#52 Zealots: Part 4
Previously: A man going by the unlikely name of Lord Myrodin has been performing apparent feats of magic all over London. This is causing a disturbance, as you might imagine, and the SDC are investigating. Magic shouldn’t be possible on the streets of Mid-Earth, so what is going on? Meanwhile, two mysterious new arrivals from Palinor are also tracking down Myrodin…
On duty: DC Yannick Clarke & DC Lola Styles
It had been too long since the SDC had visited the pub, Clarke had decided. Ordinarily he was quite happy not to socialise with his colleagues, tending to lurk by the bar even when he did. They were either too young, too annoying or too depressing. That was until the dynamic had shifted: Kaminski had gone to ground all year, Chakraborty too. Robin occasionally made an appearance but usually had her own things going on. DS Collins was tedious, while DS Shaw was dull and rarely on the same shifts as Clarke. Holland and Hobb were the only regulars, which was perhaps all anyone needed to know. And Styles had been distracted since coming back from Palinor.
He was jolted in his seat as the rickety bus, powered by a severely inadequate rickshaw engine, trundled through the streets of north-east London. The afternoon’s heat was starting to dissipate, though the bus’ interior remained stifling. If Clarke had been legitimately into any of the new religion mumbo jumbo, he’d have been put right off.
“How about the pub, Styles? We can see if the others are about end of play.”
She turned her head from the window back towards him, as if only then remembering he was there. “Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good. Depends how this goes.”
“We’’ll see,” he said, not wanting to say much more within earshot of the bus’ other passengers. “Looking forward to seeing what’s at the end of this particular rainbow.”
Styles returned to gazing out of the grease-stained window and Clarke took the opportunity to assess the case. Strange goings-on all over town, including apparent demonstrations of magic. A charismatic leader clearly looking to build his own cult. A clearly savvy bunch of core followers, who had managed to evade inquiries - until now. Kaminski had struck gold in Greenwich, leading them to a rendezvous that wasn’t a wash-out. And now here they were, supposedly on course to visit the headquarters of the group.
What would happen next was hard to predict: either they had a fraud on their hands, in which matters would be simple and they could charge accordingly and put an end to the irritation, or they had a genuine use of magic in the wild in London. In which case everything was severely buggered. Clarke massaged his forehead with one hand, squeezing his eyes shut. To think that Max-Earth had enjoyed centuries more normality before the portals opened - on the one hand he was envious, on the other this was Clarke’s normal. Two hundred years of Triverse madness.
It seemed for a time that the bus would entirely leave the boundaries of London, until it took a turning into an industrial storage area lined with anonymous warehouses. With creaking brakes it came to a halt and the driver ordered everyone out.
Styles and Clarke dutifully followed the other believers out onto the cracked tarmac, interrupted by ambitious plants pushing through from below. They were led to a nondescript warehouse and through the office door, into the large interior space. A stage of sorts was at one end, rows of chairs filling the rest of the space. A table of refreshments was pushed up against a wall, though there was no disguising the grey, metal shell of the building. There were already people there, milling about and chatting.
“This seem like a weird place to do this?” Lola asked, leaning towards Clarke conspiratorially.
“It’s out of the way, but a little too out of the way.”
Putting on her best smile, Lola approached one of the people who seemed to be running the event. They were wearing a uniform of sorts, as were a few others in the room. “Hi,” she said to the woman, “how does this work?”
“Hi there! I’m Stephanie. What’s your name?”
“Lola! What a beautiful name. Just relax, Lola, and Lord Myrodin will be on stage shortly. He’ll explain everything.”
“Yes. Don’t worry, I know it’s a lot to take in on your first time. It’ll all make sense soon, I promise.”
“So what should I do?”
“Grab a drink and a biscuit, take a seat. Make yourself comfortable. It’s all very low stress here, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
She flashed another smile, then looked for where Clarke was - over by the refreshments table, as it turned out. “Anything interesting over here?”
Clarke grimaced. “I can smell bad coffee a mile away. Maybe if it had a shot of whisky in it. It’s probably laced with LSD or something anyway.”
Lola snorted, then poured water into a small, plastic cup. “What the hell,” she said, “let’s live a little dangerously.” The words almost stuck in her mouth and she paused, then sighed quietly. Mid-Earth felt anything but dangerous. Mundane-Earth.
“Let’s grab ourselves some seats before all the crazies take them,” Clarke said, pointing to a couple of spares in the middle of one of the rows. The seats were hard and uncomfortable. “We’ll watch the show for a bit,” Clarke said quietly into her ear, “see what happens. We don’t have to do anything now if it’s not the right moment.”
The background murmur of chattering excitement abruptly faded away as if on cue, replaced a moment later with bursts of applause as a man bounded out from backstage. Lola had to suppress a giggle at his dramatic robes and flouncing gait. Clarke slowly turned to her and raised his eyebrows.
“Believers!” the man shouted. “Thank you for coming. What an honour. All of you who are here this afternoon, you are not sheep! Do you know what sheep do?” He paused for dramatic effect. “They follow the herd!”
Lola leaned closer to Clarke. “I think he means flock.”
“Should we tell him?”
“Maybe in a bit.”
“You are not like everyone else. You ask questions. You look into things. You think for yourself! Why? Because you’re looking for answers. You’re looking for answers to a question, even if you’re not sure what that question is. I’ll tell you what the question is. The question is ‘why’.”
Lola felt a strong urge to mimic putting two fingers down her throat, but restrained herself.
“Why,” the man continued, “have you been deal the bad hand? Who is it that gave you these cards? Well!” He strutted up and down the stage, whisking his cape with every turn. “Tonight, my friends, we are shuffling the deck.”
There was another explosion of uproarious applause and shouting. Clarke was clearly unable to hide his disdain for the people surrounding them and Lola was compelled to kick his leg. He glanced at her and she gave him a stern look.
“Some of you are new here and may be wondering if you’ve made the right decision. You probably saw myself or one of my disciples demonstrating our power in the city, and are now wondering if it can possibly be true. Let me put your doubts to rest.” He moved to a small table positioned in the middle of the stage, with a box perched on top. Lifting a hinged lid he lowered his hand inside, slowly and deliberately, milking every moment of drama available. “We were told from birth that magic is not for us. That it is only on Palinor. We were told that Max-Earth’s technology only works there. Nothing left for us Mid-Earthers. Even our own leaders think small. We have forgotten to dream.”
As the man droned on, Lola found his words oddly compelling. He was clearly an egomaniac and most likely a con artist but the points he was making struck home. She’d felt it ever since returning from Palinor: that something was missing. The obvious explanation was that she missed Bruglia, and missed visiting Daryla and all the other people she had met there. The same pang of loss after a good holiday. Maybe it was something more.
“It’s time to dream again,” the man said, and stretched out his hand. The lights in the warehouse dimmed, leaving only the natural light from the windows, then the air burst to life with thousands of pinpricks of light, as if every dust mote was aflame. They swirled and coalesced into spiral patterns, floating in the air above the audience. “This is the universe as I see it,” the man proclaimed. “Join us today and I will teach you also how to harness this power.”
There was a loud, unexpected crash from the back of the warehouse. Lola turned in her seat just in time to see one of the doors hanging off its hinges. Stepping through the doorway was a remarkably tall man, slender but evidently possessing unnatural strength. He didn’t look human, but nor was he aen’fa or koth or any other species she recognised.
Clarke put a hand on her shoulder. “This could get interesting really fast,” he said.
“Should we engage?”
“Give it a moment.”
The man strode down the aisle at the side of the audience, his gangly limbs moving with an unlikely grace. He wore beautiful robes, albeit somewhat mud-flecked around the hem, and what seemed to be metal plating on his shoulders. Adorning his head was a simple helmet with two curved horns. He pointed at the stage. “Heretic!” he shouted.
At once the shimmering image of the spiral galaxy winked out of existence and the lights clicked back on. The man on stage took a few steps away from the table, his confidence momentarily slipping - though not for long. “My honoured guest,” he said, a slight stammer to his voice, “I am humbled by your presence.” He gestured at the tall man,, then looked to the ground. “This is an incredible moment, believers,” he said, “you are all blessed to be here today.”
“Silence,” said the tall man, his voice echoing through the room. Everyone obeyed. Lola watched, transfixed and confused.
Climbing the steps onto the stage, the man paused by the table. He lifted the lid to the box, smiled grimly, then lifted his gaze to the other man, who stood awkwardly off to one side. “What do you call yourself, deceiver?”
After looking over his shoulder, as if to check if someone else was being asked the question, the man bowed slightly. “I am Lord Myrodin, leader of this church.”
In a swift, violent motion the tall man swept a hand across the table, smashing the box to pieces. “And what do you call this, Lord Myrodin?” Where the box had been was a black smear, about the size of a hand, hovering in the air above the table.
Myrodin smiled pathetically. “It is a portal tear. I found it.”
“And this is how you perform your parlour tricks.”
The tall man turned to the audience. His eyes were piercing, his expression malevolent and not entirely human. “This man deceives you, children. He is a wielder from Palinor, cast out decades prior for abusing his skills. He is little more than a conjurer of pretty pictures.”
Someone near the front of the stage stood up, hands on hips. “That’s not true! Lord Myrodin is a true magic wielder. He’s shown it all around the city, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” Lola saw Myrodin desperately gesturing for the protester to sit back down.
“You know nothing, Mid-Earther. Allow me to explain.”
For a brief moment Lola thought she saw something run down the tall man’s arm, then he reached into the portal tear and the warehouse vanished. All the people inside it disappeared as well, including Clarke, and Lola found herself in darkness, floating. Stars appeared, slowly at first, then in a rush, filling the darkness with light until that was all there was. There was a sense of wind rushing through her hair, then the acute sensation of falling. She was above the Thames, above Tower Bridge, tumbling towards the river. The ground rushed up and she hit it, hard, the wind knocked from her - but she was still alive. Then she was stood on the surface of a lake, perfectly still except for ripple from her feet. Her clothes slipped off piece by piece, disappearing beneath the water. Naked, she looked around for any kind of landmark, anything to fix upon, but there was only the endless flat mirror in all directions. Her fingernails detached from her fingers, then the joints of her body began to pop from their sockets, starting at the wrist and travelling up her arms, then into her spine. As she watched, her skin bubbled and boiled away, leaving muscle, then bone, then she collapsed into the water as dust. Her last view was of her reflection in the water, then she dipped below the surface -
And found herself once again in the warehouse, still sat on her chair, still clothed, still alive and with all her organs. Someone nearby vomited onto the floor.
Clarke got to his feet. “That’s enough,” he said, pulling his ID from his pocket. “Detective Constable Yannick Clarke, Specialist Dimensional Command. I’m going to need to ask you to step away from the portal tear. Let these people leave of their own accord, then we can all have a civilised conversation with Myrodin, or whatever his real name is.”
The tall man stared down at Clarke. Lola wished she could grab Yannick’s hand and run from the place. “I am Glaicius, police man. Lord of Liars. God of Illusion. Keeper of Dreams. You are but a small man. I am a living god. What empowers you to issue instruction to me?”
Lola gawped. She’d read about Glaicius, and about Palinor’s supposed in-the-flesh pantheon. Myrodin, for his part, as if only then fully realising what was going on, dropped to his knees and started muttering apologies.
“I’m an atheist,” Clarke said, shrugging. “Also, I don’t doubt that you have grievances with Mr Myrodin here, and I’m absolutely certain that you’re very important back home. But you’re on my world now, and we have laws and ways of doing things.”
“I like this one,” said another voice from the stage, and Lola realised that she’d been right: there was another creature there. It stepped out from behind the tear, revealing itself to be a tiny, mostly human-shaped woman.
Without thinking, Lola jumped to her feet and pointed. “You’re Paf!” she said. “The Secret God!”
The tiny person, still standing on the table, folded their arms. “You have me at a disadvantage.”
“Oh, I’m DC Lola Styles. Also of the SDC. Princess Daryla of Bruglia spoke very highly of you.”
Paf’s fierce-but-tiny demeanour softened into a smile. “Ah, the Princess of Bruglia. I like her. Very pious.”
Pious? That didn’t sound like Daryla. Lola kept her mouth shut.
“The rest of you may go,” Glaicius said, his voice icy. “But you,” he continued, turning to where Myrodin was prostrated on the stage, “will answer to my judgement.”
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Summer holidays are done and schools are back, which immediately makes it easier to find the time to write. Don’t get me wrong - hanging out with my son is an absolute pleasure, but it cuts out core hours I normally use for writing. Which inevitably causes issues due to the way I write and publish on a weekly basis.
So, not moaning at all - but this chapter was a lot easier to get down than the previous six. :)
In other news, I’ve been working on self-publishing one of my earlier serial novels in print and ebook form. VERY exciting and I’ll be sharing some proper news about that next week.
Right, let’s do some behind-the-scenes author notes.
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