Frank wandered about the streets of Los Angeles, alone. Alone and afraid.
Within the range of his demesne, the physical boundary that marked the range his ability to sense others empathically on the psionic level, to affect and be affected by them, there lay not a soul. Within the depraved, decadent city, teeming with hundreds of millions of lost souls, neither a whisper nor scent of humanity existed.
Frank Todd, The Generalist, wandered lost and alone down streets of parked cars, jam-packed bumper to bumper, other streets devoid completely of them save those parked on the side.
Within the cool shadows of skyscrapers and humongous buildings, and the deeper gloom of alleyways, in the fading sunlight as dusk approached Frank wandered, too afraid to even utter voice to break the all-consuming desolation.
Los Angeles had died, and he was at the Heart of it all.
Taboo 3: Misfits and Mayhem (The Mayhem Arc – Part Two)
by Thomas Duder
Staggering into a long park full of dilapidated brick and mortar walking paths, sparse with dying trees and unattended, Frank quickened his pace from a stumble to a light jog as he remembered that the Asture Hold was nearby. A series of apartments, the Hold was where the Asture cult itself was strongest, each Hold acting as both shrine and garden. In each Hold a cutting of Yggdrasil flowered, the fabled Tree of Wisdom that connected nine planets in the Norse religion, and from that cutting did they acquire their incredibly strong magical and spiritual powers.
Stumbling out of the dark gloom of the park, Frank gazed upon the squat, brick buildings that lay just outside the park, the entrance to their inner courtyard blocked by a barrier that only those invited could get through. Being the lover of the High Priestess of the Asture, Frank was one of the few outsiders who had free reign to come and go as he pleased, and at that moment he would give anything to simply gaze upon another human being, let alone his beloved Vorel.
Stay away from my wife, Abbacus' earlier warning rang through his head, fighting against the strange drive within Frank to see her. For a moment his brown features darkened as Frank felt the stirrings of rage rip through the exhaustion, frustration and desolation then, at the last second, he decided not to enter the Asture compound. Heading to the east, he knew that if he went far enough he'd encounter another favored hangout of his, Lucky's Diner. Certainly there would be people THERE, including the clear-eyed and beautiful waitress who ran the night shift – though it was evening she often breakfasted there, all employees there given free meals throughout the day as a perk and a bonus. A petite blonde of untold clarity and decisiveness, Laura was one of the few truly normal people in the Shopkeepers' psychotic lives, and often provided a viewpoint that both human and troll found completely necessary. When one dealt with angry deities bent on blood by the gallons and souls by the tonnes, ethereal global catastrophes and red tape on a daily basis, sometimes it was easy to overlook the simpler things.
That she was pleasant to be around, fun to converse with and as pleasing to the eye as she was bright and happy despite the murk of the current times only made her all the more irresistible to him.
Standing outside the diner, Frank looked about and saw neither cars nor people. The very desolation of the diner itself depressed him further, and he could feel the worm of doubt squirm deep within him. That it was missing the booth that he and Dash as a safe zone between dimensions, a place to summon and converse with the more dangerous denizens that traveled the interdimensional cosmos, didn't bother him nearly as much as the disappearance of all life did.
There was nothing here, no one left. No one for Frank to turn to.
He shivered, about to call out Laura's name when Abby's warning resounded through him yet again. He frowned, deep and hard, and came to the conclusion that Laura wasn't there. If she was, he would've felt her within his demesne, and besides she would've hailed him as she usually did, waving at him before he even hit the door as if she herself had the ability to sense him nearby. That she did it for Dash too...
Frank turned on his heel and suddenly ran, the need to see his closest friend and best partner strong within him. This strangely stagnant and lifeless Los Angeles, if anyone could help fill him in on what was going on it was his troll-gened friend. Alone they were both forces to be reckoned with, but together...
Together they were invincible!
Frank slowed his frantic run to a controlled jog, regaining his breath as he came upon the three shops that comprised the face of the Shop itself, the two on either side boarded up and dilapidated looking. He gazed longingly upon it, the array of busted sidewalk and partially broken fencing that marked the Shop's true starting defenses, the psionic grid that analyzed and recognized all that existed and drew close enough to the Shop.
Stepping forward he noted how different the Shop looked, his eyes focusing on the true entrance to the Shop's 'Welcome Room." Usually the door to the middle shop, a simple enough affair with a couple of stairs leading up to it from the concrete walkway, was closed up tightly, the doormat in front of it bearing the words "Go Away," an Artifact of Frank's own design.
Now, though, it was open slightly, a bright light emanating from it, warm and welcoming despite the destitution, the sheer vast emptiness of the Los Angeles Frank had survived.
About to step forward he felt something yank at him before he could get past the fenceline; a hand, cold but small, clutching at his wrist. He spun, his breath catching in his throat for a moment before he gently murmured, "Aphro...?"
Indeed, a vision stood before him: at first the woman was tall, almost of a height to him, with incredibly long red hair held up in a ponytail with strips of darkened leather, her eyes a verdant emerald, her skin pale and glorious to the touch. Built for sex, the woman's luscious figure sported a simple, tight pair of black jeans and a white t-shirt, her hands encased within black gloves similar to his. For a moment the woman he saw faded and instead a smaller, though no less lusciously formed or beautiful, black woman stood in her place, clutching at his wrist with both well-manicured hands, her beaded, long braids held up in a ponytail. Looking up at him through fathomlessly dark eyes the High Priestess of the Asture, Vorel Kethend, begged him for his attention with the eyes of a possessed woman, the goddess Aphrodite riding and writhing within her.
He shook his head, a hand clutching at his temple as a shriek of psionic energy tore through him, then gasped before Aphrodite leaned in and kissed him, hard and deep. For a moment he kissed her back, holding her close, his entire attention focused on her-
You've been tricked and trapped, my love. You are lost within a dream, an illusion, of such power that I cannot reach you through our normal channels.
For a moment he felt himself lost within another world, a simpler, savage one, and that reality tore at the one he found himself in – her memories, mingling with his own. Looking deep within her eyes, his hands looped about her slim waist loosely as he whispered aloud, "I don't understand. What has happened? Where is everyone, Aphro?"
Stop asking the wrong questions, dearest. You have to realize on your own that this is an illusion, a dream. I can only be here for you, to remind you.
He watched, fascinated, as her eyes spoke volumes, the whisper within his mind growing louder the more he focused on her. For a moment he heard Abbacus' warning and in a flash realized what it was: a hypnotic suggestion to trigger this very thing, the meeting between himself and the recording that would connect him with the goddess and Avatar, giving them access to him even as he lay within the trap.
A dream within a dream.
Hatred, hard and bitter, sliced through him and the background of a dead, lifeless Los Angeles became swept away by it, melting it away into a blackened, featureless void. The Chant ripped through his very soul, resetting him mentally back to a point before the dream-trap took him, and he hated with a purity that could kill.
That was why he couldn't remember shit, why there was no one around. Above all, though, it was why he couldn't hear Kitty in his head – this was Frank's dream, and he never shared those dreams with the second soul within him. It was a good arrangement, one that allowed them to both live within Franks' body comfortably. That Jerome was good enough to ensorcelled him, though, still rankled good and hard, hard enough for him to truly hate.
He raged, and he hated, but there was love there as well. Cuddling the Goddess within his arms closely, he whispered, "How did you know?"
I felt you, your sudden loneliness. You cried out to me, Frank, as I knew you would, she smiled brightly at him, stroking his cheek, I'm not going to sit back and allow you to suffer like that, my love. So I sent our husband, Abbacus, to our most beloved mortal.
For a moment the Hate hardened Frank, his brown eyes darkening as he murmured, "Your champion? Your chosen? Yours?!"
Aphrodite shook her head quickly, No. A thousand times no. I am not as old as Bastet, nor Freya, nor any of my own pantheon, nor am I as wise as my sister, Pallas Athene. But I know where the line is drawn, and I would not claim you as such, my Frank. I would have your love, and should you give me your soul in the end upon your very mortal death, then I shall do my best to give you your Paradise forevermore. Those who would claim you know not that they grasp at the tail of a tiger.
Frank shook his head, the distant twinkling stars of other souls beginning to dot the void as they entered Psychic Space, the level of reality that all psionics could access, a dimension completely of the mind, "I don't understand. You know me so well, and yet...I really don't understand how you can accept me the way you do. Love me the way you do, so differently than Bastet and Freya, even Vee."
Aphrodite shrugged, smiling sadly, If I could tell you that, then it would be lovely indeed. But the Pact holds sway over all, and there are things I cannot even tell you, my love. All I may say is that I fell in love with you due to the actions of a previous lifetime...and the very same person I fell in love with then still stands before me, even though your environment has changed. Your choices have ever remained the same.
Frank frowned, "Then tell me what this is all about then, yeah? Or - nevermind," his brown eyes took on a golden highlight, becoming intense as the Overdrive cut through the dwemered trap he had fallen into, "Fucking...Leggy Jerry caught me in my fucking sleep with an enchantment. Dammit."
You are the Generalist, and are good at so much...but there ARE those who are better than you at much, Aphrodite laughed, a sparkling sound, It would do you best to remember that, Frank Todd.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Frank immediately saw what the trap was about, Valken's desperation to find out more information about the Shop, to plunge Frank into such feelings of desolation and despair that he would seek comfort in the safest place he knew. In going there, he'd also show Valken the secrets, the defenses, and other bits of information that remained a mystery to many outside their trust. Slipping his hands over the tops of her padded, muscular buttocks and squeezing with his fingers, he grinned darkly, "So. Ol' Leggy Jerry wants info, eh? You wanna help me give him some?"
He's already being fed false information, another part of the hypnotic tic you've arranged. You remember now don't you? Aphrodite large eyes caught his and, for a moment, he remembered why she never spoke with her actual voice - simply looking into her eyes he felt himself drown in her, even the solid core that was his absolute self.
For a moment, he would die for her. In that moment, he would kill for her.
"Yeah, I remember," he chuckled, "I remember everything now. By now the Edgar Suit strategy's been enacted," he grinned, "So. Shall we get to the more pleasant part of my thanking you then?"
She smiled brightly, honestly eager for his company before whispering aloud, "I thought you'd never ask!"
Frank frowned at the pretty young magus from where he sat behind his desk, half an hour before the Obtenebration Magia class' start. He already had a plan for the day, one that would guarantee the drop-out rate would be higher than the mortality rate.
He had wandered into the classroom, intent on brewing and drinking a fine cup of coffee when, the cup halfway raised to his lips, Officer-Magi Tanelin had sought him out and immediately began addressing topics concerning the Magic Circle Phenomenon and how it pertained to Shadow Magic.
"...shall I repeat myself, Magus Todd?"
Frank set his cup down on the desk, clenched his fists, closed his eyes and counted to ten. Opening his eyes and seeing the young woman in front of him, he closed his eyes harder and counted to ten backwards. A third iteration, this time in Japanese, did even less to curb his growing ire.
Tapping on his desk with a gloved finger, he growled, "No. By all means. I had a wonderful night and a delicious breakfast. Why would I want to not cap it off with this equally amazing cup of coffee? No, go ahead and regale me with your findings whythehellareyouhere?!"
Dawn looked about herself and drew a chair to the desk, setting down a series of notes and pouring over them as she spoke, "Oh, good! Thank you, Magus Todd. No, I was merely pondering the ramifications of how Obtenebration Magia specialists never seem to cast a Magic Circle. When a magic spell of exceptional quality or level is cast, known as Higher Works, then a Magic Circle is inscribed in base reality, one formed of naturally-formed energies - the proof of a magus' work spanning the Magical Realm and our own physical plane. Yes? Yet when an Obtenebration Specialist performs a Higher Work, the chance that they cast forth a circle is completely random, yet the Higher Work will still activate as if they had~! It seems to be a pattern amongst Shadow Magic users of the past that even when performing a Higher Work they cast no Magic Circle upon activating the spell, thus it's harder to tell if they're casting a Higher Work...and increasing their effectiveness in a duel, or casting during combat. Magus Todd, can you tell me if there IS a pattern or not?"
Frank frowned deeply, pointing at her, "I know. Shut up," then swung his thick finger towards the door, "And get ou-huh?! Now what?!"
Filling the doorway with his mystical armor engaged, plate armor glowing and pauldrons large and bulky, Legatus Valken growled through the eldritch helmet adorning his head, "I have received your challenge. Outside. Now."
Frank grinned and stood up, going out of his way to push his chair in slowly as Dawn openly gawked at him, sputtering question after question at him concerning the challenge. Spinning at the doorway, he gently placed a finger against her lips and lifted his eyebrows.
"SHUUUUUUSH! Freakin' silence, just a little. This is part of today's plan, and I'm gonna want you to watch especially close, Miss Magicker. C'mon."
Turning, he stalked down the hallway, hands in his pockets as a wave of students gathered in his wake, Dawn at his side the entire time, attempting to appeal to his more civilized side.
Stopping at a clear-windowed quad, the outside world shining into the makeshift arena formed by the press of student bodies, Frank turned to her with an exaggerated grin and retorted, "In case you didn't notice, Officer-Magus Tanelin of the Special Jurisdiction Branch of the Order of Magi, I lack a civilized side to appeal to."
In the center of the quad, the earthen floor covered by tightly-packed cobblestones, Valken growled, the open T-shaped slit of his helmet pluming with rage-heated mist. Standing two feet taller than usual, the bulky Mage Armor encased him completely, the Armor itself closer to a walking mechanoid than a suit of armor. Animated by powerful magics, the Mage Armor was a defensive spell that some Magi specialized in simply so they could still utilize magic while still being heavily defended against direct melee attacks - whilst wearing such armor, a Magi was unable to spindle mana from local sources properly, cut off from even absorbing from a ley line. On the other hand a properly prepared Magi could store energy beforehand, relying on those spindled reserves for combat instead of refreshing their resources mid-fight, an ability only few Magi could properly cultivate.
Jerome Valken was one of the foremost strongest Mage Armor specialists, his Defensive spells specialized towards this walking juggernaut of might and magic in purple and black.
"Niiiiiice. I see you're really down for today's lesson, ol' Leggy Jerry!" Frank chuckled, slipping his shades on and tightening his gloves, his ever-present black overshirt flowing loosely as he shrugged out of it, dancing about on the balls of his feet as he sized his target up.
"Lesson?!" Valken roared, his eyes glowing through the eyeslits of his helm, "What lesson?! You directly challenged me to a Duel here in the quad~!"
Frank leaned back and shrugged, his hands held out to either side as he laughed, "Heh heh heh...Jeeeeerry~! We're gonna teach these here young Magi a few tricks. In fact, I think you're gonna get a KICK outta this one, y'know? So c'mon, if it's in the name of education you won't mind if I totally freakin' destroy you, right?"
"You degenerate," Valken began to pant, trembling with ill-suppressed rage, a magic circle of his own dark and purple energies erupting around his feet, "I get it. You trick me out here to further a goal of some sort...what is it? What are you going to do?"
"EVERYONE!" Many of the students winced as Franks' voice snapped out, "Look you now. This is the power of Obtenebration Magia...and the horrible prices it demands!"
Valken took a step back, memories of their previous duel flashing before him for an instant. Summoning his courage, he immediately clasped his gauntleted hands together, barking out a harsh litany of words, his chant rising in strength as his magical circle began to spin counterclockwise about him.
Frank laughed as currents of electrical energy, black and vicious, raced along his form, his gloved hands taking on a vaporous, black transparency his voice rose, strong and clear, into a bespelled song.
"And before the madness of the Arch
And the hatred of the Lega-a-tus
Seething before, I commit my-seeelf
Seething before, I commit my-seeelf
to this soul-wrought spell"
The black vapor began to gather and grow, his own shadow rising up to encase him in a thick black fog, his voice rising to rival that of Valken's as both their Higher Works clashed, the rising force of magical energies directly battling each other before the spells had even activated. The students huddled together, Defensive specialists employing their skills as per their training, combining their power in order to keep the screamingly powerful magical energies from crushing them from the sheer pressure.
"Before the congregation I release
This vow, I seek confirmation
The target's surcease
Tear through me, I commit my-seeelf
to this calling spell
Take that which is given, become that which is me!"
Legatus Valken's hands reached out to either side, two columns of purple magical energy thicker than a man and spanning ceiling to floor, marbled with black, arose vertically to either side of himself, his magic circle trembling from the amount of mana he was pouring into the spell. Roaring wordlessly he ripped his hands forward, sending the two columns forward to smash into the black, vaporous mass one after another, each one causing a massive explosion that was barely withstood by the combined magic shielding of the students.
"A lesson?" Valken snorted, then laughed as the smoke began to slowly dissipate, "Fine then! The Walls of Attarok, a spell that blocks obliquely and adjacent to the caster that doubles as an attack, this spell can absorb attacks and explode outwards and away from the caster, killing those nearby.
Perfect for the mage who finds themselves surrounded," Valken pointed a finger, heavy with magic armor and glowing rings, "Or unfortunate enough to face a master of Defense such as myself. With the added ability that we Valken House control the lore thereof, the defensive maneuver gains a completely new edge!
Toasted to a crisp per-"
Valken's eyes, hidden behind the darkness of his helmet, widened as his voice became strangled, unseen hands wrapping themselves about his form underneath the armor. His body shivered where it stood, unable to move as the smoke cleared completely, many of the students gasping at the revelation of Frank, completely fine, covered from neck to toe in shadowy plate armor, rising from the backplate a man-shaped form of dense musculature.
Frank grinned , "Children. The spell I have countered him with is known simply as 'Grasp.' The demands of my particular familiar is somewhat infamous, forcing me to have to sing instead of simply chant the litanies and words necessary to invoke a spell. Though I'd like to say there's more, my singing voice is all that Gregorio, the notorious 'Shadow Demon,' requires to call him forth. As you already know, this mostly negates the so-called infamous speed of casting an Obtenebration spell. If Magus...I'm sorry, Legatus...Valken hadn't been monologuing for your benefit, I never would have had the time to mumble a song fast enough to cast that Shadow Hold. The price is a song, even if muttered quickly, but it must be from me and me alone....that and one other thing."
The humanoid-shaped shadow sank into the armor itself, the more learned of the students beginning to mutter in shocked, stunned surprise. Dawn frowned and spoke aloud, "Of all the known spirits of the Shadow Dimension and Mirrored Universe, Gregorio stands as one of the deadliest and most violent. Called the 'Shadow Demon,' he is the only creature recognized to be an interdimensional sentience of his own, unable to be simply contracted or summoned through normal conjuration methods," she hissed, a sharp intake of breathe, "Frank, what have you done?!"
Frank laughed, a deep-throated, semi-insane sound, "Only what I have had to do, darlin'. Every step of the way. And hey, he got out just in time too, to party," he grinned as the shadow underneath him trembled, connected as it was to Jeromes', "And now, shall I use it? Shall I cast Painkiller?"
Several students ran, intent on getting help as Frank laughed harder at Valkens' bug-eyed reaction, unable to speak due to the shadow-based Paralysis he suffered under, "HOOOO boy! Yer eyes just bugged out, Jerry! You were there, weren't ya, the last time I unleashed it. The Painkiller spell~!" He grinned, tightening the shadowy, semi-blurry gauntlets he now wore, "Considered to be the greatest spell in all of Combat Magia, and I ain't even a specialist in it. You students here may think this is a simple humiliation session, but I tell you this is truly a lesson."
He lowered his voice slightly, chocolate brown eyes intense as he glared at Jerome, "The moral of the story is this. I shall not reveal the second thing Gregorio demands of me, but it is a heavy price, a heavy burden, and one that I bear. For what it's worth I will never know the freedom that even this disgusting braggart knows...yet it's one that I have paid, knowing full well what it was. And if I'm ever not strong enough of will...well then, Gregorio gets to take me to his world of shifting darkness and everlasting shadow. Eternal darkness in V'jria Dotia, the Shadow Dimension, my soul ever locked in that terrible prison. THAT is the punishment for failure for one such as I, and for any who fails their familiar."
He grinned as the mystic Shadow Armor faded, it's lines blurring to utter softness before fading without fanfare, "And that's why this fight is over before it even began. This whole thing is beneath Gregorio...and DEFINITELY beneath me."
Turning, his hands in his pockets, Frank never saw the Legatus drop to his knees, his own Mage Armor dissipating. Chuckling to himself, Frank began to leave, watching with satisfaction as the assembled students parted before him.
Hearing him cough, Frank kept his back turned as the Legatus Valken slowly stood upright, rubbing at his throat with a growl, "You. Preparations for the trial begins in an hour, and you are to be there to be held upon the Silver Dais. If you're late, you will be held in contempt and summarily hunted like the dog you are! I will see you dead, Todd...one way or another."
Frank finally turned to him and grinned, "You and what army?"
The Generalist – Taboo 3: Misfits and Mayhem (The Mayhem Arc)