The Twins, Pt 2

The next two weeks flew by, and soon it was Stephen’s last weekend home before he and Casmin returned to University. Mariana was preparing dinner, and Willamina had come in to keep her company. Carrying a pot over to the range, Mariana stopped and grunted, glaring at the burner.

“The stove has gone out again. Willamina, could you?”

“Where are the matches?” the girl asked.

Mariana rolled her eyes. “I don’t know, but the coals are cold, and I don’t have the time to rebuild the fire by hand. I know you can do it, just… this once? Please?”

“All right, Miss ‘we must never use our talents frivolously.’”

“HEAVY,” Mariana snarled.

“Right.” Willamina hurried over, held out her hand, and… nothing happened. She frowned, and tried again.

“What’s wrong?” Mariana asked.

“I don’t know. It won’t work.”

Stephen came in then. “What’s the problem?”

“Stove’s out, and,” Willamina said, just as a spark leapt to her fingertips, “ ah, there we go.”

Marianna set the pot down with a sigh. She turned to Willamina then frowned. “Has that ever happened before?”

The girl shook her head, and experimentally called the flame into her hands a few more times.

“Stephen,” Mariana said, “go fetch Casmin.”

After he had left the kitchen, she said, “Now try again.” Nothing. “You always practice together?”

The girl blushed. “We’ve only done it a few times. We didn’t want Edmund finding out.”

Stephen returned almost instantly with the professor.

“What’s the problem?” Casmin asked.

“Not a problem so much as a development,” Mariana said. “Although I am not sure what it means.” She told him what had happened, and he sent Stephen out into the hallway.

“Now try again,” he told Willamina.

“Do I have to? It’s giving me a headache…” Still, nothing. They called Stephen back in, and once he was within a few feet of her, the flame came easily.

“Interesting.” Casmin said.

“Let me guess. Back outside?” Stephen asked.

“Please and thank you.” This time Casmin called up his own flame, although he looked startled when he did so.

“Hold out your hand, Willamina.” He passed her the fire, and she held it for a while before letting it go.

“What is it, Andre?” Mariana asked, watching his face.
“Step back, I want to try something.”

“I always get nervous when you say that.”

He concentrated, holding out his hand. He called fire, spooling it into a ball as he did so. It grew, and then kept growing, putting out more and more light and heat. Soon he was sweating, and the ball was almost too bright to look at. Finally, panting, he let it go. Mariana gaped at him.

“Very interesting,” he said once he’d caught his breath.

Marianna rolled her eyes. “You use that word with great frequency. I am not certain that you are certain of its true meaning.”

He snorted, and brought Stephen back in.
“Well, Stephen, I think we found the source of your fireball problem,” he said.

“What do you mean? He can do them just fine,” Willamina said.

“I can do them just fine when it’s the two of us. They’re nowhere near so good otherwise.” Stephen grimaced. “I thought it was nerves.”

“So did I,” said Casmin. “But apparently, you’re a matching set.” Their identical scowls in response made him laugh.

This didn’t improve Willamina’s mood. “I don’t follow you. Why couldn’t I call the fire just then?”

“Because you can’t,” said Casmin.
“Yes I can,” said Willamina.

“No, you can’t,” Casmin repeated. “Stephen can.”

Willamina glared at him, and then at her brother. “Well, that’s just bloody unfair, isn’t it.”

“But he can’t shape it,” Casmin said. “Not like you can.” He sat down at the kitchen table and looked at them both. He crossed his arms. “We knew your magic was tied together somehow. We just didn’t know precisely how. I realize this sounds like bad news. But here’s what you don’t understand. The pair of you singly have already learned more in the last few months than most mages will ever accomplish. You’ve started late, which explains some of it. But combined, you’ve got more raw talent than any I’ve ever seen. Well, almost any.” As they started to grin, he added, “Don’t get cocky. That mostly means you’ve got the unlimited potential to blow yourselves up. And you have a great deal of work ahead of you. All the potential in the world won’t mean a damned thing if you’re lazy.”

“So in other words,” Mariana said, “both of you, back to work.”

As the twins left the kitchen, she muttered to Casmin, “What was that?”

“My place. Ten o’ clock. I’ll call the boss.”

She made a clicking sound with her tongue against her teeth. “First, the stove.”

“What?” Casmin asked, baffled.

She drew her eyebrows together. “It’s still not lit. You’re the fire mage. Make fire.”

He scowled back but did as she bade, lamenting, “I liked it better when you were afraid of me.”

The Beast

(September, 1819)

They called him The Beast, and he didn’t much mind.

It suited his purposes.

There were two ways to survive being Magus without breaking either the world around you or your own mind. Søren, his father, had chosen one way. A wanderer by nature, he had made Japan a second home. Once he discovered the temples of Edo, he spent hours of each day in meditation or training, honing his self-mastery into an impenetrable fortress of its own.

Beorn frankly didn’t have time for that shit, and restraint didn’t suit him. He was a big man, in every sense of the word: over six feet tall, barrel chested, and heavily muscled, he had grown his tawny hair to well below his shoulder blades. At that point he figured he might as well really dress the part and had grown in a full length beard. His appetites matched his frame, and he made no effort to hide the fact. Again, as often as not it suited his purposes.

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Cooking Lessons

It was still dark when Willamina was shaken awake. She groaned.

“Wake up.” The voice was quiet, but stern and thickly accented.

She shook her head. Bleary eyed, she saw Mariana standing over her bed with her arms crossed.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“Five thirty,” said Mariana. “I let you sleep in, since it’s our first morning. Now get up and get dressed.”

Willamina stared at her before saying, “But… it’s… five thirty.”

“And that is when the work starts.” Mariana raised an eyebrow and stood back on her heels. “Are you going to get up, or stay a child?”

Fully awake now, Willamina sat up. “I’ll be down in half an hour.”

Mariana nodded. “I’ll see you in ten minutes.”

She made it in fifteen, and Mariana counted it as good enough for a first effort. She was pleased to see that her pupil had been wise enough to dress sensibly, or at least had put on what was likely the most sensible dress she owned. She made a mental note to get the girl a set of work clothes.

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The Twins

December 27th, 1880

“Where did you get the orange,Wils?” Rafe had heard that the new cook was arriving today, and he wanted a closer look. He sat now with the twins in the front parlor, waiting.

Stephen scowled. “She seems to have a never ending supply of them these days.”

“Well, seeing as I’m of absolutely no interest to anyone, I can’t imagine where they might have come from.” With a grin at Rafe, she sauntered out of the parlor.

“I never said any such thing,” Stephen complained. Continue reading

The Hour of the Wolf

It was his wedding day.

Edmund had gotten up at five, too excited to sleep. Now, he was so nervous he couldn’t tie his own tie.

“You’re useless,” Rafe laughed, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. “You take this,” he added, handing him a silver flask, “and let me do it.” As he began struggling with the silk, he said,
“Besides. You’re not supposed to be nervous until tonight, remember? Now, if you need any pointers—”
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It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

“God, Stephen,” I hear you say, “you sound like Rafe when you say that.” But it’s true. I had run the calculations about ten times, just to be sure.

You see, there’s a lot more math involved in magic than you’d think. At least the way Casmin has me doing it there is. That’s why he’s making me take calculus this spring. I had hoped to avoid it completely, but he says it’s absolutely necessary for higher level summoning. Yes, a lot of it is just skill: either you can call an element or you can’t. But to summon a creature from another plane and bend it to your will? While, more importantly, keeping it from eating you before you get the chance to ask it for anything?

That takes precision. And all that writing around the summoning circle? It’s not for decoration. You have the coordinates of the plane of origin, your own coordinates, calculations necessary for the strength of the containment and the size, and citation of the relevant laws involved.

Imagine summoning a twelve-foot tall creature into a six-foot diameter sphere. Something is going to go splat. You’d better hope it’s not you.

So like I said, I had run through the calculations several times. I had only done one minor summoning on my own, but I had seen it done a half-dozen times. And come on, who wouldn’t want to see an ifrit? A being made out of pure fire, capable of shaping matter into any form it wanted?

It’s like this. Demonic beings aren’t demons. Well, I mean, they are. But they’re not. They don’t call themselves demons, unless they’re talking to one of us, and then it’s just a lexical convenience. They don’t live in Hell, whatever that is, and they don’t serve one dark lord of evil. Most of them. And they don’t all recognize each other as demons. An imp wouldn’t call an ifrit a cousin. It wouldn’t even recognize itself as related.

But when humans started exploring out there, past the world we all see every day, they did what humans do. They described the things they met, and labeled them, and put them into tidy columns and boxes — Demon. Fae. Spirit. — regardless of what the beings themselves thought. I don’t think anyone thought to ask them.

Anyway. Demons are technically sentient beings that consist of and subsist on energy.They can affect and influence matter to varying degrees based on their strength and species. And each variety has adapted in its own way. Like Darwin’s finches. With fangs. Lesser demons can’t do much, but a greater demon like an ifrit can shape a substantial amount of energy.

And I thought, well, Stephen, if you’re going to break the rules and do something stupid it might as well be worth the risk.

Christ. Rafe really is rubbing off on me.

Casmin was going out for the night, I knew, and I had stayed at his apartment to study. He had a better set of dictionaries than I did at home, and they were too heavy to haul back across town. After he left, I checked my figures one last time, drew the circle, and started the chant.

I realized my mistake almost immediately. Did you know that ifrit are actually subcategorized by rank and size, and that there’s a class of chieftan ifrit that are fifty percent larger and more powerful than your everyday sort?

Me neither.

I figured it out quickly, though, when he appeared. He still fit inside the circle, but he was forced into a crouch, pressing against it. He actually looked a bit like Fetch, come to think of it. Except for being ten feet tall. And red. And made out of flame. Really, it was mostly the horns.

And he was not happy about the situation. He bellowed, and began slamming against the circle with his horns. It held on the first blow, and the second, but by the third it was beginning to sputter.

This is also when I realized that I didn’t really have a backup plan. I had a banishing spell prepared, but those take at least five minutes and I had another twenty seconds at the outside.
Make that none. He had really gotten his legs under him, and heaved up with his shoulders and horns, and the circle popped like a bubble. I called fire, but I must have been too nervous; I couldn’t get the ball to properly form. You know how when you make a snowball, you take a pile of loose snow and compress it in your hands? A fireball works exactly the same way, but this time it was like someone had handed me powder-dry snow.

Which is just as well because it suddenly occurred to me that a fireball wouldn’t do much good against a ten-foot tall creature made out of, well, fire. The ifrit glared at me, and then let out a roar that shook the windows. It lowered its horns, and made ready to charge, and I was just starting to think, Really? This is how I’m going to die? I’ve stupided myself to death. Brilliant, when suddenly, he was there.

I couldn’t tell which won out, relief or mortification. My first, and soon to be last, major mistake, and the fucking Magus shows up. Of course he did. He faced the ifrit with his hands raised, and began speaking to it in Arabic. Yes, he apparently is fluent in Arabic, too. Of course. I don’t know what he said, but the demon snarled before retreating and finally vanishing. I sat down hard, blinking.

“You’re very, very lucky,” Stian said, “that I keep an eye on this place. And you.”

I stared at the floor and swallowed hard while he sent Fetch to, well, fetch Dr. Casmin.

What followed was quite possibly the longest fifteen minutes of my life up to that point. Stian didn’t say anything. Not a word. The whole time. He stood against the wall with his arms crossed and just… waited. Finally, the door opened.

“What the hell happened?” Casmin asked when he came in the door.

“I have a new theory,” Stian said. “There really are only enough brains for three in the Greyson clan, and this one and Rafe trade off days.”

The professor turned to me. “What did you do, Stephen?”

I hadn’t thought my stomach could drop any lower, but it did then. “I didn’t think…”

“Clearly,” Stian said. “He summoned a bloody ifrit into your apartment.”

“I thought I had taken everything into consideration,” I said, trying to explain.

“Except he forgot to specify the rank,” said Stian.

Casmin’s frown only deepened. “I am very disappointed, Stephen.”

Oh god. It was going to be this speech. At least last time I had gotten it, from my father before he died, I could blame Willamina. This one was all on me. I tried very hard not to squirm.

“Do you have any idea how lucky you are?” Casmin asked. “How much damage that thing could have done if it had gotten out? Hell, how much damage it was about to do to my flat?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“And that’s not even taking into account the fact that I trusted you enough to leave you alone here, and you violated that trust.”

“Yes, sir.” I didn’t lift my eyes from the floor while he glared at me for a while.

Finally he said, “Now, I want you to go home and spend many, many hours contemplating just what an idiot you’ve been and how you will avoid any such stupidity in the future. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

I collected my things, and headed out the door. I felt about as low as I could possibly feel, except for one thing.

I had done it. It had worked. And it had been incredible.

Stephen had barely gotten out the door before the two older men lost it.

“You should have seen the look on his face,” Stian said in between gasps.

“Why does he think you’re here?” Casmin asked.

Stian caught his breath and said, “I told him I had an alarm set in case he tried anything stupid.”

“How do you come up with this shit?” Casmin said.

“Long winters. I get bored,” Stian shrugged.

Casmin shook his head. “Well it’s about time, I was afraid there was something wrong with him.”

“Almost six months, right?” Stian said.

“That’s got to be some kind of record.”

As much as he hated the Brotherhood, Casmin had to admit their apprenticeship system was well designed. Every new mage was paired with a Kyrios, or guardian, and every Kyrios was backed up by his own immediate superior.

And this was precisely why: almost every single idiot one of them would eventually do exactly what Stephen just had. So their Kyrios watched them closely and tried to keep them from doing anything too catastrophic. Casmin locked up the books with the truly dangerous stuff, and his entire flat had been triple warded from the inside. He had gambled on his student not trying anything at the house, and he had been right.

“He’s a good kid.”

“Clearly he takes after Edmund,” Stian said.

“Don’t make that mistake,” Casmin said. “He’s his own man. Or at least he will be in a few more years. It can’t have been easy growing up in the shadow of two brothers like Rafe and Edmund. But once he comes into his own, I think he’ll amaze us all.” Casmin grinned. “Mariana caught him and his sister juggling fireballs the other day.”

Serving Time

(1870, Hjelm)

It was his second day at the Duke’s court.

The first had been the formal presentation, and he was one of many. The new Magus had been installed six weeks before, and every major faction on this world (and at least three others) now sent ambassadors to swear allegiance, reaffirm treaties, or just see what this new prince looked like.

He fell primarily into this last category.

“The problem with the Mogens,” his Kyrios, James, had told him, “is that you never know what you’re going to get. You’ve heard the stories about Beorn, of course. I wish I could say they were exaggerations, but you probably haven’t even heard the half of it.” James shook his head. “The last of his bastards haven’t even been born yet.” He sipped brandy from his snifter.

God, what an arrogant prig, Casmin thought. He kept his face carefully neutral as James continued. Continue reading