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Sleight of Hand

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Chapter 2

“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked in a shout. “Who in the hell is the Order?”

The pressure on my throat eased. And what I assumed to be a weapon, returned. Just not to my throat. A sharp point pressed slightly into my stomach as the length of an arm moved against my side. Who ever this person was, they had done this sort of thing before. Great, a professional.

“Turn around slowly,” the voice commanded.

I did as I was instructed, and as I completed the circuit, my eyes fell on a woman who was about the same height as me. That’s not saying much when it comes down to it. I’m 5 feet 9 inches. The rest of her though, was as far from me in comparison. She had fiery red hair, literally. It was the color of the bright embers that reside under a lit fire. Her skin was as pale as alabaster, yet it seemed to glow, as if some other-worldly light was always shining on her. She wore clothes that were practical. Well-fitting jeans and a T-shirt with no logos to be seen. If I wasn’t so jaded, I’d say I fell in love with her at first sight. This wasn’t the kind of woman I was used to meeting, ever.

“Um…” I began, hoarsely and I swallowed back the frog in my throat. I was acting as awkward as a gawky teen who just hit puberty, “You said something about an Order and Crowley’s Essence?”

“Yes, I did.” Her voice still had that curt accent to it. It told me only one thing was going to happen here. Business. Her Business. And no shenanigans from me were going to be tolerated. Still, a guy can hope. “You stole the Essence of Aleister Crowley from my former associate this afternoon while he was on his way to meet me to be relieved from duty. As far as the Order, they were those wonderful gentleman in green uniforms that you met at your local merchant’s establishment.”

“I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that your description of the Order was oozing with sarcasm.” I retorted.

“It would be a safe assumption.” Her voice was flat and obviously filled with disdain somewhere beneath an emotionless cover.

“And I’m also going to assume,” I continued, pausing to lift my hand and revealing the ugly ring that had found its way on to my finger again. “That by the Essence of Aleister Crowley, you would be referring to this damn thing? What is so special about this damn ring, anyways? And how about we have this conversation without the blade pressed into my stomach? I am being compliant, so there is no need for it.”

“Indeed I am speaking of that ring,” she answered quickly. She pulled the knife away and slipped it into an unseen sheath somewhere in her boot. She was wearing boots? Weird. She took a step back, but so carefully that I got the impression that she thought I was contagious with something. Again, weird. “Unfortunately, you have put yourself into matters that cannot be easily surmised. But I will do my best to clarify the basics as you would say. Some of this will not be easy for you to accept, due to the fact that it is human nature to disbelieve anything that isn’t consistant. Let us go somewhere more private for this conversation. There are prying ears and eyes always about, and some of what I will tell you is not meant for all to know.”

I nodded and began walking around the house to the garage entrance on the side. I opened the door and waited for her to enter. She stopped on the landing and looked at me irritably. I gave her a puzzled, inquisitorial look in return. She lifted her hands and face-palmed herself. I had a feeling this was going to be a long night.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, confused at what was so frustrating.

“Your threshold,” She replied slowly, “I cannot enter and retain myself without the permission of someone who lives here.”

“Wait, What!?” I asked in confusion and disbelief. I wasn’t sure which one was more prominent at the moment.

“A being of magic,” she began in a tone that would make a boring college professor feel jealous and possibly challenged, “cannot enter the residence of any mortal without an invitation. If so, they give up any and all abilities that separate them from the mortal and put them on equal footing.”

“So you can enter, but you won’t without me giving you permission? Why?” I asked, my mind reeling with curiosity.

“Because I do not trust you, nor any human for that matter. So I will not enfeeble myself in any way that gives you or any other an advantage over me.” Her words came out as sharp and pointed as the knife she had held to my throat.

“OK,” I said with a nod, “why don’t you come inside.”

She stepped through the opening and into my work area. I watched her enter, noting that her movements were cautious and overly controlled. She wasn’t kidding when she said she didn’t trust humans. It’s as if the simple fact that my house was built by humans would make it dangerous. Though an arguable theory, it wasn’t one I was willing to dwell on for long. I followed her through and shut the door behind me. I noted her taking in the area fully. Her eyes lingered on my smelting kit.

“You work with metals?” She asked, her voice holding a tone I hadn’t heard so far. Innocent curiousity.

“Kind of,” I replied walking over and putting myself between her and the table. I had no intention of her prying, so I turned and faced her to thwart any snooping. My gaze shifted down, because I couldn’t seem to meet her eyes. Her eyes were emerald green and intense. “I use this to melt down any jewelry or valuable metal I acquire or I’m tipped with during my show.” I turned and picked up the smelting pot idly, looking at it briefly before returning it to its resting place. “Wait, why did I tell you that. I distinctly remember wanting you to stay out of my business.”

“It’s the type of fae I am.” She said turning away from me, distancing herself from the table as well. “Humans cannot lie to me due to my aura. In fact they’re so affected by it that they speak truths that they never intended saying at all. It’s quite useful.”

“Great, you’re a walking lie detector.” I grumbled loudly.

“No, my aura prevents lies from being spoken to me. You’d be able to lie to anyone else around me, as long as I wasn’t being addressed in the same question or statement at the same time.”

“That’s a comfort,” I said quietly. “Now you said you’d explain once we were away from prying eyes and ears, now spill.”

“Very well,” she began looking around the room. “As I said, most of this will be hard for you to believe, if not accept.”

“After the day I’ve had,” I began with a faux chuckle, “I’m ready to believe in anything.”

“I doubt that.” She inhaled and then released the breath very slowly, as if she were trying to find the strength to do something drastic. Something crazy. “Yet, unfortunately you are now in a position where ignorance will get you killed. I may have no real love for humans, but senseless killing is an affront to what I stand for.”

“You say that like you’re not human.” I said in mock seriousness. I can’t help but be a wise-ass sometimes. It comes with the territory of being jaded and cynical.

“I’m not,” she replied, though not in the same flat tone she had used for the rest of the conversation thus far. Her voice flowed with a venom that only hatred can supply. “But that is irrelevant to what is happening. Now, you have found yourself in possession of the Essence of Aleister Crowley. Within that ring, the very substance that made his being, is imprisoned.”

“Why? Wasn’t he just an eccentric, foreign nut job that was addicted to drugs?” I asked, recalling the stuff I had read online earlier in the night. It wasn’t fascinating reading, but it wasn’t boring either.

Apparently Aleister Crowley was a self-proclaimed wizard who started a church and went thoroughly, bat-squeak crazy. He was a member of several different occult societies before his eccentrics either got him kicked out, or got him into arguments so heated with various members that he left of his own volition. He then formed his own church out of some back woods estate in Sicily, where he stayed and went thoroughly bonkers. To this day, the place was guarded and pedestrians are forbidden from going in and looking. Some managed to get by every now and then, but no security system was perfect and it was usually just teenagers with “something to prove”.

“That is what we thought in the beginning,” she began shaking her head in obvious regret and hindsight, “and what the public and the realm of you humans were fed afterward to keep his power from growing when we discovered otherwise. The gift of magic has almost died out in humans, so when one of you claims to possess the ability to perform magic, typically they are either mentally unstable or just performing theatrics for public attention. So the Fae Courts rarely take it seriously when a human makes the claim. But we soon realized after his surface to the public's attention, that Aleister Crowley was far from ordinary. His ability to draw people to him and convert them to his beliefs was extraordinary. His abilities had manifested young and they had been serving him throughout his life. It was not until he joined the human's Order of the Golden Dawn, that he decided to become public with what he was.”

“So you’re saying he wasn’t a fruitcake addicted to drugs?” I asked skeptically. Being told that everything in public knowledge was a lie usually makes one a little incredulous in retrospect to the new information.

“No, he was quite insane,” she replied promptly, “as well as a recreational abuser of the harmful substances that you humans call drugs. But he was also very much what he claimed to be. And so the truth of his capabilities was hidden from the rest of your world to ensure our own world remained hidden.”

“Wait,” I cut her off, curiosity getting ahead of what little manners I had, “you say ‘our’ world and ‘you’ humans. What do you mean by that? You act as if there is another world that we don’t know about and that there are other sentient beings out there, like elves and dwarfs. Like the crap they put into fantasy books. Which, no offense, this scenario is beginning to sound like. And a bad one at that.”

“I would appreciate it if you did not refer to it as crap.” She said coldly. “This is why I hate talking to humans. All of you are closed minded and violent idiots. Yes, there is another world, so to speak. The realm of magic exists side by side with the world that you live in. It is ruled by the Seelie and Unseelie Courts for the most part, but there are other, less civilized powers that exist within it as well. Though, I would not exactly say the Unseelie Court is civilized. Organized would be a better word to describe them in comparison to the Seelie Court. But I digress. The Courts keep the laws of our world and enforce them in both realms. If humans were to find out that magic or the Fae exist in a way such as Aleister Crowley was portraying, then mass panic would ensue and there would be many deaths. Both human and fae alike. So the best way to combat this is to allow the situation some limelight, but disarm it with political discredit and disinterest. People then regard any subject making the claim as passe and hokey. Humans are easily lied to when they want to be.”

“So you’re saying by discrediting you disarm?” I asked incredulously, “Sounds like a double edged sword to me.”

“It can be with certain people, such as Adolf Hitler.” She remarked, ignoring my skepticism. “In fact, the Grimm Brothers almost stopped our implementing of this. But again modern man has turned the truths they wrote into modern fables. And thankfully Crowley had many known faults that helped the belief in him waver. It made dealing with the evil he had created more manageable. To the public he was an insane man with fanatical behavior. To those of the magical realm he was much more dangerous. His talent for magic lay in manipulation of the mind, and eventually through the mind, the body. He had begun to create an army of slaves, and was planning on trying to take a seat of power in the realm of magic.”

“You’re telling me that he was an all powerful and bad-ass,” it was a statement and not a question. “yet he wanted a place in the world of magic? Was he that big of a threat?”

“You fail to understand the depth of the situation.” She said sternly. “In the realm of Magic where the Courts and other creatures of magic reside, magic is in essence, life. Not just there, but for here as well. If he were able to tap the essence of magic, he would have untold power. That is why humans with the gift of magic are so dangerous. What you as a species lack in life-span and wisdom, you make up for in ingenuity and capability. Humans with the gift of magic have almost limitless possibilities under the right circumstances. Mainly due to their gift of adaptation. That much power and no wisdom to guide it is dangerous even in the best situations. Give it to someone like Crowley, who likes to control people, and it is frightening to say the least.”

I could only nod in doubt. I could admit that magic could be real, but a human being able to wield power like that was improbable, if not impossible without the rest of the world knowing said person existed. But then, I learned over the years that people as a whole were ignorant and preferred lies to the truth. The application and control of politics and organized religion in society were prime examples of this.

“So what happened to Crowley, and what does this ring have to do with it?” I asked moving forward with the idea that the entire world was full of dupes, “And what is this Order and what do you want with the ring?”

“An untold war was waged with Crowley by the Courts, and eventually we triumphed. We managed to free those he had enslaved, and undo most of the damage he had done. As punishment for such a heinous violation of the Laws of Magic, we did the one thing that hurt him the most. We took his power and left him as nothing more than what the world saw him as. We sealed his power through his physical essence in his own ring and have had it well guarded since then.”

“Obviously not well enough,” I said sarcastically, “because when an average pick-pocket from the ghettos of Sacramento can nab a heavily guarded magical item without detection, you probably have some major breaches in your security. And if it’s so dangerous, why be in public with it? Why not take it to ‘the Realm of Magic’ and hide it there?”

“We tried that at first,” she said in an undertone of hate and fear, “But we soon learned two things that went wrong with what we did. First, is that the ring itself was Crowley as well. Whoever touched the ring was controlled by its influence, whether they be Fae or Human. The ring took over their subconscious mind and caused them to seek power for themselves at first, and then to seek something altogether worse. More so, it seemed to call to those around them, tempting their minds, which leads me to the other unforeseen misfortune. The second thing is this; by Crowley having a piece of himself alive and well after he died, his spirit remained anchored to this world. And it retained some of its natural abilities. We found it was able to whisper to people and convince them to do things. This enabled it to possess them. A spirit cannot possess those who do not open themselves up to it. Whether it be emotionally, or by conscious willingness. It is impossible to achieve by force. Crowley’s spirit could talk to people and convince them to allow his possession. Eventually we managed to confine his spirit within his fallen temple in Sicily.”

She walked over to the work table and sat on top of it. Her body stayed tense and aware, yet I could tell it was shifting into a more subtle alertness. She wasn’t relaxed, but I didn’t have to worry about getting ganked if I said the wrong thing to her. Small victory I guess. I turned toward the wall scanning the contents scattered against its side. I spied what I was searching for a moment later. I walked forward, grabbed a folding chair, and took it back to where I was standing a moment before so I could sit down. I also had been watching the woman with my peripheral vision. She hadn’t taken her eyes off me for a moment. I fiddled with the chair for briefly and then opened it up and sat down.

“I don’t get it,” I said stretching my arms behind my head, “obviously I’m missing something, because not all the pieces are fitting together. No one can touch it, I get that, but why not use the container thing in your Realm?”

“Because magic strengthens with belief.” her face contracted into a frown, obviously her patience waning, “and in a place where magic is as common as water, the Ring’s influence would strengthen one hundred fold. Every other person and creature would be tempted to try and take the ring from it’s guardian. At least in this realm where magic is rare and ignored to the point of non-belief, it’s powers can easily be checked.”

“Is that why it’s not affecting me?” I asked looking down subconsciously at the hand the ring was on.

“Actually,” she began, her voice a combination of complete seriousness and inquisitiveness, “that is something that confuses me. You should be affected by the very touch of it, yet it has no power on you. Also, the wards the surrounded the container were meant to make any mortal who looked at it disregard the container for what it resembled and forget it entirely shortly after. Yet, as you stated, an average pickpocket not only ignored the wards, but fooled a seasoned fae. And now you wear the ring without consequence. There is something more going on.”

I stared at the floor for a moment, taking in what she had just told me. If this thing was as dangerous as she said, I shouldn’t even be touching it, let alone wearing it. But then again, I didn’t have a choice in wearing it most of the time. The thing just appeared on my finger. I decided I would ask her about that.

“Why does this thing keep appearing on my finger?” I asked her, shattering the silence with the suddenness of my question. “I mean, it even hides itself too. I was wearing it earlier and then it disappeared right before the guy in the store confronted me.”

“Really?” her eyebrow arched as her face transformed to pure bafflement. “That is something I have not heard about the ring. As for why it appears on your person, that can be explained easy enough. Its ability to entice and pretty much possess those who touch it makes it seek to fulfill that need constantly. The fact that you haven’t been taken by its power has made it seem to work in an abundance to see that it succeeds. Magic creates basic sentient needs in items over time. And since Crowley was inherently evil, it would be safe to assume that his essence would be as well. So any sentient needs the ring has would be as his were. As for it disappearing, well, all magical items created by the Fae have a sense of self preservation. The ring itself isn’t Fae-make, but the magic that bound it and Crowley's essence together is. So naturally, if The Order showed up saying they’re non-hostile yet appearing quite the opposite... What was your feeling when you came across him?”

“I felt threatened almost instantly.” I replied recalling almost instantly the man from the Order.

“The ring felt it too” she continued not even acknowledging my answer. “It felt threatened through you so it reacted accordingly.”

“And it keeps showing up because it’s trying to possess me?!” I asked , my voice echoing from the severity of the statement. I wasn’t happy to say the least.

“Correct.” Her one-word answer didn’t help my mood. It was apparently obvious, because she lifted her hands and motioned them downward. “Calm down. I do not believe anything is going to happen.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked irritably.

“Because as I said prior, you seem to have some sort of immunity to its power, and to magic in general.” Her answer wasn’t comforting.

“Then why were you able to make me spill my beans with your aura earlier?!” I asked, remembering my inability to lie briefly.

“I can only guess to that,” she said looking up at the ceiling as if she’d find some hidden answer written there, “it may be that since it is an ability that is emitted naturally through my aura it gets around whatever it is about you that makes you immune, as far as we know, to magic.”

I could only nod. I knew nothing of magic, and still wasn’t sure if I accepted the idea that it was real yet. Maybe my skepticism stemmed from that part of me that made me cynical and agnostic. Belief or faith of any kind wasn't really part of me. Yet, my cynicism had no logical explanation for what was happening. The only thing I could knew was that I felt lost in a sea of events that had hit me like a tidal wave. It was sink or swim now. I guess I should choose to swim before I got pulled under. I was already wet, so to speak, so I had no options left.

“So tell me about this Order.” I said after my moment of reflection. I wanted to know what this guy who had threatened me was capable of.

“The Order of Saint Patrick are what they call themselves.” she began, re-establishing the college professor tone again. Though, this time her voice was edged with hate. “They are an organization of Catholic zealots who have been on a crusade to wipe out and destroy anything that is an affront to their God. To simply state it, they wish to commit genocide on the world of magic.”

She stood and re-adjusted herself before leaning back against the work table. Apparently this was a subject she couldn’t discuss while sitting. I looked at her face, trying to read anything she might be showing. All I could get from her was a fiery hatred that burned fiercely behind those emerald orbs. It was almost frightening. She realized I was looking at her eyes and quickly looked down. I was puzzled by this, but didn’t try to catch her attention again. I waited patiently for her to begin again, hoping I hadn’t made her clam up. My patience was rewarded after a moment.

“Unfortunately for us,” she said, carefully choosing her words, “ there is power in their belief as well. Not to mention they have numbers. They are probably the most dangerous humans we have come across, and they have been around since the actual Saint Patrick drove any who didn’t convert to Catholicism from the isle of Gael which you now call Ireland.”

“Wait,” I interrupted because I could only picture green and beer at the mention of Saint Patrick’s name, “You mean the guy they named the holiday after? The day people everywhere go out and get drunk. The day kids pinch each other if one isn’t wearing green?”

“The one and the same.” Her voice was now sardonic. “Those are modern and absurd adaptations of what the day is an anniversary of. Saint Patrick was a French saint who came to Ireland with one purpose. To convert or destroy the last known home of the Pagans.”

“I remember reading that the day was in celebration of him driving snakes from the land?” I asked, now actually curious.

“That is what the Church called those who were Pagan or who had magical ties to the fae. Snakes. If he couldn’t convert them, he either killed them or drove them into the sea. Many humans and fae were lost during that time and it was then and there that the gift for magic began dying off in the human race.”

“So the Order has what to do with Saint Patrick?” my voice was slightly too eager it seemed, because she scoffed before continuing.

“The Order of Saint Patrick believe as he did, that all Magic or those who practice it are a threat to the White God, and therefore should be converted by force, or removed in the same way.” Her voice was bitter as if each word was foul tasting to say. She seemed to spit out each syllable. “They have confiscated many magical items that were famous amongst you humans. And some not known to you at all. They kill any fae they come across, as we are not a part of their God’s plan. And those who follow the old way, they try to convert. If they cannot… well you get the idea.”

“Wait,” I asked my voice wary now, “if the order kills humans, wouldn’t people notice sudden missing persons? It’s kind of obvious when people start disappearing constantly.”

“First,” she began flatly, “you humans have a sick disinterest in others when it comes to self-preservation. If you don’t see it or hear it for long enough, it doesn’t matter. Second, people do notice. Your constables and police forces are filled with missing persons reports. Many of them are unsolved. And a good majority of them can be contributed to the Order, but no one would know. The Order operates in secret, and when they come into public, they operate within the laws as to avoid detection. What’s worse, is the Catholic Church may not publicly support them, but they don’t condemn them either. We are positive they receive some sort of aid from the Church.”

“So they were serious when they said they would burn down the store.” it wasn’t a question. My voice was almost a whisper as I said it.

I was afraid now. When I had met them, I was scared, but it was fleeting. I live in the slums of Sacramento. I get scared all the time. There’s a good chance I will get mugged in my own driveway if I’m not careful. But this was different. I couldn’t be skeptical with this. My life as well as my mother’s was riding on the fact that if I didn’t take this seriously we could die. If I hadn’t met the Order before I met her, I would have just disregarded them after a day or so, but now I was being told, and not just by the Order, but by another complete stranger that they would kill for what they wanted.

“So why do they want the ring so bad if they hate magic?” I asked, forcing my voice to sound calm. “If they confiscate magic items so the world doesn’t know about them, why not let them take the ring?”

“It is because of what the ring can do.” She didn’t put any emotion in those words. I didn’t need her to. “If they were to get a hold of the ring, it would be chaos. It would only be a matter of time before it had taken one of them with its power. Eventually that one would rise to lead the Order, and if he were to come into contact with Crowley’s spirit, I shudder to think of the outcome. The men are dangerous because they believe what they are doing is right. Faith can blind it it's allowed to, and these men have let it happen. They view the ring as another blasphemous artifact. Nothing more.”

“I get the idea.” And I did. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to put the pieces together. “So, they gave me three days to hand the ring over to them. What should I do?”

“I would offer to take the ring from you,” she replied carefully, “but I am not sure that is possible. The Order would retaliate against such an action and you and possibly your mother would die needlessly. But as it stands, there is another reason I believe that it won’t be possible.”

“Such as…” I asked motioning my hands in circular scooping movement to emphasize my question.

“I think the ring has bonded to you for some reason that I cannot explain. Though, the only person who could make it stay put would be Crowley himself. But since he is trapped in his Church in Sicily, that should not be possible.” She answered forcibly, but her voice didn’t sound too sure about her facts.

“Um,” the word staggered off my tongue as I remembered the dream I had earlier, “I don’t think his spirit is stuck there anymore.”

“And why would you make a statement like that?” She asked, her expression hard and scrutinizing.

“I had a dream earlier,” I retorted, recalling the details of what I had seen and felt while I was asleep. “I was in a strange church, or it seemed like a church. It kept flashing between haunted house look and beautiful cathedral. There were these teenagers, the loud and dumb kind. I’m gonna venture that they were on spring break. Well they were in the church and one of them did something. Then a man I believe was Crowley showed up and they all freaked. Then Crowley turned to me before things got fuzzy. He said he couldn’t wait to meet me. It was weird seeing it all. And the creepiest part of it, it was as if I was seeing it through someone else’s eyes.”

I realized that as I finished her eyes had grown wide as I was retelling my dream. She had the glazed look of a cornered animal. Her hands gripped the edge of the table, bleaching the skin whiter than her complexion was already. I knew from her reaction alone that my dream wasn’t a dream at all. I cursed silently to myself. Just this morning I didn’t even believe magic existed and now I was pretty sure that dreams could actually be premonitions. What the hell was wrong with me? I knew that my logical mind couldn’t rationalize itself out of this, but that sure as hell didn’t stop it from trying. Yet I was certain after seeing the fear in her eyes that this was something to be taken seriously. I knew that I should ignore my logical mind and act on what she had told me.

“If what you say is true,” she began, her voice sounding as steady as before, though quieter, “Then the Courts must be informed at once. I must report this new development and investigate to see if Crowley’s spirit truly has escaped by possessing a human.”

“So you’re going to leave?” I asked alarmed by her announcement.

“I must,” she replied heading towards the door.

“Wait,” I almost yelled as I began to panic, “what the hell am I supposed to do about the Order, or have you forgotten about them?”

“I will return before the three days are up.” She replied swiftly, her voice full of forced and rushed sincerity. “But this needs to be done and it cannot wait. The Courts must know what has transpired.”

“Well can I at least know your name before you leave?” I asked because it was the only question I could think of at the moment to keep her here.

“You may ask.” She answered.

“What’s your name?” the inquiry seemed almost redundant.

“You do not need to know as of yet.” Her answer almost smacked me.

“I thought you said…” I began, but she held up her hand and silenced me.

“I said you may ask my name,” she said her voice impatient, “not that I would give it to you. Names have power, especially where magic is concerned. I do not trust you as of yet. At least not enough to give you any kind of power to be used against me. Good bye for now, I will return when I can”

She stepped out the door, with me right on her heel. When I reached the opening, she was nowhere to be seen. Not a trace remained of our conversation besides what I retained in memory. The only proof that I had that any of this was real, was the “magic” ring on my finger that wanted to possess me. Logic's current points, zero. Fear and Irrationality were tied for first place.

“Great,” I said out loud to myself, “She vanishes like a fart in the wind and I’m left with the sudden urge to find Mount Doom again. I wonder if it’s in the yellow pages…”

I turned back inside and locked the door behind me. If what she said was true about creatures of magic, I was safe for now. But then she never mentioned if the Order had such problems, and one didn’t need to enter a house to burn it to the ground.

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