“We have a little something for you,” said Elaine. She held up a chain with a crystal pendent.
“For me? You shouldn’t have!” quipped Patton. He must be getting comfortable being around her, for him to make cracks like that.
Elaine gave a tired grin. “This is important. It’s clear from your aura that you’re soaking up Manna from your surroundings faster than you can handle it. The overload of magic is what’s causing the headaches and nausea. This crystal will absorb the excess for a time and help keep you sane.”
“For a time? How long is that?”
“We don’t know, but you can tell when it’s getting full by looking at the crystal. It will start turning red when it’s almost full. Bring it back here then and we will drain it for you.”
Patton looked hesitantly at the bauble, then put it around his neck. He thanked her and stepped out into the morning sunshine.
When he had gone the witches headed for the kitchen and coffee. Even thought it had been good for them, too, the Cleansing Ritual made for a long night, and they were in need of a little caffeine to start another day.
“What did you sense?” asked Elaine once they each had a mug and were sitting at the kitchen table.
Margaret went first. “I sensed a void, an emptiness like a black hole sucking up magic. It’s still small, but seems to be growing. The crystal will be able to tap into that power, but only for a while. He’s going to have to learn to control it soon or he’ll be dead in less than a year.”
“To me he was more like an arctic desert,” said Yvonne. “He was a small child wandering alone there, hiding from shadows and looking for warmth. I wonder what made him so afraid?”
“And I sensed a scholar,” added Elaine, “a literate bumblebee, bouncing from bloom to bloom seeking the nectar of new knowledge or attracted by a blossoming riddle.”
“So, do you think we should tell him of the Prophecy?” asked Margaret. “His knowing might influence the outcome, especially if he’s so likely to seek out additional information about it.”
Elaine thought about it for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. He’s likely to learn it soon enough, and I don’t think telling him early will do him any kindness.”
“How do we know the Prophecy is even about him?” asked Yvonne. “You know how unlikely it is that a prophecy actually comes true, at least in the way everyone thinks it will. How many times has someone been hailed as ‘the One’ only to be later revealed not to be so?”
“In the case of this Prophecy, I don’t know of any,” Elaine responded. “I don’t know of any previous adults suddenly coming into their Power. It was good that he stumbled upon us, else the Prophecy would likely not have a chance to come true.”
Margaret snorted. “He stumbled upon us! How likely is it that we just happened to be shopping in the Pittsford Wegmans at the same time as he was? How long to you think it will take him to figure out it was a set-up?”
Yvonne added, “Why were we there, Elaine? You mentioned trying to figure out one of Reynard’s riddles. I suspect that trickster is meddling in Mage affairs again!”
“She has a point,” said Margaret. “Do you have any clue of what Reynard’s interest in this is?”
Elaine’s reply was thoughtful. “I don’t know he’s up to, but Patton did mention seeing him, even though he didn’t know it was Reynard. I’m sure that rascal is keeping an eye on him. I’d like to know why.”
The three sisters sipped their coffee for a minute while they pondered the questions they’d raised.
Yvonne broke the silence with a different question. “How far should we go?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” asked Margaret.
“I mean how far should we go with Patton? How much should we do to help him discover his Powers? Should we teach him everything a Life Mage knows, everything we know? If not, where do we draw the line?”
“He’s a wizard, silly! A wizard can’t use witch magic, so there’s no way he could use everything we know! I’m more concerned that, because he is a wizard, he’s going to start exhibiting all those wizard personality traits and become a threat to us. I’m in favor of teaching him just enough to survive, but not so much that he becomes a threat. That’s where I draw the line!”
Elaine interrupted the looming argument. “You know, there is one way he could actually use all that we know, and we could simultaneously keep him from becoming a threat.” She paused for a moment as the others thought about this.
“No way!” said Yvonne. “It would be like sending a child — no, a babe in arms — to do a man’s job. I don’t see any way it would work.”
Margaret’s turn. “While he might, someday, become a tremendous source of power, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. We haven’t needed a Staff in more than a hundred years. I don’t think we need one now.”
“Still, if he were our Staff our natures would temper his wizard traits, and he would be able to make use of Feminine Magic. I’m not suggesting we do it right away, but still it’s something to think about.” Elaine took another sip of her coffee, then put down her mug and stood up. “Well, enough of this! Yvonne, you have another column to write, and I have some shopping to do. Margaret, are you and your hot new wizard doing something today?” At the mention of Rich Waters Margaret blushed, realized she’d given herself away, and glared at Elaine over her coffee mug. Yvonne giggled. “Ladies?” asked Elaine, and just like that the meeting was adjourned.
From his office high in the Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit Robert Meadows looked east in the direction of New York City. Meadows was an ambitious man, and it irritated him no end that fate had led him to be the Prince of Detroit instead of the Prince of New York. What did Bradley Payne have that he didn’t have? Other than New York, that is?
Don’t get me wrong, he thought to himself, I’m grateful that old Frenchy designated me his heir. But Detroit! I take over just in time for OPEC’s oil embargo and gas rationing, and the whole damn auto industry imploding, and I have to work my butt off just to keep this city from going down the tubes with it. The city’s supposed to be working for me, damn it! Not the other way around!
Truth be told, the early years of Meadows’ reign had not been good ones. He hadn’t been able to keep control of his wizards after the transition in power, and much of the crime they controlled under his predecessor, Allen “Frenchy” French, came to light as gang warfare erupted in the seventies and eighties. Drugs took over from auto theft and dismantling as a major revenue source, and while there was more income, most of it was frittered away trying to suppress the rival gangs. It really wasn’t until casino gambling was approved that Meadows was able to get back to the Prince’s traditional role of controlling the magical side of crime in the city.
But now after more than a decade of calm Meadows was chafing under the slow growth conditions. He saw the way that New York and Washington, and to a lesser extent Philadelphia and Boston, had sucked up stimulus dollars after the 9/11 attacks and the Recession, and he wanted to get in on that. Every time he met with them the Princes of those cities practically rubbed his nose in it! Argh!
Maybe there was a way. The four cities of the Northeast were starting to have territorial disputes, and the demographics suggested that this was only going to get worse. All the Princes foresaw a day when the Northeast Corridor became BoWash, a mega-city with over sixty million people. Would it still have four Princes, or would the Princes have to merge along with their cities? The Princes of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington were each jockeying for advantage, trying to ensure that if the City Powers did merge, he would be the mega-Prince to rule the mega-city.
While they were sniping at each other, Meadows was trying out a new role for himself — magical arms dealer. A quarter century of clashes with recalcitrant (and well armed!) rivals had taught him a little something about how to fight criminal opposition, both Mundane and Mage, without resorting to scorched earth tactics (which were all too likely when wizards fought one another.) Along the way he’d developed a wide assortment of magical armaments to aid in the fight. Key to them all was they allowed a Mundane (non-magical) foot soldier to direct magic at a target, vastly multiplying the number of potential warriors to bring to the fight.
He wasn’t willing to show any rival Prince how to make these arms, but he was more than happy to sell them to them. If he could only figure out how to do so without risking his source of supply here in his city.
He finally turned away from the view and toward the three men who were waiting in his office. “Martin. James. Randall.” He greeted each of them in turn. “I have an assignment for you. Long term, at least six months. Are you available?”
Martin Caldwell took the lead, as the Prince expected. “Give us a few days to make arrangements here, and I think we’re all good to go. What’s the job?”
“What about you two? Are you able to go away for that length of time?”
“I’m okay with it, long as I don’t have to get no shots or nothin’,” replied James Fuentes.
“Is this gonna be all hush hush?” asked Randall Nieves. He was nervous about the magical compulsions the Prince used. If they weren’t done right things could get messy and fatal. Not that he doubted the Prince’s skill, but accidents did happen.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Nieves. As long as you do your part nothing will happen to you. I doubt anyone will even ask you any questions. You see, all I want you gentlemen to do is open up an office for me in Rochester New York.”
“New York? Isn’t that Payne’s territory?” asked Nieves. “What’s gonna keep him from askin’ questions?”
“Rochester is 350 miles from New York City. Be just a little careful and Payne won’t have a clue you’re there.”
“Gee, Boss,” asked Caldwell, “what are we doin’ in Rochester?”
“Two things,” replied Meadows. “First, I want the three of you to seek out and take over any Mage organizations you might find there.” By this he meant any magical crime. “We’ll go over the preliminary budget this afternoon, but plan on having liberal use of the arsenal to accomplish the task. You’ll also have regular progress and accounting reports to file in addition to your weekly status reports.”
“What about personal expense reports?” asked Fuentes.
“The usual travel per diem applies. I don’t want any corporate credit card activity, so pick up some new cards in Accounting before you leave.” Identity theft was a small but vital part of the Prince’s operations so there were always stolen cards available for incidental expenditures.
“You think the three of us can take over the city by ourselves?” asked Caldwell.
“I doubt there’s half a dozen wizards there who might challenge you. With your arsenal you shouldn’t have any problems with them, and once you’ve dealt with them you should be able to set up a nice little operation.” He turned and started pacing in front of his desk. “I really don’t want to mess with the Mundanes in Rochester, that’s not my priority. I just want to make sure there’s no Mage opposition to detect and report on the second phase of the operation.”
“What’s that, Boss?”
“We’ll need a warehouse and a front office. I want the office to be respectable, classy, but the warehouse needs to be secure. Once they’re set up, then we’ll let the Prince of New York know we’re there.”
“What?” asked Nieves. “You’re gonna tell him? Why?”
“’Cause we’re gonna sell him arms there. Him, and the Princes of Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia.” Meadows turned and faced his henchmen. “We’ll sell them enough arms to blow each other away!”