Just Cause Universe 2: The Archmage

BOOK: Just Cause Universe 2: The Archmage
13.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Archmage

Just Cause Universe

Ian Thomas Healy


Copyright 2012 Ian Thomas Healy


Local Hero Press Edition


Local Hero Press Edition, License Notes


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to
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and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Cover design by S. Bell.


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“My official stance on magic? There’s no such thing.”

-Dr. Grace Devereaux, interviewed in
Scientific American
, April 1990


April, 2004

Tokyo, Japan


“More sake,

Deep in thought, Will Kramer looked down at his clay mug, still half-full of the warm alcohol.
Or half-empty
, he thought.
After all, I’m a pessimist
. Nevertheless, he turned and smiled at his hostess, Kanayo Saito. She was petite, even for a Japanese woman, and had aged so gracefully that she didn’t look anywhere near her age of eighty. Only the deep wrinkles around her eyes and the skin of her hands gave any indication of her many decades of life. She was wrapped in a traditional kimono, delicate red with cherry blossoms printed on it. Her husband, a tall reedy man named Hotaka, sat at the low table and sipped from his own mug. He had two of his crickets out of their gilded cage and watched them frolic on a mat, if such a term as
could be applied to insects. Nevertheless, their shiny black carapaces almost glowed as they crawled back and forth across the

“No thank you, Kanayo-san, but it
very good sake.” Will bowed. His tall purple mohawk bobbed forward with the motion. In parahuman circles, he was called Stratocaster, the superhero from America’s Lucky Seven team. He played a brilliant white custom guitar made for him by the oldest, most-skilled craftsman at the Fender company. He endorsed their products and they allowed him to use
as his super identity. His powers, diverse and mysterious, could only be accessed when he played his instrument. He called it magic, and others laughed, because everyone believed there was no such thing.

Only a few people knew the truth: magic was
, and he was part of the very small fraternity of wizards and witches who could bend the mystical power to their wills.

Like Will, the Saitos were also mages. The couple had spent more than half a century in the study of magic and how to control it. Will suspected they were the most powerful mages on the planet, but for all that ability, they rarely called upon the power to do their bidding. The Saitos subscribed to the philosophy that power corrupts, and the more of it they acquired through their studies, original research, and practical application, the less they actually chose to use it. Sometimes they argued—good-naturedly, as they weren’t the sort of people to foment conflict—with Will about his persistence in continuing to put the power to use.

Will loved using magic, whether in the service of the Lucky Seven, or simply to make aspects of his daily life simpler. For him, the thrill of the power flowing through him came on like a runner’s high. The feeling of magic as it flowed through his fingers into the guitar beat any narcotic, and Will had tried a good number of them as part of his rock-and-roll lifestyle. He carried his sake in one hand and his guitar in the other, and walked over to the window to look out upon the lights of Tokyo, smothered in pollution and drizzling rain.

There weren’t many mages left in the world. Once, when civilizations were young, there had been hundreds, perhaps thousands, but they’d been mere dabblers and charlatans. According to the Saitos, the amount of magical energy in the world remained constant, like the mass of the universe. It could never be created anew nor destroyed; it could only be controlled by those who knew the secrets of it. As the number of mages decreased, those who remained could control a proportionately larger piece of the whole.

And now there were seven fewer.

Hotaka had looked stoic and impassive, his cheekbones standing out in sharp relief from his tightly-clenched jaw. Kanayo’s eyes had filled with tears and she’d bitten a knuckle to keep from crying out when Will told them the news. Seven of their fellow mages had been slain in less than two months. Their names still echoed through his head: Gendarme and Rousseau in France; the Spaniard Gomez; Turko in Finland; Shostakovich in Russia; Vishnawas in India, and Sujin in Singapore.

Someone or something was hunting down the mages of the world.

“Surely you don’t believe it’s a coincidence, Hotaka-san?” asked Will. “Seven of us dead in as many weeks?”

“It is no coincidence,
,” said the elder mage at length. Neither he nor his wife could pronounce
was the closest they could manage. “I had hoped not to encounter an Archmage in my lifetime, but history and prophecy are against me.”

Will sat down across the table from Hotaka, crossed his legs and laid his guitar across his lap. “I know the word, but what does it mean in this context?”

“According to the histories, every thousand years a single mage will absorb all available magic, stealing it from those who possess it. His or her power will become virtually absolute.” Mages acted as batteries for magic, and released those energies upon death. A nearby mage could absorb those energies into his own body and become that much more powerful instead of letting the energies dissipate throughout the world or remain in isolated pockets until found by future mages.

“So you think that it’s a mage who’s killing the others?”

“I do.” Kanayo hunkered down next to her husband and placed a loving hand on his shoulder. He smiled at her, sad but full of love. “And I fear he will come for us.”

“Who is it? Is it Banks? Or maybe Williamson? I never trusted him very much.” Stirred by his strong emotions, a ghostly whine of harmonics echoed from the strings of the guitar.

“No. Attend.” Hotaka pulled a small pouch from inside his robe and poured a sparkling powder onto the table before him. He muttered some ancient words and the powder streamed into the air before him as if guided by invisible breezes. It shaped itself into glyphs which Will couldn’t translate. He marveled at the relaxed ease with which Hotaka channeled the power. “I believe his name is… I apologize, it is a difficult name.
Wufegane Feraziare

…” said Will thoughtfully. “Wolfgang?”

The older man smiled in relief. “Yes, that is correct.”

“I don’t recognize the name.”

“He has been hidden,” said Kanayo softly. “Shielded, certainly, by dark magics. Only now has he begun to draw the power to him. Surely you have noticed the pull on your own powers.”

Will took another sip of his sake. He had indeed felt something tugging on him, like a magnet. He hadn’t understood what it meant until the Kanayo explained it. He could sense it even now, like a voice that whispered in his ear like a seductive lover. “Yes,” he said. “You said he’s coming for us?”

Hotaka’s face became impassive, but a single tear tracked down Kanayo’s face. “He comes for all of us. He means to become the only magic user in the world. The Archmage. He can only succeed by eliminating all rivals.”

“Meaning us.” A squeal of feedback from the guitar punctuated Will’s remark. “Can we stop him?”

“I do not know,
. We are very old. We may not have the strength to battle him, and he is already very powerful.”

Kanayo laid her head on her husband’s shoulder. “You may be our best hope to stop him,

Will choked on the mouthful of sake he’d just taken and spluttered. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His eyes watered as the alcohol found its way into his sinuses. “Excuse me?”

“My wife speaks the truth. You are not like other mages,
. Your powers follow neither convention nor form. You can achieve amazing results with your instrument, and yet cannot perform the simplest incantation without it. It is this…
of magical standards that may prove to be the key to defeating this man.”

“How can you say that, Hotaka-san?” Will felt a cold sweat break across his forehead. “I’ve never had any formal training. I hardly even know what I’m doing. I just kind of make things up as I go along and hope to hell it works.”

“And that makes you unpredictable. It is as if you can think in three dimensions when the rest of us only think in two,” said Kanayo.

“Okay, I’ll give you that. Suppose that I am such a brilliant, unpredictable mage—which I don’t believe for a second—how am I supposed to defeat someone who’s taken the magic from seven other mages? That makes him seven times as powerful as before, right?”

“Unfortunately you are correct,” said Hotaka. “I did not say your task would be easy.”

“There is one way we could give you our power, to make you stronger,” said Kanayo, her mouth a razor-thin line.

Will sprang to his feet. “You mean die? Commit suicide or
or whatever you call it? Or have me kill you? No way.” He flung his guitar strap over his shoulder angrily and prepared to strike the power chord that would send him away in a flash of purple light.

. No offense was meant. Do not leave in anger.” Hotaka’s voice was calm and quiet, and yet it sliced through Will’s hot anger like an icy blade.

Will bowed his head. “I’m sorry, Hotaka-san. I know you meant well. I am honored that you would offer your lives to me, but I am not worthy of such a gift.”

Hotaka carefully lifted his crickets in the palm of his hand and whispered to them. He opened the door of the little pagoda-shaped cage to allow the crickets to walk into it where they joined several of their brethren. One began to chirp. After a moment, another joined in and soon their ghostly chorus echoed through the large apartment. It was a peaceful sound, reminiscent of Will’s childhood in rural Illinois. He felt the tension wash away from him.

 It returned a moment later full force when Kanayo spoke. “He approaches, husband. I sense him.”

“Yes,” said Hotaka with a deep, worldly sadness. “
, this does not yet have to be your fight. If you wish, you may leave to rejoin your friends now.”

“No way, Hotaka-san.” Will checked the tuning of his guitar. “I’m not about to let some asshole come in here and… and do as he pleases.”

BOOK: Just Cause Universe 2: The Archmage
13.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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