Zealots: Part 2
Magic on the streets of London
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: Two hundred years ago portals opened the Triverse, connecting three separate dimensions. One of them, Palinor, has actual magic. Much to the annoyance of people on Earth, magic has thus far proven impossible to replicate elsewhere…
On duty: DC Yannick Clarke & DC Lola Styles
The telephone kept ringing. No sooner has Robin hung up, another call would be put through. She barely had time to relay the information before having to tear off another page of notes. One of her particular skills had always been being able to listen to one conversation while writing about another.
“Specialist Dimensional Command, this is Robin speaking.” She must have said it at least fifty times that afternoon. Every call was about the same thing, albeit from a different part of the city.
“Robin,” came the immediately recognisable voice of DCS Walpole. “I won’t keep you long. I’m guessing you’re already swamped with calls about this?”
She sat up a little straighter, even though he obviously couldn’t see her. When the boss called, you had to on top form. “Yes, sir, multiple reports about magical demonstrations, if that’s what you mean.”
“Damned right that’s what I mean. Magic in London. Sounds ridiculous. The Commissioner is breathing down my neck about it, though, Robin. Pass that along to the team. Who’s on shift?”
“Clarke and Styles have been on it since this morning,” she said, glancing across the office, “and Kaminski and Chakraborty just got in for the late shift.”
“Good. I’m up to my eyeballs in this horse shit this end. I’ll keep the politicians off your backs, but I need this figured out pronto or we’ll have a panic on the streets. Understood?”
“One hundred per cent, sir.”
“Good girl. Keep me posted. DI Ford’s on his way in.” The line clicked.
She put the handle back on the receiver. It immediately started ringing again but she ignored it, instead standing up and clapping twice. “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, that was DCS Walpole. He’s aware of the situation, he’s getting some flak and needs us to figure out what’s going on. DI Ford should be here shortly.” She might only run the phones, keep the office working properly and make sure none of the detectives had a breakdown, but she knew how to get everyone’s attention.
The door to DI Bakker’s office opened. “Good,” he said, “we could do with some extra hands. Collins, if you please, get on the phones with Robin. No, just for the next hour until we have a bit of breathing space. Clark, Styles, Kaminski, Chakraborty, I want all four of you on this. We need this case worked twenty-four hours until we know what’s going on.”
Clarke was standing with his hands on his hips, his shirt crumpled and his thinning hair looking as if he’d run his fingers through it a few times too many. “It’s a hoax,” he said. “Magic can’t be done in Mid-Earth. Everyone knows that.”
“Perhaps somebody has found a way,” Bakker said, raising his eyebrows. That was quite a significant expression of emotion for him.
Kaminski raised a hand. “Could it be a portal tear?” A cigarette balanced precariously in the corner of his mouth as he spoke.
“Yeah, like the shape-shifter creep from last year,” Chakraborty said. They were sat next to each other on a desk. It was cute. Robin approved. Something had healed between them during their time away, she thought. The tension between the two of them had been awful at the start of the year. Nobody told Robin anything, but she could guess what had happened.
“He had access to a single tear,” Clarke said, shaking his head. “That was a one-off situation. It wouldn’t help with what they’re doing in multiple locations, at the same time.”
“OK,” Chakraborty said. “Maybe instead of trying to figure out how they’re doing it, we should concentrate on who they are.”
Robin loved watching the detectives at work.
The SDC wash rooms weren’t great. The women’s in particular was woefully inadequate, clearly designed by men and lacking much of anything useful. There was even a hole in the wall where a urinal had been installed and then quietly removed. Lola sat on the toilet, the lid down, the tiny cubicle’s door closed, and sighed. Something was wrong: the excitement had gone. Instead of practically running to work every day, eager for the next SDC assignment, instead that morning she had thought only of Bruglia, of the portal to Palinor and the feeling that she was on the wrong side of it.
A week that had crammed a new lifetime into those seven days. The Goldspeth case, talking to him at the prison and escorting him to the portal. The insurgent incident at the market. Then, after Clarke had left, visiting the convalescence house where Yvette Field was recovering. The girl had been rebuilt through the joint efforts of the wielders and Mid-Earth surgeons, in processes Lola hadn’t begun to understand but which clearly demonstrated their effectiveness. Using Mid-Earth medicine alone, doctors were unable to be sure of the girl’s survival and certainly didn’t expect the possibility of a decent quality of life. Even Max-Earth doctors were observing the new field of magic-enhanced medicine. Princess Daryla had noted that they were even beginning to make progress with a combination of meditation and micrology at helping patients with their mental response to trauma. It was a lot to take in.
Daryla. What an inspirational, powerful young woman. Such a commanding presence, whether in conversation or standing up to the insurgents in the market. Lola was in awe, yet it had left her feeling small and useless, an inconsequential component in an ineffectual machine. Meeting her father had been intimidating: he had all of her poise and charisma but without the kindness and patience. It was hard enough getting a decently-paid job as a woman on Mid-Earth, yet there was Daryla making decisions that affected all of Bruglia and its surrounding territories. It made Lola’s head spin.
And then there was the SDC, with its beige walls and tiny toilets, too hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. Crappy coffee from an ancient machine that was probably poisoning the lot of them.
At university she’d read about the Wrong World theory, which posited that it was impossible to find satisfaction in the Triverse because there would always be the uncomfortable paranoia that you were born in the wrong universe. Given the difficulty of migrating between the dimensions for anyone lacking enormously deep pockets, the issue was one that was hard to address. Although she’d always been drawn to Palinor’s heightened world of magic, city states, feudal politics and wild geography, the feeling had been balanced out by her enthusiasm for her own work and life. The cynicism of people like Clarke had always been foreign to her.
The visit to Palinor had left her unexpectedly subdued. Maybe she was in the wrong world.
She parked the thought, shunted it off to one side, and stood up. Enough navel-gazing. There was a case to solve, and that could distract her for the time being.
The warehouse had been repurposed as a makeshift auditorium: a stage constructed from wooden palettes and boards, row upon row of plastic chairs, speakers on tripods at the edges to boost the voices for the audience. There was a fold-out table down one side with refreshments.
It was a bigger crowd than usual. Benji had been coming for about a month, each Friday after work. He’d get the tube out from the docks, ride it as far as it went before hopping on a tram for a couple of miles, then walking the rest of the way. The warehouse was out of the way, which still struck him as a bit weird - making it so difficult to get to probably prevented a lot of people from attending. Maybe it was a test.
On the stage was the box, as always, sitting on its table. If Benji proved himself, showed his commitment, then one day he might be allowed to put his own hand inside the box.
There was clapping and excited cries as the man himself skipped onto the stage with a wave of his hand. Lord Myrodin, the one who would lead them all to a new consciousness and transform Mid-Earth into a place of wonders.
“Believers!” he said, his voice carrying easily even though he was without a microphone. “Thank you for coming. It is a great honour to be here with you tonight, you who question, who do not just follow the herd, you who seek answers and refuse to accept the hand that you have been dealt.”
He looked out over the audience, and they stared back in awed silence. “Some of you are new here,” he continued, “and may be wondering if you have made the right decision in coming. Let me put those doubts to rest.” He moved behind the table, opened the top of the box and lowered his hand into it. “There are those in your society who tell you that you cannot have magic. That it is off-limits. Does it not whip up a storm of shame inside you, that Palinor has its magic, Max-Earth has its technology, and we are left powerless? Mid-Earth is so often described as average, as middling - even by its own leaders! None of that is true. We are a great people - we have just forgotten.
“This was not always the case. We all know the stories. Myths of times long past. Every culture on Earth has those stories, of terrible beasts and heroic warriors, of people in eras long ago. Myths and legend. Metaphors and morality tales, yes? Yet do they not sound so often like Palinor? Knights laying dragons? Djinns in bottles? Kings aided in their quests by sorcerers? Merlin, of this very isle, is not a mere story. He existed! He lived! He was real!
“Magic was here. Magic is still here. We have simply forgotten, and there are forces at work who wish to keep us in ignorance.”
He stared out over the crowd, then closed his eyes. “No more,” he said, quietly. A few of the regulars, Benji included, repeated it back. This was Benji’s favourite part, and he felt a shiver of excitement run down his spine. “No more,” repeated Myrodin, louder this time. His words were echoed back to to him.
He reached out with his other hand, the lights in the warehouse flickered and dimmed, and then there was an explosion of starlight, filling the air all around them with red and blue and yellow and purple. The pinpricks of light danced gracefully around those gathered, converting each of them one-by-one to believers.
“This is the universe, as it really is. As I see it.” Every single person in the audience felt as if Myrodin was looking directly at them, talking only to them. “Join us, and I will teach you to harness this power.”
if you’re enjoying the story, it only costs about 1 coffee per month to help support the project. Thanks!
Thanks for reading! Do let me know what you thought down in the comments, and if you’re a paid subscriber keep reading for some behind-the-scenes notes about how being in a physical space changed the text of this chapter while I was writing it…
This week I’ve been down in Somerset visiting all sorts of lovely places. (Bristol! Cheddar Gorge! Wells!) Inevitably, one of those places was Glastonbury Tor, the lumpy hill on the edge of the town that features an ancient tower connected to all sorts of mystic legends. It features at the end of the old BBC TV show Merlin, which we finished watching with the boy just before visiting.
As such, I couldn’t resist throwing a Merlin reference (or two) into this chapter. Obviously there’s the direct reference in the guy’s speech, but ‘Myrodin’ is also derived from version of Myrddin Wyllt, one of the apparent inspirations for the Merlin legend in the first place. The fun thing about having this in a fantasy book like Tales from the Triverse is that it’s not immediately apparent where the truth lies: is this guy for real? DID Merlin really exist in this fictional world that I’m exploring? Perhaps Earth used to have magic like Palinor, but at some point lost it?
That uncertainty is of course what Myrodin is playing on, using to attract people to his new church. His rhetoric in this chapter is that particular kind of nostalgic call to arms that we’ve seen so much of in the last decade - calling back to a prior golden age that almost certainly never really existed (but which remains just vague enough to evade being debunked). Over the years a lot of my writing has orbited around the Brexit/Trump delusions, and how as movements they were (are? Ugh) cynically designed to play on people’s worst, self-destructive impulses. Myrodin in the ‘Zealots’ storyline is more overtly close to a cult leader - but remember when cults were still seen as weird niche things outside of the mainstream, rather than extremist political movements?
Going back to the role of place in the writing of this chapter. While I knew the basic plot beats that were going to play out, the specifics of the Myrodin character, his actual name and the contents of his speech were all directly influenced by me being in Somerset and having visited Glastonbury. I find that rather fascinating - what would this chapter have been if I hadn’t been on holiday during its writing? There’s a schism reality in which that alternate version of the chapter exists. Who knows at this point how much of a ripple effect this chapter will have on what comes later? While Myrodin is the obvious result, it’s likely that Lola’s moment of crisis in the loos was also something that would have played out differently if I’d written it in another context. In my original notes that scene was going to happen on her walk to work (something of a reprise of when we first met her on her first day).
That then makes me think back to The Mechanical Crown and the layout of the main city location of Treydolain, spread across two mesas with a massive stone bridge linking them. It’s modelled entirely as a ‘big’ version of Ronda in southern Spain, which I’d visited a few months before beginning the project. The physical arrangement of the city plays into much of the drama and action, so it’s reasonable to assume that key sequences would have played out very differently had I not visited Ronda.
Inspiration is an unpredictable thing.
See you next week.
"She might only run the phones, keep the office working properly and make sure none of the detectives had a breakdown, but she knew how to get everyone’s attention."
I feel like there should be sarcastic quotes around the "only." It's always fun when we get to jump into Robin.
Also, good to see Zoltan and Nisha finally getting their act into a somewhat healthy zone.
"... she had thought only of Bruglia, of the portal to Palinor and the feeling that she was on the wrong side of it."
Doubling down on the assertion Lola is descended from a Pallinor family. Unless you're using "wrong world" as a transgender metaphor. I'm sticking with Lola is descended from a Palinor family. Considering my own paternal Grandfather changed his name from Samski to Miller and didn't discuss his past - and we didn't find out until 2019 he was from Warsaw - it's easy to lose family history. Especially in Mid-Earth of an 18th-20th century... All it needs is for Great-Grandparent to keep their mouth shut.
I didn't catch the "Merlin" references, but only watched it once, back in 2020, so... "Myrodin." Huh.
Let's talk magic. It's probable the box contains a tear. You've already established that one can stick a hand into a tear, access magic and initiate a spell. So having a tear in a box is a near-certainty. But, so far, you've established that this only allows active spells to continue functioning, not initiate new ones.
So, how are all the "street preachers" initiating spells?
Two possibilities I see: First, it's a "cheat." The levitation spell was active, but at a short height - say 5mm - which wouldn't be noticed by a casual viewer. Especially if the speaker started elevated so people couldn't get a close look at their feet and contact/cast shadows (quick flashback to your ancient car Composite tutorial in HF2U with the masked plane for contact shadow). Raising higher isn't a "new" spell, just modulating the active one.
Second: Well, a Max-Earth power cell functions on Mid-Earth, but discharges at an accelerated rate. Who says someone hasn't figured out how to create a "Magic Battery?" In my own Pangaea magic system metals channel power and crystal structures (gems) store it (although using magic artifacts also require organic elements of wood and flesh where the flesh can be that of the wielder - if you're interested, I can expand more on my eight elements). Using that as my guide, Myrodin has his ring with the crystal. He sticks his hand through the tear and lets the ring charge up. Now he's got power to use in Mid-Earth until hid battery discharges. Since your magic is "transformative" - light transformed to magic - building off the maxim that energy isn't created or destroyed, but merely changes form (like how a flywheel or microphone converts kinetic/friction energy into electricity), I see no reason why a magic battery can't exist...
...So the real questions are, "Who figured out how to make magic batteries?" and, "Who is smuggling magic batteries to Mid-Earth?" All potentially part of the larger arc, since it must be assumed your big-bad and their plans cross all three dimensions.
Hope it's not Daryla. Lola would be so heartbroken. Seems unlikely. Could be her Dad. That would fit your recurrent themes of generational struggle and atonement for the sins of one's forebears.
Huh. You get a bumper-sized comment this week!