by Xenophon Hendrix
I began to hear footsteps walking around above my head and voices. The whole household was probably awake. At the moment, the only light in the basement was coming from the candle I'd used to represent fire. I picked up my athame, closed it, and dropped it into the pocket of my pajamas.
All three of my minds were concentrated marvelously. I turned on the light over the sitting area, snuffed the candle, hastily slid all four chairs under the table, and headed for the stairs. I noticed that Harvey's fur was puffed out.
On my way up, I heard Mom say, "Did something explode?" When she saw me, she asked, "Did something blow up in the basement?" Mary was standing beside her, and Audrey was hiding behind her legs.
"Not that I saw," I replied.
Aunt Kate came from the hallway. She was carrying Susan, who was crying. Dad appeared from behind her, and then Andy with Rich and Charlie. Dad had taken the time to pull on a pair of pants; he normally slept in his underwear. Charlie hadn't been crying at first, but seeing Susan doing so apparently set him off, and he began to wail, too.
I couldn't tell which consciousness was in charge of my body. We were all working together without comment or dissent. I headed for my bedroom and pulled on a pair of khakis over my pajamas. I transferred the athame to a trouser pocket and then put on a sweater Mom had knitted. I went back out and headed straight for my boots. I didn't see Dad and Andy, but I presumed they were checking the basement.
"Where in hell are you going?" Mom asked.
"I'm going to look around outside," I said as I continued dressing. Mom wasn't in any mood to argue, apparently, and turned her attention back to calming Charlie. Mary had an arm around Rich. He wasn't crying, but he looked upset. I pulled on my coat and went out the back door into the garage. As soon as the door shut, I began softly singing a Christmas carol.
My star amulet, of course, hung against my chest. I only took the talisman off to bathe. I started trying to call manna while at the same time singing. The Arthur part of my brain took up the song while the "I" part began to chant internally and to picture the manna flowing in: Please come to me. I need you. Please come to me.
I went out the side door to the east and then walked around to the front of the house, the north. It had to be cold outside, but I didn't feel it. My body was on automatic as I walked. Music without my guitar hadn't yet been enough alone to call manna, so the Ursus part of my mind was focused on achieving a light trance in record time. I walked to the end of the driveway and turned around as if I were examining the roof. My gaze, however, was all internal.
Arthur's song was not yet finished when Ursus achieved a timeless moment and filled us with as much manna as we could hold. Ursus and Arthur both turned their attention upon maintaining our grip on the magical energy as I took out and opened the athame and walked closer to the house. I held the knife deep in my hand so that only the point stood out between my thumb and forefinger. It would not do to have someone look out a window and see me waving it around.
I faced the north. While visualizing a line of air flowing from the tip of the athame, I drew the pentagram for air and fed it manna as I did so. "May the elemental power of air bless and protect this circle, this home, and its occupants."
I continued to the east. As I walked, I pictured the line of air slowly turning into a line of earth. I passed through the gate to the backyard. When I reached the approximate center of the east side of the house, I drew the pentagram for earth. "May the elemental power of earth bless and protect this circle, this home, and its occupants."
I continued to the south, crunched through the snow, fed manna, and slowly changed the line pouring out of my athame from earth to fire. At the back of the house, I drew the pentagram for fire. "May the elemental power of fire bless and protect this circle, this home, and its occupants."
I walked to the west while changing the line of fire to water. I drew the pentagram for water. "May the elemental power of water bless and protect this circle, this home, and its occupants."
The other gate hadn't been cleared of snow, but I managed push it open a little and squeeze through while maintaining my concentration. I continued back to the north while visualizing the water turn into air. When I closed circle, I felt Ursus strengthen it with the rest of our manna. That should slow the demon down if he decides to come back, he thought.
At about that time, Dad appeared around front. Presumably, he had come from the same door I had used. "Did you find anything?" he asked me.
"I went all around the house, but I didn't see anything that could have made the house shake."
"Thunder can sometimes happen this time of year, but the sky is clear, so that wasn't it," he said.
Dad, of course, needed to make his own inspection, so I left him to it and went back inside. I hoped he didn't tromp over the protective circle too much and weaken it. As soon as I was through the door, Mom asked me if I had found anything, and I gave her the same answer I had given Dad.
Aunt Kate was rocking Susan in the family room. Andy was with her. Mary and my two brothers were gone. I guessed that Mary was putting them back to bed.
"Why don't you go see if you can get some more sleep?" Mom said.
"That sounds like a fine idea." I went back downstairs. I took off my outer clothes and lay back down on the couch in my pajamas, but there wasn't much chance that I was going to fall back to sleep any time soon. Besides, there were things I had to do yet, once the household settled back down.
Did you noticed what happened outside? Ursus asked.
It was difficult for one of my minds to keep something from the other minds if they wanted to know it, but it was easier to just ask, What?
We managed to think of three different things at once.
Cool! Arthur thought.
Interesting, I thought. Did you know something like that might eventually happen?
I never considered it, but it certainly will be a useful benefit of our condition. We spent some time musing on the possibilities as we waited for the lights to go off upstairs and the human noises to stop. Harvey gave an inquiring mew and jumped up on me. I petted him while he purred.
How dangerous are demons, Ursus?
This is a new node for me, so I can't answer for sure, but the usual answer is "very."
What are they? Like what's on TV or in books?
Demons, in the way you mean--as you know, the classical Greeks, for example, had a different idea--are a metaphorical embodiment of evil.
"Metaphorical" in the language sense or the magical sense?
Both. The metaphorical dimensions often reflect the concepts of the physical dimensions.
Are you saying human beings created them?
In a way. In a way, the metaphorical dimensions are entirely created by the intelligent forces of the physical dimensions. Mind you, that's my belief about how the multiverse works. Others disagree. Many people believe the exact opposite of what I just said and say that the metaphorical creates the physical. Of course, complex feedback loops are involved either way.
Thanks, that cleared things right up.
This magician is a bad guy, then? asked Arthur.
He's calling the wicked type of demon "lord." That's decisive. If he wasn't a bad guy when he started trafficking with demons, he is now.
And we have him thoroughly pissed off at us, thought Arthur.
Indeed, thought Ursus, the demon, too. Consider this a teaching moment. Magic can be dangerous business, and I suspect that being in such a young body has rendered me less cautious than my wont. I underestimated the effective magical techniques known on this node and let us go blundering around. Now, we are in deep shit.
Blame it on hormones! I said.
What are we going to do? Arthur asked.
Ursus, justifiably, ignored me and answered Arthur. For now, we need to shore up our defenses, as we've been doing. Next, we need to get rid of the demon and stop the bad guy from summoning it again, or others like it.
That's reassuringly vague, I thought. Do you mean something like an exorcism? I had seen a movie on television about such an event.
It could be. Or maybe we can kill the demon or trap it in something. All three are possible actions on various nodes. We need to find out more, and fast. Damn it! I haven't felt this foolish in years.
That's the demon. How do we stop the magician? I asked.
I could feel Ursus hesitate before answering. We have to find a way to cut him off from his power, or we have to kill him.
I'm not a murderer.
I could feel Ursus get angry. Neither am I! He sent a demon after us. That's deadly business. If we take him out, it's self-defense.
The law says it's self-defense only in the heat of the moment. You can't calmly plan to kill someone and call it self-defense. That's plain murder.
Bullshit! Your law has no conception of how to deal with magic. Once that crazy bastard loosed a demon on us, this became wizard business. My business. We were then treated to several minutes of Ursus actively recalling incidents wherein he acted outside the law without a shred of guilty conscience. It appeared that old Ursus had a strong sense of ethics, but laws held no moral weight with him, at all.
I've always tried to be good, thought Arthur.
Arthur, I don't want to be condescending, but you are young. You are growing up fast, but still, you are young. For young people, simply obeying the law is a good idea. You don't yet have the life experience to know when the law is inadequate for the situation. I, however, am a wizard, and old. Normally, I'm a powerful wizard and one day will be again. As a man of power, I sometimes have to do what is necessary, whether it is legal or not. You, also, will be a man of power.
So you feel free to take the law into your own hands? I thought.
You're making an unwarranted assumption, Ursus thought. If I violate the self-determination of another sapient being, it has nothing intrinsic to do with the law. It simply is necessary.
What if you're wrong?
Everyone, always, bears full responsibility for his or her actions. A police officer who guns down a robber brandishing a gun is neither more nor less responsible for his actions than I will be if I have to kill this rogue magician. With free will comes responsibility, always. The short answer to your question is--don't be wrong.
That sounds so arrogant, thought Arthur.
It does, at least when one is first exposed to the concept. It might help if you think about it this way: Men can create laws, but laws are abstract concepts. The actions of sentient beings, however, are concrete. If you act in free will, you are responsible for those actions--concretely. Everything else is abstract justifications or rationalizations for why you freely chose to act.
What about reflexes? asked Arthur.
Each of my minds spent several moments thinking to itself. Ursus continued: I don't kill lightly, fellow brain-mates. We were given a few minutes of recollections of times Ursus had killed sapient beings. If I can, I'll try to find some other way to stop this demon conjuror. But he has to be stopped, and we're the ones on the spot.
It was impossible to argue with that. We knew of two demonstrably potent magicians in the world, and we were one of them. We can't let him hurt us, or anyone else, I thought.
Indeed not, thought Ursus. I'm especially worried about the girl. He was thinking about the beautiful young brunette we had twice scried.
You don't believe she is in league with him? I asked.
Perhaps she is, but it's at least as likely that she's one of the reasons our magician summoned a demon in the first place.
Ew, thought Arthur, and that pretty much summed up that.
The light had gone off upstairs, and people had quit moving around. We had to get back to work. I softly played the guitar to collect manna and cast an additional protective "circle" around the perimeter of the basement. Ursus assured us that, by visualizing the circle going up in a cylinder, it would help protect the upstairs as well. Unfortunately, I had to follow the outline of several of the internal walls of the basement. Because the upstairs internal walls were different from the basement internal walls, the circle would quickly be degraded once people again started moving around.
I then purified the circle around the basement. I did my best to vividly recall what I had felt when the demon was near, the nauseating sense of evil, and visualize the elemental air, earth, fire, and water destroying it. I longed to purify separately the upstairs as well, but there was no practical way to do so.
When I was finished--emphatically not dismissing the elemental powers--I noticed Mary sitting on the end of the couch. When she saw that I had recognized her, she asked, "Do you know what happened tonight?"
I wasn't going to lie to her, especially if Ursus intended to make her an apprentice. She deserved to know what she was getting into. "It was a demon. I woke up to scry the magician who killed the goat, and he sent a demon after me. My circle stopped it."
Mary looked scared shitless. I sat down beside her and put an arm around her. She hugged me back. We sat silently holding each other of a couple minutes. "We need to tell someone," she said.
"Who would believe us?"
She thought for a moment. "You said you've been learning magic from books. We could tell the authors of the books and ask for help."
That was an intelligent idea, especially for a ten-year-old who didn't have the advantage of being attached to the mind of an ancient wizard. Unfortunately, neither the books Ursus had learned from nor their authors were on this node. "Some of the authors are dead, and I don't know how to get in touch with the others," I said.
"We could go through the publishers." That was another relatively smart idea.
"We're pressed for time, and it probably takes a while for publishers to forward messages, especially during the Christmas season." That statement was purposefully misleading, but I wasn't ready to reveal the presence of Ursus to anyone.
"What will we do?"
"I'm working on it. I put up a protective circle outside the house, too, so for now, we're in a double circle. A single circle stopped its first attack, so we should be safe for a while. I'm going to do some more work, now."
"Do you want some help?"
"There's nothing for you to do for a while. Try to get some sleep; I might need you in the morning. You can stay down here, if you want. Use the couch."
Mary looked unsure, but she stretched out under the afghan. I used the guitar to collect manna and drew a protective circle around the couch as she watched. "There, you're really well defended, now."
I went into the storage room to select a piece of the wood we had gathered. Ursus decided the ash pole was metaphorically our best choice, so I took it. When I came out, Mary said, "Leave the light on." I nodded and went into the workroom. Harvey followed me in. He was sticking close.
Fortunately, the workroom was on the east end of the house while the bedrooms were on the west. Nevertheless, I cut a disk off the end of the pole with a handsaw so that I made as little noise as possible. I put the disk in the wooden-jawed vise and somewhat equalized the thickness with a rasp. Then I gave it a quick sanding by laying a piece of sandpaper flat and rubbing the disk on it.
The attack by the demon had decided for my brain collective which spell we were going to work on the solstice. We needed increased protection from magic and demons. Ursus had quickly designed in our head an appropriate glyph. I used drafting tools to lay it out in pencil on both sides of the disk.
I drew a circle fairly close to the edge of the disk. On the top, bottom, and both sides of the circle I left gaps. Following the map conventions of the node, I put a symbol representing air in the top gap. The right gap got earth, the bottom gap fire, and the left gap water. I knew from the witchcraft books I'd been reading that many magicians on the node believed that earth should be north and air east, but Ursus disagreed, and in matters magical, he was the boss.
Multiple symbols exist to represent the various classical elements. I used the simplest; carving in wood was difficult enough without getting fancy. Fire was represented by an upward pointing triangle, water by a downward pointing triangle, air by an upward pointing triangle with a horizontal line near the upward point, and earth by a downward pointing triangle with a horizontal line near the downward point.
In the center of this miniature protective circle, I drew a simplified version of the sigil that the brain collective had designed several days before to represent ourselves. During the casting of the spell, I would be sure to visualize the circle also protecting people near me, at least those I wanted to protect.
I got out the smallest gouge and began carving, using only hand pressure. The ash was noticeably tougher than either pine or green willow. Nevertheless, I took my time to minimize slip-ups; beauty counted in glyph magic. When that was finished on both sides, I stripped the bark from the edge of the disk, rounded the corners with a file, and gave everything a more careful sanding.
When I came out of the workroom, Mary was asleep. Everyone in my head felt touched by the faith she was putting in us. I wanted to find a place to stretch out myself, but I needed to keep going. I went to the basement table, found the other tiny eyehook I had bought, and screwed it into the edge of the disk near the sign for air. I had now done everything to the new amulet that I could until it was time to cast the spell.
I picked up the library book that was supposed to be the translation of an ancient grimoire, The Demon Prince, settled into the armchair near the couch, and began to read. Harvey jumped into my lap. Morning was going to arrive too soon.