames.
Early in the day when the sun whispered to the flowers to bloom and the plants to spring from the earth, his job was given to him within the pages of a Chaucer novel laid conveniently upon his apartment windowsill. He turned to the seventh-fifth page which oddly held a simple sentence in roman font “What is the meaning of life?”, and he whispered the answer is a casual tone.
“Forty-two.” The letters began to crawl as details on his assignment etched out on thin pages. His contractor from the Columbus Guild gave him an address, and an object and left it at that. There was no price tag, Theo’s price was always the same: First a check for him to pay his bills and survive, and secondly yet primarily, a spirit for him to bind for his magic. Still, there was also the hidden clause that he could take anything he there that he wanted.
This job however was the first time no one listed exactly what they wanted him to steal. It just said “Find the most powerful magic,” and left it at that. They didn’t even give him any information on the mage, but Theo was able to convince his better judgement that his employer just thought he was that good.
“First things first,” Theo said.
“This boundary cuts off pocket dimensions. So I can’t leap into there like I usually would. That being said I could spend the night working some Sympathetic Juju. All I need is a bowel and a jar of sand and poof,” Theo flared his fingers apart dramatically “The metaphysical walls come tumbling down. You know how these Magicians love to knit magic together like that with minimum power. Fragile stuff. It mind as well be made of Popsicle sticks andElmer’s glue”
A voice picked up from beside him. “The Magician who cast it would sense his spell weakening before the first hour was up. I don’t think you want to fight a Baron of the Guild and whatever he has stashed away.” said the Projection, Aiden, he was an Aide to the Baron he was hired by this time.
“Er, I can hammer against it with the Havoc Masquerade? Give me thirty minutes and a Goat’s bladder. This place will light up like a Vietnamese rice field by the shake of my rattler.”
“No. We agreed, no more blowing up buildings after last time. We don’t want another Korea Town incident.”
Aidan, a lower-level liaison for the Columbus Guild, spoke with esteem and professionalism of a Law intern. Aidan was a conservative sort with a lean build. He was average height with ginger hair and an elfish point to his face. His eyes were graphite shade of color. Aidan wore a maroon flannel shirt with a black waistcoat and dress pants with a silver badge pinned to his left breast. The scent of copper and gunpowder rose off of the psychic impression.
“Boo, you’re dour.” Theo pouted. “It was only one dragon and my legs grew back after a pow-wow with Michael!”
“The very fact you find need to mention said dragon says all we need about the situation and your bad ideas. Besides, you may be able to find a Goat’s bladder but you will never find near enough virgin bullfrogs.” he said. “We hired you for covert operation. Not anything more. Last time, you almost got us caught!”
“The Columbus guild may be giving us a whole week, but my Taboo will hit me in less than 24 hours Aidan! I’m already hemorrhaging power.” Aidan adjusted his tie. “The worries of an Orthodox Sorcerer do not concern my employers.”
Theo knew he was whining, but it was too be expected of him. He had been monitoring the place for an entire night. He laid on his belly while fidgeting with different strategies, drawing in the dirt with a finger. He squirmed so much that his thermal, black, had slowly started to scamper upward to reveal a tattoo of a large winding tree that had blossomed four apples on his back. The ink had started to fade, but the impression was still there.
Theo couldn’t be trusted to sit in one place for too long outside of his apartment before he started getting…ideas. It was better to keep distracted. So, Theo listened to the wooden beams in the walls talk about their tenants sexual adventurism; He heard the birds chirp stories to their babies in their nests of bottle caps and twigs; He watched ethereal phantoms of slaughtered slaves, mangled tribesmen, and the wide-eyed child workers hover sadly their florescent bodies through walls that made up the foundations of the Columbus corporate district.
When the ghost of a construction worker floated just a bit too close Theo flinched and spoke up, “A lot of Ghosts out today.” Theo observed passively.
“Sure is.” Aidan said, monitoring the building across from them. A painfully awkward silence between the two followed as Theo watched, waited.
“What is it Theo?”
“I’m bored and time is running out. That’s what it is. Are you sure you don’t see have anything I can use?” Theo whined.
“Theo, we can’t have this conversation all the time. If I felt anything, I’d tell you! God, I wish my Master would just find you a new handler.”
Theo scoffed. “Like we actually have this conversation a lot. It usually starts with me bringing up the very valid concerns of boredom, and your Disney ass telling me to be patient. Magic isn’t patient Aidan It’s spontaneous and Innovative. It’s the friggin’ universal force of change!”
“No. You’re not patient. Magic is a complex string of inaction and action. If you have a problem with that: blame the Principalities you bow your head to you–” Theo gave Aidan a look that could peel the paint of walls and curdle milk.
“You what?” he asked aggressively. Aidan looked frightened. The ginger was so afraid that he even forgot that he couldn’t even be harmed as an astral body.
Theo simmered down. “Whatever. I’m bored. You’re boring me. You know it’s easier to just walk on up–”
“No, Theo!” Aidan threw up his hands, but the image lagged. Theo grumbled furiously. An hour passed after that discussion before Theo decided he had enough.
“Well, there is something I can do. You know, every boundary has a weakness and I know this one’s now.”
“And that is?”
Theo gave Aidan his smile– his all knowing smile, filled with creativity, wit, and whim. The same mixture psychopaths and serial killers as they realized that a morality—like the law—was subjective to whether or not you cared.
“We’re going on a lion hunt.” he said. “Can’t go over it, can’t go around it. Gotta go–” Theo gestured at the front gate. “Through it.”
“Theo no!” Aidan countered.
“Come on, no one in their right minds wards their front doors. Magicians gotta let the weedman in too!”
“Theo, I am not debating that logic, but it’s too risky! Why are you moving?! Don’t go down there! I swear on my Guild License itself if you go down there–”
“Threats? Cute, well in love and respect of your wishes…” Theo tensed up and pushed off the surface of the ground fell past the roof’s ledge.
He vocalized in a minor African aria as his body shimmered and then vanished into thin air like a pebble beneath water’s surface. He effortlessly slipped through the folds of space-time.
The world below was sloppy and chaotically dull, almost a myopic parody of the horrible smog covered skies. The asphalt was grayed and gloomed, wore down from years of rain and hammering footsteps. Black blemishes decorated the ground from uncleaned dirty gum wads pressed into the surface from the unified efforts of thousands of pedestrians.
And with all of that, there were still dogs at the fences playing gatekeeper, nipping at the mysteries they thought they knew. Theo’s dogs had a more definitive shape. At most: they looked like mundane guards stationed outside of the building, standing sentry. Now that he was up close, there was the distinct lack of a coppery scent– Austere Magic always had varying stink of copper. It wasn’t coming from them however, Magicians never wasted mojo on the sheep, but it was seeped into the building’s brick and mortar like a blade imbued from countless bloody battles.
When Theo landed in a crouch like a puma preparing to strike, he took pride in that he hadn’t decided to just scale the building. Theo marched around a corner and up to the gate with a sinister smile plastered on his face. His satchel teetered on his hip. He tilted his head just so and smiled revealing a set of clean, gleaming teeth.
“Trick or Treat?” he asked patiently.
“It’s not October.”
“Oh, then I’m concerned for your soul. Do you know our lord and savior Jesus Christ loves you?” “Can we help you boy?” asked one of the guards rudely.
He had a slight southern twang to his voice that grated against Theo’s ears like metal to brick or nails of a chalkboard. Boy? Okay, we’ll go there. Theo gave him a swift look over: Though he was almost a whole decade older and still he had a face full of bad acne and a ginger head of hair. He only stood an inch or two taller than Theo himself.
It was so simple, so easy how he could deal with them. Theodore Munroe could kill them. He had maybe four dozen ways to do it too, half of them without staining his boots. As soon as he thought of it, Theo’s moral compass resolved against it. He tilted his head at the Ginger and replied.
“Yeah. Hi. Do you guys always let any poodle and pit bull into this residency? Because I’d hate to break it to you, but fleas and ticks do actually bother. Like a lot.”
The guard barked at him “We don’t sell chicken and we don’t buy crack. Run off to Section 8.”
“Cute Strawberry Shortcake. Actually you can help me young lady, I was wondering if your daddy was home. Are you even supposed to be answering the door? Strange men come knocking at night, and they’d be berry berry happy to get a taste of you.” His partner laughed, but the ginger reached to his holster. “Ya get it? God, I’m hilarious.”
“You want to say that to my face?” Gingers face was a caricature of anger.
“Depends, you want to stop getting facial scrubs with bacon grease? With your face so bright you must get a lot of work during Christmas snowstorms.”
The man pushed the gate open and came right at Theo. Sanctuary Boundaries, Mystic Shields, Protective Wards. They came tumbling down.
The place was defenseless. “Oh, your ass is mine.” the Ginger said. He pulled out a beretta and pointed it at Theo. His partner, the smarter of the duo, lifted a hand in wavering protest. “Jimmy w–” Before he could finish his sentence ginger unloaded three shots into Theo’s chest.
The bullets pushed their way through his chest and he dropped to the ground in a large pool of his own blood. “Jeez Jim, we’re going to have to clean this up now!”
Ginger Jim turned his head to his partner as he slipped a cigarette into his mouth with a shaky, adrenaline laden hand. “I know Marshall, but the little fuck got cocky. Help me get his legs and carry him in.” “Uh Jim…what legs?” He pointed at where Theo had been just a moment before
Laying on the ground was a wooden effigy made of twig and ribbon, that started to crumble on sight. “Ain’t that what the boss calls Displacement Formula?” Theo allowed him to get that much out of his mouth before he threw a handful of Heavy-eye medicine into his face.
The powdery substance exploded into a cloud and his pupils dilated into blocky black orbs. He hit the ground with a powerful thud. Jim the Ginger had his gun pointed at Theo before he could take him out. “
I have to tell ya” Theo said, dusting off his hands on his jeans. “I had to resist the urge to do the whole plunge-the-hand-through-the-chest trick. I figured overkill is cool and all, but blood stains. Ya know? Plus, I feel like that moves been played out since Indiana Jones fought the Nazis.”
“Who the hell do you think you are? Do you have any idea whose Sanctum this is?” Theo scowled, did this guy think Theo was stupid? He did his homework with Aidan ahead of time.
“Baron Darling. Practitioner of boring old Austere Sorcery: otherwise known as Metaphysics. He specializes in Symphonic Magic: noisey crap like synthesizing emotion from musical catalysts into stasis effect fields in a limited area range. Cool stuff if you don’t consider the dozens of musical muses he has to slaughter as a power source and the amount of musical instruments he would have to master on a prodigal-level to be halfway as decent as ordinary magicians in his category.” Theo looked up to the sky in thought. “Also he is very big on Magical Research.”
That was, of course, the basis of Metaphysics: canalize spiritual essence into finite amounts of power. It stood antithetical to anything that Theo could do with Orthodoxy, mysticism involving working along with spirits, their forces, and influences. It was as contrary as trying to mix nature and technology, emotion with logic, Knowing and Jon Snow.
“So nice of you to get the door for me though. Truly unique service Jeeves. Black boy’s never felt so special at such a large, white house.” Jim the Ginger fired off a round and another displacement dropped to the sidewalk.
Theo’s brown hand was the first thing Jim saw as Theo effortlessly blew a handful of the same Heavy-eye medicine into his face. “I’m done playing with you now though.” Ginger dropped down onto the ground and Theo, free of any more interruptions, sauntered into the townhouse.
Odie Omar shot up out of sleep in the afternoon from the same dream. It detailed a group of men and women starting at the center of a large grassy field, surrounded by drums and would move out through the parameter of the drums while dancing. Each would fall, one by one until only a singular person would be left.
In the woken world, he sat in the center of a room covered in musical appliances and instruments within a large circle on the ground marked with glyphs around the inner parameter while reading his newest book of the day, the Tales and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The old man always chucked in a new one before he left and had done so ever since he’d adopted Odie. This was, of course, all following having been marked by him. Odie held no delusions that he was being used, imprisoned, or abused in some way that he couldn’t understand.
The radio played softly in the background, powering those same glyphs and sigil’s invisible boundary field with the recorded instruments. The door guarding their room was large and solid, with dozens over dozens of complex glyphs marked on this side. Formula that transmuted spiritual energy into specific rituals.
When he first came, he caught the true appearance of the entrance side of the door with a curious eye. This side was the only one marked. Slowly the symbols lit up in defense of itself. Someone was coming soon.