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Zealots: Part 3
Tracking down the elusive cultists...plus two unexpected arrivals
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: A charismatic cult leader who goes by the name Lord Myrodin has been performing supposed magic all over London, despite such a thing being impossible. The SDC are investigating on suspicion of fraud or illegal use of a portal tear, though as yet they don’t have a good explanation. Meanwhile, Benji, one of Myrodin’s followers, is carrying out his new mission…
On duty: DC Yannick Clarke & DC Lola Styles
Clarke rubbed the bridge of his nose, breathed deeply and sighed it out. “Well, this is very annoying.”
The tram station was, if anything, less busy than it would be ordinarily, only half a dozen people waiting for the next train. There were two rows of rickshaws waiting to take people to wherever they needed to be, mostly foot-powered but a couple had engines in the back, funnels angling up out of the roof. The station was out in the middle of nowhere, a good forty-five minutes on the tube just to get nearby, then another ten on the local tram.
“Guess the leaflet was a fake,” Styles said, holding up the offending item and staring at it as if to discern some deeper, hidden meaning.
“Or they clocked us and scarpered,” Clarke said. “Either saw us coming, or maybe gave us a decoy leaflet with the wrong location on in the first place.”
“You know, I think Robin said that this was handed in by a uniformed officer.”
“Jesus, as if they’re going to give PC Plod a map and instructions on how to find them.” Clarke took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. It was a hot day, hotter than it ought to be even for July. The usual lot were banging on about global warming and ice caps melting, which all sounded a bit far-fetched to him, and as usual were pointing to Max-Earth as some kind of crystal ball. Look what happened to them! and We still have time to do it better! Of course, doing it better usually meant tanking the economy, wiping out most of the kingdom’s industry and making everything worse. Besides, Max-Earth seemed to be doing pretty well for itself, as far as Clarke could tell. Maybe they just didn’t like that Mid-Earth was catching up ahead of time.
“OK, so now what?” Styles turned the leaflet over in her hands. “Maybe if we go hunting around for one of these ourselves, plain clothes, then we’ll have more luck?”
“Nobody knows when or where these nutters are going to appear, though.”
“Right, but tourist destinations seem like a good bet.”
“Fair play,” Clarke said, shrugging. “Let’s find a phone box and call it in, maybe we can get some extra hands on the job.”
It was an exciting new responsibility for Benji. After the gathering the previous Friday he had been asked to become one of Lord Myrodin’s disciples, an honour and privilege he hadn’t expected so soon. “This will require time and dedication,” he had been told, “and being a disciple requires true commitment.” There was a donation, entirely voluntary of course, and which he was more than happy to provide. His salary didn’t leave him with much by the end of the month, but he couldn’t think of a better cause - more worthy than spending it down the pub, at least. This way he would be helping society, making an actual difference.
And so he had demonstrated his commitment, then they had provided him with new clothes, new reading material and lots of items to hand out at the next event. He had only been told the location the day before and was now in place, wearing his uniform, bag full of leaflets ready to pass around to anyone who was interested. Greenwich Park stretched in all directions, with the Royal Observatory’s dome shining beautifully in the mid-morning sun. It was a perfect summer’s day and the park was busy, as was the observatory and museum. A good mixture of locals and visitors.
The previous month the country had witnessed a partial eclipse, making the observatory the perfect place for a little more magic. The lingering excitement from that event had left people more spiritual and eager for alternative explanations. Nobody wanted to hear only the dry facts, after all - that was deemed too Maxist; too much like something a Max-Earther would say, with their scientific obsession. Myrodin’s teachings weren’t for people like that: he needed those who had real imagination and a desire for the grander stories of Palinor.
Benji began handing out the print - simple folded leaflets with background information on Myrodin, on the group, and where to meet for the next gathering. Part of the job was trying to figure out who was genuinely interested, and avoiding anyone official - police officers, observatory staff. Seemed like a pretty easy job, and if Benji did it right he’d be able to go up to the next level and get that little bit closer to Myrodin himself and one-on-one teachings.
There was a flash of light, visible even in the bright morning, and all eyes turned towards the roof of the observatory. A portal had opened, not dark and scary like the ones at the portal station, but colourful and pulsating. Another bright flash and there he was: Lord Myrodin, standing on the rooftop. The instantly recognisable voice boomed out across the observatory grounds. “Unbelievers! I bring good news. We have all been trapped in a lie, told that miracles are for other people. That we on Mid-Earth are denied the wonders of magic.”
Benji had heard it before, so concentrated on spotting people who looked impressed. He quietly handed out the leaflets, pressing them into people’s hands with a welcoming smile. A mother with a pram, a couple of teenagers enjoying their summer break, a businessman taking a coffee, a park worker in overalls and a hard hat. They were all enraptured by Myrodin’s words. Benji approached a man who was stood with his hands on his hips, staring up at the rooftop with a stupid grin on his face and a crumpled cigarette nearly falling from his mouth.
“Here,” Benji said, “this has more information if you’re interested.”
The man glanced down at him. “Ah, thanks.” He let the cigarette fall to the floor and ground it under his foot before immediately lighting another. “You seen this guy before, I take it?”
“Oh yes,” Benji said, “lots of times. He’s the real deal.”
“It’s pretty impressive, I’ll give him that.” The man gestured towards the rooftop, cigarette between his fingers. “How’s he doing that?”
“Magic,” Benji said. “He’s able to channel Palinor energies. We all have the potential.”
“Huh,” the man said. “Is that right?” He looked at the leaflet for the first time. “Maybe I’ll give it a shot.”
Greg Coombs liked his job at the London portal station. Paid the mortgage, which was the main thing, but it also meant that he met lots of people. Different people, from all over. Working on the passport desk meant he got to see everyone passing through. Sometimes he’d be doing the Palinor end, others he’d be working the Max-Earth side of the station. He didn’t do any of the cargo stuff - that was for the boys down below. No, he stayed up on the bright and airy concourse, and got to meet dignitaries, politicians, celebrities, kings and queens - and there he was, just Greg Coombs, doing his job. And in-between shifts he could hang out in the bars and restaurants at the station, without needing to pay for any of it.
It was a Palinor day and he was sat at his desk, where the route from the portal narrowed so that everyone had to queue to pass through. It wasn’t like an airship dock or a train station, so it wasn’t like anyone had to wait for hours. The people that came through the portals were usually too important to hang around like regular folk.
Flipping open the binder containing the details of the next arrivals, he flicked through the sheets to the identification information. His actual job was pretty easy: he simply had to compare what was in the binder with what the individual provided, and make sure that the two matched - as well as ensuring that it was the correct individual. Once he’d had a human try to come in with a koth passport photo, which didn’t go well for them. Greg still didn’t understand what they’d expected to happen.
He frowned as he scanned the document. It was oddly sparse, with no background details on the next two people, who were travelling together. No place of origin, no home address, no employment record. No reason for visiting. A complete lack of immunisation certificates and disease assessments. Any of which would ordinarily mean a denied travel permit, before any of this reached Greg’s desk. Instead, there were two clear-as-day green ‘approved’ stamps.
The buzzer to announce a new portal transit sounded and he looked up to see the new arrivals. The first was an unnaturally tall and elegant man, so slender that Greg initially assumed him to be aen’fa. As he got nearer, it was evident that his skin was human-coloured and he bore no points on his ears. The man wore flowing blue robes accented with golden armour that seemed more decorative than protective, visible only on his shoulders, feet and atop his head, where he sported a dual-horned helmet that blended in cleverly with his pale hair. Greg watched and waited for the second person on the list but nobody else appeared.
Greg gulped involuntarily as the towering man approached the desk. “Welcome to Mid-Earth,” he said, “can I see some identification and proof of transit, please?” He’d said it a thousand times before, but was suddenly nervous.
“It is a disgrace that you do not immediately recognise me,” the man said. “How does your tiny scroll there announce me?”
“Well, sir, it’s a bit strange but I don’t have all the paperwork I would normally have, for which I do apologise. Only your name, a single name in fact. Apologies if I mis-pronounce this. Glay-key-ous, is it?”
The man stared down at him, his eyes simmering like pots of boiling water. “Glaicius, fool. Lord of Liars. God of Illusion. Keeper of Dreams.”
Greg was sure he could feel his face draining of all colour. “I see, Mr, I mean Lord Glaicius. I do apologise. The good news, though, is that your transit has been pre-approved. Which is, well, very unusual, but there you go. Above my pay-grade, as they say!”
Glaicius, Lord of Liars, nodded. “And my companion?”
“Ah, yes, I do have a note of your companion. Paf, is that right? Were they not able to travel today?”
A broad, wicked smile like the blade of a knife spread across Glaicius’ thin face. “Oh, he was perfectly able to travel. He may need some of my assistance, though. He is so terribly inadequate.” With that, he bent down below the desk as if to retrieve something he had dropped, then returned holding a tiny humanoid creature stood in the palm of his hand.
“This is most unedifying,” the tiny person said. “Let’s get this over with so that we can see to our business and get out of this ridiculous dimension.”
Greg swallowed, hoping they didn’t hear. “Mr Paf?”
“Yes, that is I,” they said, voice far deeper and louder than Greg expected. “Am I approved to enter or not?”
“Um, yes, everything is stamped and approved, sir.”
The tiny Paf jumped from Glaicius’ outstretched hand onto the desk. “I am a woman, imbecile. The Tiny God. The Secret God. The Creator.”
“Among other names,” Glaicius said, grinning mischievously.
Attempting to smile, unsure of whether that was the appropriate reaction, Greg then cleared his throat. “Although you’re cleared to go through, I do have to just ask one question. Protocol, you know. Can you simply state your business here on Mid-Earth?”
“Of course,” Paf said, hopping back onto Glaicius’ hand and scampering up his arm. “We’re here to dispense justice on a deceiver who is using our names in vain.”
“Oh, OK then.” Greg stared at them both for another moment, then gestured towards the exit.
As the two gods departed, Greg couldn’t help but think of a parrot perched on a sailor’s shoulder.
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Thank you for reading. I’ve been looking forward to introducing (some of) the gods in person for a while. One of the perks on writing in the fantasy genre! More on that below.
Thanks also to my new paid subscribers, which made for a lovely first birthday present for the newsletter. That special offer is in effect all through this month, if anyone else is interested in supporting the work:
Right, let’s hop into the author notes, below the jump here…
So! Did anyone expect the gods to be real? It’s an aspect of the Triverse that I’ve not had time to explore previously, and I find it endlessly fascinating. What happens to religious if the deities absolutely, 100% exist? And not in a belief structure way that works for the faithful, but in a clear-as-day, scientific reality form.
Can a god still be a god if they’re flesh and bone and corporeal? Does the concept of a god only really work if it hinges around belief and a lack of concrete proof? What does it mean to be an atheist in a world where gods are real? Is it even possible to be an atheist - how can an atheist exist without the contrasting force of religious belief? Atheism becomes suddenly more rebellious, more anti-establishment.
Also, what happens to a religion and its gods when a portal opens to another world, in which there are no gods (at least, not in the same fashion) and that religion doesn’t exist? The Palinor religion and gods are linked intrinsically to the use of magic (which in itself drastically shifts the notion of ‘miracles’), so what does it mean when alternate realities are discovered that have no magic? Does it make the religion on Palinor stronger, because they’re the One True Reality, or does it undermine the fabric of the theology? Is there a fear that magic could cease to exist on Palinor, just as it does not exist on Earth?
What happens when one of the Palinor gods travels to Mid-Earth? I’ve only touched upon it, but Paf’s general frustration is as a result of lacking her usual powers. Is a god still a god if they are reduced to being the same as everyone else? What makes them a god - their powers, or something else?
Like I say: it raises a lot of interesting questions.
This storyline will most likely wrap up next week. It’s been fun! See you then.