The old man sighed, warming himself before a simple wood-burning stove. Unlike the rest of the Order, which thrived on extravagant shows of power and elegance, he himself had long since eschewed such fripperies, preferring only the simplest-looking of materials and the barest necessities to live on, having long since grown bored with baser aesthetics. His office, vastly smaller than most others, held only a single bookcase and his desk, and the Lincoln stove atop which his kettle and a small cauldron lay.
If one looked even closer, though, one would notice that the austere, supposedly simple items were made of vastly expensive and extinct materials. The kettle, rough-cut and black, fairly glowed with power, the enchantments laid upon it bolstered by the dragon bone and jade the kettle was made of.
The bookcase, made completely of one massive block of ivory, held books that were older than the entire civilization of mankind combined, diaries and spellbooks of those who had also held his much-vaunted station before him. Some of the books were said to be sentient, the power within more than able to render one a minor deity.
Some of the books WERE sentient, and were bound and muffled by enchanted chain and black samite.
The old man scratched at a pectoral as he squatted, gazing at the figures that danced amongst the flames within his stove. He was old, older than he ever had a right to be. A life led in the pursuit of power and knowledge had left his still-muscular body with scars that could never heal under magical inducement, and he wouldn't have it any other way - he was proud of each scar born from battle or experimentation, sometimes on others, sometimes on himself.
Overall the Grand Magus had led a grand life.
"So where did it all go wrong, huh?"
The old man turned a shaggy-browed glare to the darkened corner of his room as the shadows melted back, Frank Todd striding out as if he had been leaning against the wall the entire time, watching the old man in his musings.
"It's bad luck to scare an old man, young Mister Todd," the Grand Magus, who had long since given up his true name, grunted wryly as he remained squatting, his white-gloved hands on the knees of his baggy, homespun pants. He had taken off his shirt in order to better enjoy his private relaxation, and the room's temperature had increased as the creatures within the stove fed further.
Frank grunted, his hands in his pockets, "It's also bad luck to cross the Shop, Gee Emm. Why does the entire guard bear the insignia of House Valken?"
The Grand Magus shifted and sighed, slowly standing to his full five-foot-five height, his long-fingered hands against his back as he stretched out each painful kink with a groan, "Because...it's the dawning of a new season, don't you know? Since you've been gone, good sir, the Darkwatch wanes and a new Daywatch is arising. The Special Jurisdiction, those guards provided by House Ra'zer, has proven themselves insufficient to properly police our people, and so Legatus Valken has supplemented our weakening guards with personally-chosen specialists and professionals from his very own estates."
"Bah. Specialists," the Generalist spat, "Human's aren't insects. We weren't born for specialization...but then again, I'm understandably biased."
"Hrmph," the Grand Magus tugged at a shaggy mustache, still as black as his shaggy brows. Rubbing a smooth palm against his bald skull, he finally turned completely to face Frank with a grin, "And do you still find our organization to be as wanting when compared to yours, Generalist? You'd find no greater center of knowledge than ours, you do realize."
Frank barked a laugh, walking to the stove and preparing tea, his hands plucking the bag of black tea leaves out of thin air, his hands moving quickly from long practice still unforgotten as he invoked the various enchantments within the room, twisting reality and allowing access to an entire household's features and services found within the single room, "A center of learning? Is that what you call the Order nowadays?" Frank grunted as he held the opened kettle under a stream of water, his fingertips glowing a gentle green as he manipulated mana, usable magic energy, into the room's arranged enchantments, "A zoo is a good place, I guess, if you want to learn new things. But the animals behind the bars are the ones I pity the most, y'know? It's no place for a lion, I tell you."
The Grand Magus staggered to his plush chair and sighed contentedly as he sat down in it, his long-fingered hands drumming out an old folk tune on the top of his humongous desk, "So. I'm a lion, eh?"
Frank chuckled and answered with brisk actions instead of words, inciting the creatures within the stove to further consumption as he added a few more of the logs, quiet as the tea began to brew. Nodding to himself, Frank glanced at the Grand Magus before asking, "You eaten today?"
"Have I eaten this week?" The Grand Magus frowned, patting the desk and ignoring the wailing moans that threatened to ring out from the desk's interior, "You should appreciate your youth, young Mister Todd. And the ability to still taste, not to mention your hunger. Treasure it always, these years of yours."
"Why? So I can get old and masturbate all over memory lane the way you do?" Frank began to pour the bubbling brew into two cups, plucked out of the ether itself. Ignoring what kind of bone the cups were made of, he worked two sugars and a dash of milk to one and handed it to the Grand Magus, who took it with both hands and a deep sigh of sheer appreciation. Sipping his own tea straight, Frank watched as the Grand Magus inhaled his tea's fragrance for a few moments before taking a slow sip, then a second, slower one.
Eventually the two finished their tea and Frank began to put the set away, their old ritual fully seen to as he returned the room the way he found it. Facing the Grand Magus, Frank looped his thumbs into his pockets and tilted his head to the side, seeing the Grand Magus fully for the first time before asking, "So. How much longer?"
The Grand Magus, caught off-guard by the directness of the question, answered slowly, "I have perhaps a year left to me. You didn't use any Mage Sight that I could sense...how did you know?"
Frank looked towards the bookcase, grinning, "I didn't. I just figured asking an open-ended question would reveal more than if I actually Looked at you."
The Grand Magus suddenly laughed, slapping the desk and ignoring the moans and shaking that now came from the bound souls within the desk's make, "I see, I see! Yes. You are, indeed, the right one for this job! Omot M. didn't lie to me after all, the old scoundrel."
Frank frowned at the name and nodded, "Did he leave you a letter for me? I'll have to see it in order to fulfill the contract - the first one isn't enough."
Opening up a drawer, the Magus set a rolled-up scroll upon the desk and sat back, alone with his thoughts as Frank read then re-read the scroll. Biting his thumb and drawing blood, he signed it and set it ablaze within the stove's interior, slipping a pair of shades on as he responded, "Omot M. speaks true. Fine then, I'll accept this job. I don't like the situation and I really don't like going about it this way, but I'll do it.
Remember, though, what you owe, G.M. Yer gonna owe both The Shop AND my organization for this one."
Chuckling, the Grand Magus began to drift to sleep, out of respect ignoring Frank as he once again stepped into the shadows of the far corner of the room, for all intents and purposes having never been there at all.
For once the Shop lay quiet and dark, the nascent energies subdued as the Shop began to power down. In the increasing gloom the sense of foreboding and the supernatural didn't radiate from the condemned buildings, nor did the central building even appear lived-in.
To the five figures that gathered in the shadows of a parking lot across the Shop, this was an exceptionally good sign.
Dressed in black tunics, leggings, and soft boots the five lesser mages took account of their equipment and set off across the street, hand-picked for their ability to move unnoticed in public, not to mention their collective ability in illusory magics and spells that helped towards burglary.
The leader of the group, a green-eyed brunette student fresh out of the Crucible yet still sporting a bowl haircut, waved the other four through the fence of the Shop and towards the door. Testing it with a thin tendril of magic he found it suitably undefended, the very threshold of the place disengaged and all wards off.
Just as they had been told they would be.
Slipping through the Welcome Room and ignoring the new carpeting, the five flowed through the doorway leading into the Shop only to stop short.
Instead of opening up into the warehouse-like first level, with its' reality-warped library and bookcases full of reagents for sale and show, they instead beheld a single room, a vaulted ceiling overhead giving the room the sense of being bigger than it was. Rich carpeting underfoot muffled their steps as they crept into the room, the lead whispering into a bluetooth device in his ear. The four began to quest out with their magical sense, seeking more information over this deception as they physically searched the room: a door across the room remained locked despite their best efforts to pick it, and upon utilizing magic upon the it the doorknob simply fell off.
Blinking quizzically, the lead picked up the doorknob then crouched low, his brown eyes widening in shock and surprise. Turning, the rest of the team each also underwent a shock as the way out had disappeared completely, the room stretching off into a dark horizon.
"Williams, what the unholy hell!" one of their number, a young woman with short-cropped blonde hair and a perpetual sneer, snarled at the leader, "We need to scrub this mission and get the hell out! Use the freakin' scroll already!"
Williams frowned, feeling at his cloth sash for the empowered scroll that, supposedly, would teleport all five of them out of the location should the mission become threatened. Secrecy had been stressed upon them all, and the scroll would ensure that the talented Shopkeepers wouldn't get their hands on any more information than had been revealed to the strike team.
On the other hand, to fail would also bring about sure death or worse, the client not one for either subtlety or failures. Frowning, Williams decided against it and hissed the commands to the other four, "We go forward. If we're trapped in an illusion, we can break through it - if this is something else entirely, we can work through it. We've been through worse than this."
"Worse than disappearing exits, doors that don't work, and the Shop?" the young woman snarled, her eyebrows high and her eyes wide with fear and rage, "I'm goin' straight to the Headmaster after this, y'know!"
Williams hissed for silence and began to lope forward, his legs eating up the distance as they crossed what had been the original parameters of the room then further down beyond, the horizon always dark and out of view. Keeping one eye out for the side they came from, they shortly came to the point where they could either walk towards the dark horizon or lose sight completely of the room's known end.
"Jennings, I swear by the Four if you keep harassing me about this issue I'm going to burn you right here and now," Williams sighed, "The door back there doesn't work, and we're trapped in what appears to be a hallway. If this is an illusion spell, than it's one that's incredibly charged - we've already gone beyond the point we came in with to begin with. You can't increase a rooms' dimensions with an illusion spell, and apparently the only way they can perform reality warping is with a glyph...and neither Ricketts have found anything."
The twins in question, both large and agile on their feet, looked over. For all that they looked the same, with long dark hair, shaggy bangs that covered their squinty blue eyes, the older twin bore a mystical tattoo of a snake on his left cheek, the younger twin the same tattoo on his right. Quiet to a fault, only one twin at a time ever spoke.
The fifth member of their team, a bookish brunette woman, short and squat, read aloud from a enchanted spellbook, one that gave clues to their whereabouts in a magical environment but only under stressed conditions, "It says here we'll never figure out what kind of energy is powering this thing, nor what it is. We're stuck here unless we deal with the mini-boss."
"Mini-boss?" Williams blinked before the sound of a door slamming open, loud and sharp, dragged his attention quickly to the area they had just left. All five gazed down the long room as the doorknob rolled along the ground, kicked to the side by a hulking monstrosity in a butchers' black apron, his scaled face glinting with wicked highlights. His eyes covered by a pair of red and black goggles, the creature grinned rows upon rows of sharp, jagged teeth and hefted a gigantic chainsaw in its' oversized claws. Hulking over even further the creature growled and started up the chainsaw, rock music beginning to thump through the air from an unseen source as the creature gunned the chainsaw once, then twice, its' growl rising each time it squeezed the trigger.
"What...what the..." Jennings blinked then took off like a frightened rabbit, not looking back as the troll roared and held the chainsaw overhead, bobbing its' head from side to side as it waved the chainsaw around. Williams yelled for a quick retreat, the twins already at his feet.
The bookish woman, Magus Tourmaline, sat down heavily and gazed down the long room at the engine of destruction, the troll taking off after them like a shot from the gun, the chainsaw intent on the young magus even as she scrabbled backwards, gear and book forgotten. Leaping into the air, the creature landed with heavy, overly large booted feet slamming into the ground on either side of her legs, a scream ripping from her as the chainsaw came directly down, tearing her tunic apart as it hit the area left by her knees. Scrabbling backwards further while the creature chainsawed at the ground, the young magus screamed harder and joined her comrades in racing away from the nightmarish creature, the sound of shredding guitars and pounding drums aiding in their flight.
The creature bayed like a bloodhound as it retrieved the chainsaw, tearing up the floor and carpet into chunks before slashing each one as it fell, roaring with laughter before taking off after them.
"RUN! RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAAAAAN! I'LL CATCH YOU ALL AND EAT YOU UP, YOU GINGERBREAD MEEEEEN!" The creature laughed harder as the group ran towards the dark horizon, the other end of the room never getting any closer though the troll began to eat up the distance between them. Jennings cried out, realizing all too late that those in the front were actually getting slower, the troll and Tourmaline having caught up to them despite her early lead. For a moment a glowing, ice blue magical circle burned with intensity about her feet as she prepared a spell to hurl at her cohorts, desperate to get away. For a split second rivulets of energy crackled about her hands then dispelled itself altogether as her eyes met Williams and, in a rush of empathy, he witnessed the depths of her treacherous actions.
"KILL IT, KILL IT!" Jennings wailed, pointing behind him as Williams, desperate to end this and deal with her himself, spun and cast a quick hex spell at the creature, the twins pooling their energies together to ignite a fireball and send it hurling at the creature.
Pounding the air with its' roar of utter rage the creature backhanded the hex spell to the side, its' aura glowing red and hot as it completely ignored the effects of the spell and re-directed it harmlessly to the side. Holding the chainsaw with one hand it reached back and whipped out a gigantic baseball bat, far too large for normal human hands but just perfect for the frighteningly large claws it bore, and batted the fireball back at them.
Tourmaline screamed and held her head down, the twins slamming back as they took the brunt of the fireball, forgetting their defenses and shielding in the surprise of seeing their own spell simply batted back.
Jennings ran further into the darkness with a cry, ignoring her downed comrades. Williams growled and hurtled himself after the two larger men, using his own bulk to check their velocity and letting them fall to the ground in a controlled heap. Panting, he began to gather magical energies into himself, his senses questing for natural rivulets of magical energy within the earth itself then went cold with shock.
It wasn't a ley line he felt nearby, surging with magical energy to supplement his own natural store of mana. What he felt was something far stronger, far worse.
"We're...IN...a ley line?!!"
Williams looked in horror as his Mage Sight kicked in unbidden, his body drawing in far too much magical energy than he was used to. Crying out in pain he fell to his knees, his arms crossed as he sought to internalize that much mana. Feeling a gigantic pair of hands on his back, he shivered and kept his eyes closed, not caring who it was who sought to comfort him.
"Hey hey there buddy, just breathe, just breathe - you'll get used to it."
He opened his eyes, bloodshot and glowing a neon green from the sheer amount of power, as the troll took off his goggles and held him with his free hand, chuckling good-naturedly before grinning down at him, "Yeah, looks like the joke's over. Control!"
The rock music stopped pumping and a voice disturbingly similar to his rang out from that unseen location, from everywhere yet nowhere, "You called, chief?"
"Yeah," Dash nodded, "Disengage the glyph and establish a contact with their superior. I doubt after they hear how all five bodies were recovered that they'll try again anything until the morning," he chuckled wickedly, grinning down at the magus he cradled, his palm bigger than the man's back, "Also, set the table for somethin' good to eat, huh? I'm pretty hungry after all this fun."
Williams' eyes widened, his body beginning to finally become accustomed to the irregularly high amount of mana before passing out, his gaze never leaving the trolls' gigantic teeth, wondering how long he had left to live before becoming the trolls' newest snack.
Dash chewed thoughtfully, stopping to pick a bone out of his large, sharp teeth. Powerful jaws working, he mulled over the question and spoke aloud, "It was Frank's idea, but I had to implement it. Control. Well, C.O.N. Troll - my own brain, ripped out of my skull and transmuted to gold, inlaid with silicon chips for the C.P.U., and the rest is powered and governed by the energies that comprises the intangible portion of the Shop. It is literally an ethereal computer made out Feng Shui and energy. Computerized Optimal Network, y'see? See-Oh-Enn-Troll...Control."
"In other words, I'm something of Dash's son, something of Frank's son. I have two fathers," Controls' voice rang out clearly in the dining area.
Williams frowned at his bowl of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich, ignoring the twins' gusto as they went at the food nor Tourmaline's constant pawing and questioning of the troll. Jennings had refused to surrender to the troll after the gist was up and they realized none of their spells would work so long as Dash was able to defend against magical energies, something a troll should very well not be able to do, and so Jennings had been locked into a threadbare room, somewhere in the catacomb-like series of rooms directly underneath the Shop.
It didn't help that Jennings' cowardice and selfish actions had placed the entire crew in jeopardy, but he was sincerely rethinking the clients' insistence that she come with them. He was used to the Ricketts twins and Tourmalines' never-ending fount of information and scrying, but Jennings was a one-time affair that he never wanted to allow happen a second time.
"That...is all well and good, Sir Dash," Williams still had no idea what position they were in whether it be prisoner, hostages, or trapped guests, but for the moment he was glad the troll-gened was at least willing to be hospitable towards them, "But must you eat your roast beef so...bloody? And so much? You're...kinda making me worry, especially since you're...well-"
"What, a monster-gened?!" Dash laughed, slamming a huge fist on the table, "I won't lie to ya, I've been in a reaaaaal carnivorous mood as of late. I reckon it's 'cuz of all the action I've been gettin' as of late," he grinned wickedly before taking another bite, "And if I get hungry, I get HUNGRY hombre. This is my third roast beef of the day, and I'm just not in the mood for anything else. And I do mean anything else, peoples."
Tourmaline sipped at her tea with both hands, Dash's cup dwarfing her hands as she held it up to her face and sipped before piping up, "So Control is...a supernatural computer equipped with a naturally-occurring artificial intelligence? That's...brilliant!"
Williams leaned back and listened to their conversation, considering his options. They had made the phone call, and the Shop itself, under the powers of Control, was able to keep them cut off from any L.A. ley lines that they would normally access. While each mage had a store of personal mana, this wouldn't be enough to overcome the will of the Shop itself now that he knew its' nature. Dash had been bad enough, having proven to be as knowledgeable about magic as any magus, but against the Shop itself they each knew they would have been outclassed individually and as a group.
Even pooled together, the Shop was actually in a ley line, a naturally occurring wellspring of magical energy with nearly limitless potential, always replenishing itself...which meant only one thing according to his studies.
He cast a glance towards Dash, wanting to keep this little tidbit to himself: the only way the ley line hadn't burned out either Shopkeeper meant that they both could regulate and process mana better than other living beings, or that the excess was being regulated elsewhere.
First, to gain the trolls' trust. Then...then and only then will I ask where the Nexus Point is! he thought to himself, Sipping at his drink and chuckling within himself as Dash point-blank admitted to having a girlfriend, much to Tourmalines' chagrin. That neither the client nor the Grand Magus himself realized exactly where the Shop was, nor the potential it had, meant that this little tidbit might be of use to Williams in negotiating for their lives.
"How is it that Control can do so much, Mr. Hopkins?" Tourmaline adjusted her glasses, glad to have them back on, "That would take quite a lot of energy that neither magic nor Feng Shui would answer for."
"Oh, that's because we're built directly on a ley line, fed directly from a Nexus Point~!" Dash replied happily. Williams did a spit-take, his drink flying out in a fine mist as he aimed his face upwards. Ignoring him, Dash continued on, "Using that and the energies of the Shop itself, Control is able to manipulate the reality-twisters, the warping glyphs, and apply them to other regions of the Shop, so twisting the reality glyphs from the library or our alchemical reagents area to that room, he was able to design that room to my specifications. Since the plan was to fuck with you guys - the Order works on strict principles, and the first step is to ALWAYS send Crucible students...I could get away with having a little fun at your expense."
Williams sputtered, wide-eyed, "WH-WHAT? YOU JUST...ADMIT...I MEAN-"
"What?" Dash lifted a scaled eyebrow, "It's just a nexus point. Or is it the ley line? Which one, m'man?"
"Ah...AH...but...," Williams shook his head, falling back on studious training in his surprise at Dash's ability to easily admit such a thing, "I know damn well what both are! A ley line is a river of energy that moves freely within the earth I MEANT THE NEXUS POINT, THE NEXUS POINT!"
"A nexus point is a naturally-occurring gate between this dimension and a nearby one composed completely of energy," Tourmaline recited, adjusting her glasses out of nervous habit, "Like the mouth of a river, a nexus point, or nexus gate, is the origin point of ley line energy and is what connects our world to other dimensions."
"I - I knew that," Williams frowned, rubbing at a temple, "What I meant is that if the Order ever found out about this, they'd attempt to wrest it from you. Yet you just admitted to us quite easily that you're not only homesteaded over one, but you've somehow harnessed it to your...to this...for your own purposes?"
"Yeah, that's pretty much what I said," Dash popped out a claw further, using the blade-like appendage to slash at a chunk of perfectly cooked roast beef before popping the chunk into his maw, "And that's because the Order isn't shit here. Your jurisdiction, and yes...I do mean jurisdiction...ended when you walked through the doors of the Welcome Room. Did you read the sign?"
Four heads shook in the negative, though Williams had indeed spotted it upon entering. How could one not?
"The mat outside said 'Go Away.' By entering, even with the threshold and our defenses down, you're still inviting onto yourselves the worst we wish to throw at you. Within these walls, our rule reigns supreme," Dash chuckled, "And trust me, baby, we rule!"
The Generalist – Taboo 2: Magic and Mayhem (Part 1 of The Mayhem Arc)
Final Round: http://www.thepenismysword.com/2012/10/the-generalist-taboo-2-magic-and-mayhem_8653.html