Chapter 13: The morality of magic
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
“You cannot summon up Abigail Lane’s ghost, Harry. It simply is not possible.” Marge is getting very exasperated with me.
We’re in Marge’s room at the motel. “Why not? Is there a rule against it?” I ask her.
Marge huffs a bit before answering. “No, Harry, not a rule. It just can’t be done. It’s been tried. You could get the best necromancer in the Office to try, and he’d still fail. Abigail is powerful enough to resist a summons. She only appears when she wants to. Nothing we can do on this end has ever affected that.”
“Could you at least try?”
Marge raises her voice. “Haven’t you just heard what I said, Harry? No!”
Well, if one way won’t work, then another will have to do. “Could you go into the realm of the dead yourself to talk with her?”
Marge’s mouth drops open. “What? What is this all about anyhow, Harry?”
There’s a knock at the door, and then Dr. Knox comes in. She scowls at both of us. “I can sense you two going at it louder than cow bells in a stampede. What’s the argument about?”
I can’t answer her. This is the first time I’ve seen Candy since she left my room just before dawn. Even now, it’s hard to believe that the glasses, white lab coat, and leather shoes conceal that wonderful body of hers. I know I’m supposed to treat her as Dr. Knox, but I have to get over her being this close to me, first.
So it’s Marge who speaks. “Harry wants me to call up the ghost of Abigail Lane. Failing that, he wants me to go into the realm of the dead. Both ideas are stupid. So that’s the end of it.”
Knox looks puzzled. “Why does Harry want to talk to Abigail Lane?”
Marge throws up her hands. “Beats me. He just came in here and started babbling about having to talk with her immediately.”
Dr. Knox looks over at me. “Why do you want to contact Abigail Lane, Eberhardt?”
Here’s where I get to show Candy how I’ve been trying to help. I explain about what happened when I went with Sanderson into the realm of the dead. And then I lay down the kicker. “Val’s right. Sanderson is the target, but the demon’s not trying to kill her. It’s trying to transform her into something. And Abigail knows what the danger is. Maybe she can help us stop it.”
Marge has sat down at the table in her room again while I’ve been speaking. She nods at this. “If you’d only have told me this up front, Harry, at least I would have understood.” She’s not quite so exasperated at me now. “But both of your ideas are still unworkable. I can’t summon Abigail Lane. And I can’t send myself into the realm of the dead.”
I appreciate Marge’s response, but I really want to know what Candy thinks. Dr. Knox is standing there, looking back and forth between us. She finally asks Marge, “Could you send Harry into the realm of the dead? Without killing him, I mean.”
Marge looks quizzically at Dr. Knox. “Alone, no. With another necromancer, it’s possible, although risky.”
I have to remind Dr. Knox, “I can’t leave Farnham.”
Marge waves off my objection. “I don’t think Val’s order applies to this situation, Harry.”
I just reiterate, “I can’t leave Farnham.”
Marge looks annoyed. Dr. Knox looks at us both, laughs, and lets out a sigh. “Harry’s not being stubborn to no purpose, Winter. He’s acting according to my orders.”
“Your orders?” Marge is incredulous.
“My orders. You’ll understand in a minute. Meanwhile, make sure your shields are as firm as possible.” With that, Dr. Knox takes off her glasses, pulls the plain black kerchief from her hair, shakes it out, and comes over to me. Standing so only I can see, she opens her lab coat, showing that she’s only wearing underwear underneath. And then she leans over and whispers in my ear, “I’m your Candy, Harry. Forget about the rule keeping you here in Farnham. And you might as well forget about the whole masquerade about treating me like the reserved Dr. Knox. Just keep in mind that you attend to your job first, and don’t touch me until I tell you you can.”
She steps away, closing her coat. I do so want to hold her, but I will never disobey Candy.
Marge is looking at both of us in confusion. She asks Candy, “You’re some sort of sex magician? What have you done to Harry?”
Candy is pulling her hair back to cover it up. She glances at me with a smile as she says, “I guess the simple way to put it is that I’ve made him my sex slave, Winter. I’m sure you will appreciate the irony. I had told him he couldn’t leave Farnham, so I just had to undo that. Otherwise, he’s unharmed.” She finishes covering her hair. “Just ask him.”
Marge is outraged. “Using magic to control a fellow agent is a direct violation of regulations. And I can’t think of a more underhanded way to do it than with sex magic.”
Candy finishes putting on her glasses, resuming the appearance of Dr. Knox. She glares at Marge. “I’m not part of your organization, and its regulations don’t apply to me. And besides, I’m acting under orders.” There’s real anger in Candy’s voice. I want to go to her, but I mustn’t until she invites me. And then she softens her tone. “Whatever you think of me, Margaret Winter, I’m not the enemy here. If Harry’s right, then the real threat comes from the demon and whatever it does to the Sanderson woman. Help us fix that, and then you can file all the formal complaints you want later.”
Marge ponders the matter a while. “All right, for now, I’ll play along. We’re going to need another necromancer, though, before we can send Harry into the realm of the dead. It’s going to take a while before we can get one out here, though, and in the meantime you can remove your hold on Harry.”
Candy smiles at Marge, which makes me happy; I’d like the two of them to get along. Candy whips out her phone. “I’ll call Frank, and he’ll have a necromancer here in minutes. As for Harry, it’s best he stays under my control for now. Trust me on this, Winter. You don’t want to know why I did this to him.”
For the second time in three days, I’m in the realm of the dead. This time, I find myself in a rocking chair on a porch in what looks like a small New England town. It’s just that there’s no one else on the street. Sitting beside me in another rocking chair is Abigail Lane. She looks over to me. “I presume you’re looking for me.”
“I am.” I think of how to put this briefly. “We’ve been fighting a demon that took possession of Sanderson’s friend Deecee Young. I think the demon’s real purpose, or the purpose of whoever is behind it, is to somehow transform Sanderson. And I figure you know what that actually means and maybe what we can do about it.”
Abigail leans back in her chair. After a moment, she replies, “I didn’t want to talk about it before, because it was a private matter, but now . . . It’s all about names, Henry Eberhardt.
“Twenty-one years ago, a young woman desperately wanted to have a child. The doctors had told her she would never bear a child naturally, and all her attempts had failed. That year, she met a magician who offered to use magic to have her bear his child. She agreed to his terms, and in due course bore a child, a girl. She named the girl Désirée Arabia Nightfeather, Désirée because the child was her heart’s desire, Nightfeather for the magical mark the child would eventually acquire, and Arabia . . . that I do not know.
“When Désirée was four, her mother learned that the feathers were a curse, not a blessing. They would give Désirée command over dark forces, at the price of becoming one herself. Her mother could not accept this, so she turned her child over to her sister, and went looking for a way to save her child from its fate. That, incidentally, is how Désirée Arabia Nightfeather became Persephone Sanderson; her aunt bestowed those names on her.
“Persephone knew none of this until she came here with you the other day. You can understand why it upset her.”
I think about this, and what Abigail said earlier, and say, “You don’t believe Sanderson is fated to become this dark power, I take it. But I think someone is trying to manipulate her into just that. Do you have any idea of how they could do it? Any idea of how we can stop them?”
Abigail folds her hands in her lap. She rocks back and forth several times before answering. “Magic is impersonal. It is how it is used, why it is used, that makes it good or evil, black or white. And yet magic is personal. Each person who uses magic is shaped by the magic that person uses.
“I use magic to defend this nation, and so that is my vocation. They are in harmony. You, Henry Eberhardt, use magic to slay demons, and so you treat people as enemies to be overcome. Particularly women. Persephone uses magic, she hopes to do good, but she is not sure, and so she is not sure of herself, either. Do you understand this?”
I do, I guess. This is one reason magicians try not to engage with magical entities more powerful than themselves; they can lose themselves that way. But Abigail’s idea that I look at women as the enemy? No. The only woman for me is Candy, and she certainly is not my enemy. No. But I need Abigail’s help, so I nod my head and say, “Yes.”
Abigail nods in return. “Then there is the problem. To make Persephone become a dark power, she must be confused to the point where she makes bad choices, choices that will damn herself in her own eyes. It is a pity Valerie Thompson did not recruit Persephone to the Office, for that would have given Persephone discipline and a set of rules to follow while she developed her own values.”
Abigail stands up. I stand up, too. She turns to me. “You’re not the only one who’s figured out the problem, Henry Eberhardt. Valerie Thompson has done so. So has Francis McCarthy.”
“So this trip has been for nothing?” With Val and McCarthy not only both on the case, but working together, no one needs my help, I guess. I feel deflated.
“No, not for nothing. They know the problem, but they don’t know how to solve it. They are reacting, not acting. They don’t realize that what Persephone needs is a moral guide, a certain kind of moral guide, one who can deal with the confusion she will face. You’re not the most likely choice for such a position, Henry. Your character tells against you. Indeed, some would say you are exactly the wrong person, because character is destiny. But I do not believe in destiny. And so I am telling you that being a moral guide is the job you must take on if you want to save Persephone.”
Great. “I’ll be happy to do it, Abigail Lane.”
Abigail shakes her head and looks me straight in the eye. “But you can’t serve as a moral guide when you are the slave to another. I’m sorry, Harry, but I’m going to have to ruin your happiness”
I’m confused by what Abigail’s saying, so I scarcely notice her reaching out with her hand. And then I feel my soul being ripped apart and my body and mind are burning with fire.
I’m having trouble breathing. I try to reach up, but my hands are pinned down. I’m lying on my back on something soft. I open my eyes. It takes me a few seconds to realize there’s something being pressed against my throat. I try to make a noise, and the pressure on my throat increases, so I stop.
My vision clears. Persephone Désirée Arabia Nightfeather Sanderson, commander of dark powers and potentially one herself, is sitting on top of me, pinning my arms with her legs and holding a metal bar against my throat. She is not smiling.
“Harry,” she says, “do you want to tell me what you’re doing in my bed, or should I just kill you?”
End of chapter thirteen