[Fiction] Magic & Shadows

The following is a narrative and epilogue for a character I played in Pandaemonium, at HLG Con, October 12-13, 2018.

Once there was a child, like any of us.  Playing the games we all play.  Running wild with friends, due home by dark to be welcomed back by parents

A child grows and changes, the pieces not always fitting the mold set by the parents.  Algebra seems so… tedious compared to the thrum of a tuned engine, the just so fit of a pair of jeans, to secrets held in the shadows.  Childish mischief transmutes into the usual adolescent rebellion.  Or started as such.  There were so many fascinating things to learn, interesting things to try, expanding the consciousness.

It was a laugh when the straights started crossing themselves instead of laughing or mocking.  Why not take on their scorn and wear it as a badge of pride.  Watch out for the scary witch.

It only takes a moment for everything to change, one decision made so quickly you don’t even remember making a choice.  Some punk beating on your friend at a beach party and you leap into the fray, only to be kicked to the ground.  You land hard, breath shocked from the impact, scrabbling in the sand.  Your hand brushes against a bottle, and then it’s in your hand, bottom smashing open against a rock before you launch yourself at the assailant.  The first strike hits him in the face, gouging his eye and cheek… with the second you drive it into his gut, leaving it there in broken shards as he collapses onto the ground bleeding.  If he lived perhaps he would have gained wisdom about who not to fuck with in exchange for losing that eye.  Instead he bleeds out screaming and crying in the light of a bonfire, bottleneck jutting out like a hilt.  There’s no Arthur here to pull it out, just Merlin understanding power in a way never before.

That’s when you began.

There's a power in being the unpredictable one, the one there in a pinch but in a way no one expects.  There's a power in being unpredictable.  Dangerous.  Add in mysticism and divination and no one knows if they should be afraid or to treat it all like a joke, leaving them vulnerable.

The Steel Pier Summit… admirable idea, questionable motives.  Crazy Mouse, an old man in a young man's game.  You don't stay on top so long without some smarts, but is he overreaching?  And his second… well, how long will Yapper be content in the shadows?  The lack of invite now, the exclusion, that's just rude.  They don't need to know your sources.  Better if they don't, lends some mystique and paranoia after all.

And really, why wouldn't you be at the underground party of the year.  Who knows what the night might bring.

Start of the night gave hints of quite the unusual party.  Freaks and norms all in the same space, dancing around each other like cats.  Who’s friend, who’s foe?  Add in a little altercation of state… glorious.

You supposed the oddness started early.  Hard to judge but the squares seemed to be on edge, and not just because of how you read them to filth with a random drawing of cards.  On reflection… some of those patterns were… persistent.

9 of Wands

Ace of Pentacles

Trapped in the dark, but a way out for those who grasp it.

A balancing of this world and the next.  The whole world in hand.

Other constants…

Selfishness

Expanded consciousness

Metamorphosis

The “Summit” itself… you thought more of Crazy Mouse before he showed dressed as Caesar, calling to become the first among equals.  Calling for a unity to spit in the face of all authority and bring on a war with us as his soldiers.  And his dog, Yapper, straining on the lead to prove himself and his superiority.  A better case was made for a muzzle than his envisioned alliance.

Cufflinks - he got what I was throwing down.  Saw the shadows in the light of those words.  Saw Brutus in the shadows.  Crazy Mouse needs to learn the difference between wergild and thirty pieces of silver.

In the end, a draw.  A party to enjoy.  Options to consider.  Our line versus his.  An alliance too valuable to refuse… but at what price?

Let’s go down this rabbit hole, boyos.  The night is young and the shadows deep.

There’s a… honesty in the shadows.  Or maybe you just don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks.  You see how they recoil when you’re honest. Well, if they didn’t want to know, maybe they shouldn’t have asked.  Go ahead, run and cower…. The monsters will find you in the end.  Maybe if you give them a good game they will be merciful.

The funny thing about shadows… they need light to exist.  Didn’t expect to find yours in this place… such a delightful delicate thing, seeking an escape, a freedom, trembling against you as you shared who you are, what it means to be a monster in the dark.  They didn’t run but jumped in feet first.

They took learning the cost of escape better than you expected.  A steel core under that desire to see the best.  Still, you offer to help, to be a guiding hand if, when, the time comes.  In the end, they took matters in their own hands.  Well, they always say your first kill stays with you… a bit more true here than usual.

While everyone searches for a way out, another option, a way to not have to admit how selfishly they want to live, you dig deeper.  You’ve lived in a waking dream so long, having it tangible, real, is so inviting.  You know what you want, the question is the price.  Another life is hardly too steep, but will they deliver?  Can they?  Or are they just a raving nulls, a mockery of  life seeking their own tickets to salvation?

You ask and they tease.  They let slip small truths.

In the end you realize how little they have to offer beyond their own fixation on escape.  That was a betrayal you were not expecting, adding true anger to the frustration of an empty hunt.

Find your other half, they said.  Well, your other half isn’t here or maybe everyone was right when they said you had no soul.

The psychopomps are no help.

No one answers your war cry.

A hunt with no prey is no hunt at all.  And there is nothing else to hunt here besides the inmates and why would you give them that release?  Let them suffer alone instead of fading into nothing.

But… but…

You join others in a raising of the spirits.  Speaking to the Power of this place itself.  And fuck, it actually answers.  The questions were all wrong.  The rules of a place like this don’t care if you don’t play.  The house always wins in the end, buckaroos.  If you’re here, you’re playing.  The only choice is if you fight or  lay down and die.

Do you, does this place, have another half of your soul?

Silence.  No one expected profound insights from you.  Shoulda been paying attention then.  You’ve been dropping profound truths all night.

Your question goes unanswered.

Of course.  You’re all prey in its trap, why would it admit a possible weakness.  Maybe that will be the  next thing you hunt.  A certain justice in that idea.  You smile.

That’s when the spook approaches.  Actual spook, some government alphabet soup who missed his score, trapped here until he fades.  Too bad, for him, you would have made quite the arrest had he looked close enough.  Had it not been here.  Maybe he had looked close enough… maybe that’s why he confessed who he really was before he died.

Magic numbers he says.

Motherfucker.

Guess the game is still on, ain’t that a pisser.

It’s a shock when you find the first.  Sage.  That slip of a blond thing who tried to say you lack the Gift, but shied away from being read.  The one Cufflinks has been following after… Dammit all.  She’s his fucking light and he and you have been racing each other to hell for years with smiles on your faces.  This isn’t a fight either of you can guarantee a win… or even that you’d both survive.  You’re both the same side of a tarnished coin, of course there’s not enough soul between to be a whole.

In that moment of recognition, of unity of knowing… he lets slip his plan to you.  Damn, didn’t think he had that in him, beautiful and destroyed by your intrusion.  Didn’t realize he was chasing redemption this whole time.

Oh.  Well, then.  It’s even more than you thought.

That crafty bastard.

Four of you.  Sage, the Sun, Salem the Moon. You and Cufflinks the void in the middle.

Guess she’ll never read your fortune now.  Pity.

Now the ties seem so clear, the pull unmistakable.  A twinning.  Cufflinks is drawn to Sage, willing to throw everything away so that some good part of him may exist in the world.  Salem… she has potential.  A mirroring of desire and drive.  Her hands are far from clean, and you can feel her need for the knowledge and skill you hold.  You represent a path to what you both want.  Knowledge.  Comprehension.  Understanding.  Of this world and the next.  You could live with her in your head.  She accepts the cost of knowledge.  It all comes down to blood in the end.

The moment breaks, and she disappears, in search of the hold on her heart.  You slip through the crowd, sure now with your hunt so close to the end.

She finds him, a joy in her voice, in her eyes.  He has no idea what she’s saying, no idea of her fate.  She doesn’t flinch when you steal up next to her, place a hand on her shoulder, bracing, before you slide the knife up under her ribs.  You hold her close as she falls away from Moon, the man she loves as you tear out his heart in front of him.

The intimacy of the moment overwhelms.  The vessel that holds your soul shuddering and bleeding out in your arms.  So consuming you don’t even notice Moon raise his gun, or Titus stop him from shooting you in the back.  You can’t remember the last time killing made you feel.  And you feel so much.

Finally still, you set her down gently.  Turning to find Moon wishing your death.

Try it.  Make my fucking day.  You made the same choice, you carry someone’s soul.

Maybe that’s why he lets you stand without challenge as you lunge for the bar.

A glass, half full.  A shot glass.

A vessel.

A ritual.

Kneeling in her blood you submerge one vessel within the other, binding her soul within you, and she comes crashing into your consciousness.

Oh.

Reeling, your entire self changes.  Sage comes to you, the only one who can truly feel the turmoil through your twinned souls, distraught and terrified by the truth hidden from her.

Cufflinks did it.  She killed him without knowing, believing his lie that there was another way out.  Trying to save her from the pain of knowledge.

The resonance and familiarity hurts.  Head spinning so fast you don’t hear the bells tolling at first.  Emerson breaks you out of your daze.  Calling your name as they search through the crowd.  Your unexpected light.  The one who made you promise to keep seeking your soul.  They lead you and Sage out, hand in hand.  Leaving the wraiths behind to fade into obscurity, the unpaired to descend into madness.

Everything has changed.

You don’t do anything to start or quell the rumors.  But they all know you changed.  That the leaders all went in and only you emerged.  They may not respect you… but they fear you, what you can do, what you are.

That is enough to protect Emerson, to provide what you offered even if you cannot stay in one place long.

It is enough to protect your people.

You’re a changeling living on the the dirty streets of heaven.  Emerson thinks you never sleep, they might be right, you’re not completely sure anymore.  But you slip in through their window at night, gently pull their fingers away from their throat while they dream.  Sometimes they wake while you’re there, and you stay.  Other times you stroll in through the front door, like a cat in a palace, you and Sage needing to exist in the same space with your still fractured souls, but you’ll never speak that aloud.  It’s strange to have a soul, let alone share it.  It becomes a game, sending Emerson notes and reaching out through improbable means, the best is when you surprise them and they don’t know your watching, but you love to see that flash of joy and delight.

Salem wants you to find Moon, talk to him.  But she doesn’t want you to kill him, so you refuse.  You do toy with letting him find you, to see the conflict and anguish of having to choose between letting you live and letting her die.  It might be worth the inconvenience of letting him try...

You take her other suggestions.  Visiting strange booksellers and practitioners, she takes your knowledge and skill.  You are both ruthless.  Together… you are magic.  A strange alchemical chimera haunting the Boardwalk and City, hunting in the shadows.

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