Of Citadels And Castles, Part I: The Last One
By C. Mage
There is no such thing as magic. That's the Rule and the Decree. It has been this way for almost two hundred years. The Paths are closed. The Ways are shut.
The Pact was made.
But like any declaration, there's always at least one person who just doesn't get the memo…
An asari woman turned as she heard the name, stopping her brisk pace down the hallway. "Yes?"
The speaker, a human nurse, smiled. "Hello! I'm Patricia. I was hoping to talk with you before your next appointment."
Dr. Y'Kasia nodded. "Walk with me." As she continued down the hallway, she asked, "What is this about?"
"It's about your new patient. The human found three months ago?"
"Yes. I find his particular psychological state quite intriguing. His is such a complex psychosis." She opened a file on her omnitool. "Under normal conditions, when a person suffers from a complex delusional state, they possess a structured reality of their own, with its own belief system. However, no matter how complex their belief systems, probe them far enough, and they collapse. But this one…" Dr. Y'Kasia smiled. "The reports of his delusional state of this patient is unbelievably complex, and yet his belief system stands firm under the most intense scrutiny. In fact, the reason why I'm here is because the last doctor became…compromised. Dr. Tokogami began to accept some of what the patient has professed, and instead of bringing the patient back to reality, Dr. Tokogami has clearly been influenced into falling under the same psychosis."
"Will he be all right?"
"Dr. Tokogami is under observation, but he doesn't seem to have any tendencies towards hurting himself or others."
They stopped outside Cell 71. "Here we are. If you'll excuse me, Patricia, I need to examine my patient and assess proper treatment."
"Of course, Dr. Y'Kasia. It's an honor having you with us." She bowed, then continued on her way down the hallway.
Dr Y'Kasia entered the room, looking around at the padded walls, floor and ceiling. Around the room were written strange marks and sigils, and there was an intricate circle drawn in the floor, all in black. There was a figure in hospital scrubs, sitting in the corner, his arms hugging his torso. "Good morning. I'm Dr. Y'Kasia. Dr. Tokogami will no longer be your doctor; he has been reassigned, due to concerns about his workload. I hope you don't mind." The figure didn't answer as part of the wall slid out, forming a seat and desk. Dr. Y'Kasia sat down. "According to this, your name is…Machias Castle. It says here that you've mentioned that your friends call you 'Mac'. May I call you that?"
Finally, the figure in the corner moved, if only his jaw. "Call me whatever you want."
"I see you've been decorating your cell again. What are these?" Machias didn't answer. "These are quite intricate." Dr. Y'Kasia stood up, walking around the room, tracing her fingertips over the sigils. As she did, she was surprised to feel a slight tingling in the nerve endings of her fingertips. "What are these?"
"Ah…so this is a business that you're involved in?"
"Something like that."
She went back to the desk, typing notes into her omnitool. "Mr. Castle…"
"MARSHAL. I keep telling you people, but nobody listens. United States Marshal Machias Castle, Badge Number Forty-six."
"Marshal, I've looked up your records, but I can't find them. It would help your case if you could tell me how far back I should look."
"Why should I tell you? I told the other guy, but he didn't listen."
"According to what I see here, you said to look up your records in…1871 AD."
Machias stood up. He was tall, easily six feet tall, with shoulder-length, unwashed hair, a moustache and a beard. He was slim, but was clearly in good shape. "Yeah. He said there was nothing to find."
Dr. Y'Kasia looked at the notes, frowning slightly. "Marshal, I want us to have a good working, healing relationship. But that can only be achieved through the truth, and I want you to be able to rely on me."
"Nice talk…from a blue filly."
Dr. Y'Kasia stood up, the seat and desk moving back within the recesses of the cell. "I shall return later, but not too much later, if you do not mind. There is something I must discover."
"Go ahead. Not like I got a full dance card here."
"With all due respect…!" Dr. Y'Kasia began, but she was cut off as her administrator, Dr. Penn, held up a hand.
"Ever notice, Dr. Marisie, that whenever people say, 'with all due respect', the next words out of their mouths are invariably disrespectful?" Dr. Penn's aide nodded, a hint of a smirk on his face.
"Dr. Penn, when dealing with a delusional mind, the object is to use the truth to force those delusions to collapse under the weight of solid evidence. But Dr. Tokogame deliberately lied to this patient, undermining his treatment. The patient reported that no evidence of his existence was ever found, but I see nothing in Tokogami's notes here that suggests he made the inquiries in the first place."
"That's because the very idea is ridiculous. I don't know if you remember, Dr. Y'Kasia, but humans do not live for centuries. If what he said was true, then he would have to be at least three hundred years old."
"Regardless, we have no proof to refute his delusions until we actually look for the evidence."
"Very well…but it is my opinion…"
"Have you ever noticed, Dr. Marisie, that whenever people start with mentioning their own opinions, the next words out of their mouths are to suggest that the listeners should replace their own opinions with the speaker's?" Dr. Y'Kasia said blithely.
Dr. Penn cleared his throat. "…that your opinions are little more than a waste of your time."
"It's my time to waste, sir. Thank you for YOUR time." Dr. Y'Kasia turned and left Dr. Penn's office.
Dr. Penn massaged his temples. "Refresh my memory…why is she here again, other than a predilection for introducing new reasons for stress?"
"She volunteered after hearing about Patient 71. Dr. Tokogami may have contacted her."
Dr. Penn groaned. "I wonder what the asari equivalent is for the term, 'wild goosechase'?"
Dr. Y'Kasia stepped off the shuttle in front of the facility. Ever since the redesign in 2015, the U.S. Marshal Museum looked considerably different from the original architecture, from a small building set in the town of Laramie, Wyoming to the new, significantly more contemporary and much larger building in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Dr. Y'Kasai hoped that the Marshals' attention to authenticity also included records of their organization prior to the invention of the transistor, not to mention the invention of the "horseless carriage".
As her shuttle left, a man in a suit walked out of the building. "Dr. Y'Kasai?"
"Actually, it's Y'Kasia." She extended her hand with a kindly expression on her face.
The man coming out to greet her smiled in return, shaking her hand. "Sorry, not very good with names. I'm Marshal Donovan. I'm one of our resident archivists."
"A pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, trust me, the pleasure's all mine. You're the first asari ever to come to our museum. In fact, we were rather surprised by your inquiry." He gestured towards the front doors of the museum and they walked towards them. "How is it that you came to know about Marshal Castle?"
"One of my patients brought up his name during my treatment of him." A literal if not spiritual truth. "I'm hoping that learning more about this person, if he existed, to help understand his psychosis."
They went inside and he took her to an elevator. "How much do you know about the Marshals?"
"Only that you were a law enforcement organization three hundred years ago."
"Still are, although our role has diminished considerably. In its inception in 1789 AD, it was an enforcement arm of the federal court system. They served warrants for arrest, facilitated prisoner transport, and its most famous role, finding and apprehending fugitives from the law." Dr. Y'Kasia let him continue, since he was clearly enthusiastic about his own role as archivist and relished the opportunity to pass on knowledge of the Marshals' history to her. "The Marshals still exist today, although many of our duties have changed as the law changed."
The elevator stopped and they exited, Marshal Donovan leading her down the hall past walls of clear plexiglass that contained rooms with computer databanks humming within them. "Down here are the physical archives. These contain all paper records of cases, agents, court documents. There is a great deal that is considered quite fascinating…"
"And Marshal Castle?"
"Actually…I was hoping that you might be able to help us clear up something that's a little…odd."
"I think it's better that I just show you."
They walked into a room behind two sets of security doors, moving into a warehouse holding airtight containers to preserve the age of the documents. "You must understand that what I'm about to tell you must be kept quiet. The only reason I'm telling you is due to the name you gave me is somehow at the heart of this mystery."
"Of course, but I don't understand what mystery you're referring to."
They continued walking until they reached a door on the other side of the room. This door was older in construction, being made of metal-bound wood and mounted on hinges instead of sliding to one side. As they approached, Dr. Y'Kasia blinked as she saw sigils burned into the wood, as well as a circular pattern inscribed on it.
The same pattern that was now decorating the floor of her patient's cell.
"Two months ago, this door just…appeared. Security had a field day with this, combing over the logs, trying to find out what happened and where it came from. It was all kept quiet, considering the mysterious nature and the fact that no one wanted to have to explain how a part of a building appeared as if by…"
"…magic." Y'Kasia said. That tingling in her fingertips was back.
He nodded, then opened the door, revealing crates and boxes, all of which looked old, but still in good condition. "I and three of the other archivists have gone through these as best we can. Not all the entries are in English, and what we're reading here is, well, impossible."
"What did you discover?"
"In 1811 AD, one of the founding members of the Marshals, Thomas Morris, penned a proviso for the Marshals service. In it, he stated that due to the existence of supernatural and unexplained forces in the western United States, that he had commissioned five people to create a division of the Marshals to act in the capacity to 'expound the law and dispense justice'." Donovan shook his head. "It gets even weirder from there. The records speak of these people given the means and legal powers not only to enforce the law, but to dispense justice and decide punishment. On their own! And these men and women were not sent after normal people. I have records of the arrest, apprehension and, in some cases, execution…of trolls, 'Fair Folk renegades', redcaps, demons, assorted monsters from fairy tales…and one DRAGON!"
"Have the blueprints for the building been consulted?"
"Yes." He sat down on one of the crates. "The building blueprints include the space for this room, even in the local pipes and sewer lines. It's not that the building had this space added on. It's as if this room had always been here, and we just couldn't see the door."
Dr. Y'Kasia was starting to feel a little lightheaded. "What records do you have for a Marshal Machias Castle?"
"Outside this room? Barely a thing, only a confirmation that someone under that name served as a Marshal for 17 years, and that he was reported missing in 1871 AD. Here, in this room…" He walked her over to a rough-hewn wooden desk with a box on it. Attached to the wooden box was a metal plate that read, "MACHIAS CASTLE, DATES OF SERVICE: FEB. 8, 1854 – SEP. 11, 1871." He opened the box to reveal stacks of papers and books inside. "Seventeen years of service, considered to be one of the greatest and most disciplined lawmen that ever served. Fought in several conflicts, many times single-handedly. Quick on the draw, but slow to dispense justice." Donovan's voice couldn't help but hold a modicum of pride. "If this is all to be believed, he was the best of us, and held our motto as his personal code. The world does not see the like often."
Don't be too sure. "I don't suppose among the wealth of information, there's an actual picture of him?"
"Yes, three. One made when he began his training, one when he took the Oath, and the third is one of him with his family."
"Wife and daughter. Here…" He reached into the box and pulled out three pictures, two in wooden frames, one mounted on thick cardboard. "This is him."
Dr. Y'Kasia took the photographs, hoping that these would, at least, prove that her patient was simply deluded about his identity. She saw her patient looking back at her from within each photo. "It's impossible…he must be a clone, or something else. A family resemblance, perhaps."
"Dr. Y'Kasia? Is something wrong?"
"Marshal Donovan, how much of this can be copied? I'd like to get as much of it as I can reproduced, show it to someone who might be able to shed some light on all this."
"Almost all of it, but it will take some time, and I'll need approval…"
"Do whatever it takes. I suddenly find myself with a great deal of time on my hands. If you don't mind, I'd like to continue looking."
"By all means. If you can help me come up with some answers, I know my supervisors will appreciate it."
"I'll speak to them now."
As Marshal Donovan left, Dr. Y'Kasia looked at the photos in front of her. The picture with the woman and child in it, he looked so happy. "If you were so happy then…what are you doing here now?"
Dr. Y'Kasia walked herself through the records, reconstructing the day-to-day operations of what these Marshals would normally deal with, especially this "magical arm" of the organization. It was incredible; the reports read like a cross between Louis L'amour and J.R.R. Tolkein. Showdowns at high noon with undead, ancient Mayan and Aztec spirits, rustlers that stole cattle for their blood, not their meat, it went on and on.
And none of it ever officially acknowledged by their parent organization. No wonder these people were given the powers of judge, jury and executioner...how in the world would any of these beings be prosecuted in any normal court? Dr. Y'Kasia shook her head, then looked up as the door opened.
Marshal Donovan walked in, blushing slightly in embarrassment. "Sorry. I hope I'm not interrupting anything..." He was carrying an old wooden box.
"Not at all. There's so much here, but I'm starting to get a better understanding of how events played out. It's completely unbelievable, and yet publicly-available records..." She stopped. "What do you have there?"
"If I'm not mistaken, Marshal Castle's personal effects." He put the box on the desk. "I've spoken to the Director, and the items inside have been examined and approved for release to you."
"Thank you. May I?"
"By all means. I'd like to see what's in there myself."
Dr. Y'Kasia opened the box, revealing a thick leather gunbelt, a Schofield .45 revolver, a four-shot "pepperbox" derringer, and two custom revolvers that looked like converted Colt Peacemakers, with extremely ornate and complex etchings all over the guns. A U.S. Marshal badge, made of a silvery metal. Five yellowed photos mounted on cardboard, A small book with a leather cover, bound with a leather strap. Another book, larger and thicker, with a stylized cross on the front. Four vials of different-colored liquids, stoppered with corks. A leather pouch with an undetermined amount of coins within. A worn dark brown cowboy hat, with a leather band with silver leaves around the crown, with the brand "Stetson" on the inner brim. Everything in the box looked old, but well-cared for, with very little damage. "Extraordinary..." She picked up the Schofield, turning it over in her hands. "Primitive projectile weapon, using a chemical reaction to provide propulsion. Our race had similar weapons before the use of mass effect weaponry became widespread."
"We had the guns tested. The Schofield works flawlessly, but the Colts don't work."
Dr. Y'Kasia touched one of the guns, then jerked her hand back as she felt a shock. "Ah!"
"What is it? Are you hurt?"
"No, just...there's some sort of static energy in some of these items. Take one of the Colts."
He nodded, picking up one of the guns. "I don't feel anything."
Dr. Y'Kasia frowned. "Must be me...was there anything else?"
"Yes. Apparently, there's still an account in this Marshal's name."
"What kind of account?"
"A bank account. According to this, since Marshal Castle disappeared, not died, his account is still active and was receiving payment into it until this part of the organization was dismissed...and even then, the funds have been gathering interest."
"How much does he have now?"
"The bank won't release information or access to the account to someone who doesn't have the right code phrase, but after a few hundred years of compound interest, it's likely he'll have at least enough to pay his medical bills."
"I would like permission to have the bank's contact information, as well as permission to bring these with me. I think seeing these items might shed some light on the issue."
Marshal Donovan nodded. "I'll talk to the Director immediately. A lot of people have heard about your research and the 'phantom door'. They're quite interested in the outcome of this mystery."
Dr. Y'Kasia picked up the badge. The cool metal fairly hummed in her hand. "As am I, Marshal. As am I."
"Marshal Castle?" The man in the white room in the white shirt and pants did not answer, simply looking up through the straggly hair over his eyes. Dr. Y'Kasia smiled as she came in further, carrying an old wooden box…and she was pleased to notice his eyes widening perceptibly, although the rest of his body language stayed neutral. "I must say," she added as the table and bench extended from the wall, "you certainly have a colorful history. One, I might add, that didn't exactly exist until quite recently."
He stayed silent as she opened the box. "I've heard a fascinating tale, one no one should believe, despite the overwhelming evidence." She took out a stack of files, opening them up. "Tell me about 'redcaps'."
"Nasty creatures." Dr. Y'Kasia turned with a hint of a smile as she listened to him talk. His tone was business-like, as if he was giving a lecture. "Fey creatures, like goblins, bloodthirsty. Run in packs. Called what they are by their habit of dipping their hats into the blood of the animals or people they've killed. Vulnerable to elemental attacks based on air or spirit energy."
"Four types, or 'courts'. White Courts feed off emotional states, life itself, and are the hardest to detect. Red Courts feed off blood, cover themselves with flesh masks to look like attractive human beings, superhumanly strong and fast, saliva contains a narcotic and addictive substance. Vulnerable to bladed weapons that cut open their masks and spill the blood they've taken. Black Courts are the easiest to find, since they look and smell dead. Strongest and most deadly as individuals, but few in number and most susceptible to sunlight, fire, garlic and objects of faith. Tend to surround themselves with thralls to do their bidding. Jade Courts are the most mysterious, call themselves the 'hengeyokai', translates to 'hungry dead'. VORACIOUS blood drinkers. Met one…and not eager to repeat the experience. Pretty much the only things we know about them is how secretive they are."
"What kind? There's five or six different types, all from different origins."
Dr. Y'Kasia watched his eyes. "Marshal, after considerable discussion, I'm inclined to have your release approved."
"I don't think you're crazy. Different, beyond a doubt. But I don't believe you need treatment. You may need some help, however. Based upon what I've read, you've somehow managed to move three hundred years into your future and…"
"WAIT." His voice held such intensity, it stopped her explanation faster than if he'd shouted at the top of his lungs. "THREE HUNDRED YEARS?" he said hoarsely.
Dr. Y'Kasia held her breath. She'd been a psychiatrist for far too long not to recognize the onset of a possible psychotic break. He sat there, hunched over. She saw the look of realization on his face and paused, waiting a few moments. She knew more questions would come, but they had to be at his pace.
"Where am I…?" he asked hollowly.
"You're on the Citadel, a city in deep space." Dr. Y'Kasia had practiced what she would say to him on the trip back to the Citadel, knowing there would be terms unfamiliar to him. "A city among the stars."
"I…was on Earth."
"What is the last thing you remember before coming here?"
"I…there was a fight. A shaman. She was trying to move backwards in time, using chronomancy. Change the world's history so the Europeans would've destroyed themselves before expanding to the New World. I was sent to apprehend her. Almost as soon as I got there, we got dry-gulched."
"Ambushed, bushwhacked. They knew I was coming. Had to fight my way to their camp. She was preparing a circle, but she'd made it wrong. If she'd completed the incantation, it would've blown a hole in space and time the size of the Texas Panhandle. So I was set in to stop it."
She blinked. "Only one man against a crisis like that?"
"Only one crisis. I fought my way through the goons she had guarding the place, tried to erase the circle. Something went bad, things got all twisty, and I just kept destroying what I could to keep things from going south…" He sighed. "Next thing I knew, I was here in this room and everything I had was gone except the clothes on my back, and those were torn nearly to shreds."
"Should we be concerned about your weapons? From what I understand, they are quite dangerous."
"Naw. You gotta be a Marshal and trained to use them, otherwise they're just paperweights. They won't even fire regular bullets…wait, you said I was in space? Out among the stars?"
"Is there any way I could get home? I need to get back to Wyoming. I need to see it."
"I'm sure that could be arranged. There is one more matter that should be discussed. What do you know of your financial situation?"
He was silent, then said, "Dierdre took care of that…she was always good with numbers. God in Heaven, I only just saw her less than a week ago…!"
"Do you want to know what happened to her?"
"I…if you know."
"Records show that she never married again, after your disappearance in 1871. Your daughter grew up and married a good man…but records of them stopped after World War Two."
"World War TWO? There were two of them? Criminy, nobody learnt their lessons after the first one came along?" He shook his head. "What happened after I disappeared, the whole world suddenly go mad?"
"I'm not a historian, Marshal. I'm sorry."
Machias looked up at her, then sighed. "No, I'M the one who should be sorry, going off on you like that. Hail, I don't even know who you really are. I thought you were some kind of fey when you came in."
"I'm not a fey, Marchal. I'm an asari, from another planet, called Thessia."
"Alien…from another planet? Sounds like something out of Jules Verne…I'm gonna need to digest for a spell."
"Very well. However, there's still the matter of your finances. Do you remember how much money you have in the bank?"
"I figure I've got enough money to at least pay for my stay here. Last I checked, I had at least three hundred dollars ." Dr. Y'Kasia looked at him, then began to laugh. Machias looked at her and got a sneaky suspicion that wouldn't be enough.
"Marshal, you don't have three hundred dollars. First, your world converted to the credit standard when the Alliance joined the galactic community. Second, there's a term that I think should be made aware of…called 'compound interest'."
"You lost me about a mile back."
"Marshal, I have set up a link to your bank with your current account. As I understand it, the account is accessible to anyone, only they have to give a certain phrase to unlock the account, and if the correct phrase isn't given, the account is locked for thirty years." She looked up. "They didn't have identification methods that sophisticated at that time?"
"You'd be surprised how many ways there are to look like someone else."
"But since then, there could have been one of several ways to get into the account. Cosmetic surgery, someone in the bank that was corrupt…"
"Look, it was the best I could do at the time. Besides, I don't make the kind of money someone might covet."
"Time to find out. Once you're more properly attired, we're going to go to your financial institution."
"I feel stupid." Machias looked down at himself. "And these clothes bind me in weird ways."
Dr. Y'Kasia chuckled. "Your old clothes were damaged beyond repair and three centuries out of style."
"What about my gunbelt?"
"I don't think you should be expecting trouble, let alone causing it. People don't walk around armed to the teeth." She laughed. "You're lucky I let you wear the hat."
"'Taint right, walking around without one," he said stubbornly as they walked to the large building in front of them. "And where's my bank? All I can see is this eyesore here."
"That is your bank, although it's fair to call it a 'financial institution' now."
"I just got OUT of a goshdarned 'institution'."
"You'll feel better once we're done here."
I'll feel better once I've got a proper pair of jeans. He shuffled in, still feeling out of sorts. There was something off about this place. Not just the bank, but Earth itself. He'd been feeling squirrelly ever since they hit atmosphere.
They walked to a teller, who smiled as they came in. "Welcome to WF Intergalactic. How can I help you?"
Dr. Y'Kasia waited, then elbowed the distracted Machias. He cleared his throat. "Sorry…place has changed a mite since I was last here. Account's under the name Machias Jeremiah Castle."
"And you are?"
"Machias Castle…the Sixth."
She checked the computer, then blinked. "Excuse me…my terminal seems to be a little off. It says the account was created on May 9th, 1862."
"Sounds about right." Machias smiled.
She continued typing. Then she typed some more. Then she looked up. "Sir, may I ask you to come with me? I would like to bring my branch manager in on this. This is all rather peculiar."
"You ain't just whistling Dixie, miss."
Five minutes later, they were in a large office, with the branch manager having conferenced in the Division Manager. Five minutes after that, the CEO was added in as well. "Mr. Castle," the CEO, David Jenkins, said with a curious face, "you must understand how irregular this is. Under the terms of the contract made when the account was created, not even the balance can be accessed without the proper phrase. We're not even sure how to get that information verified."
Machias nodded, then said, "The bank still has safe-deposit boxes, correct?"
"Yes. Over the years, the contents have been shifted over and over, but the records are still intact."
"Look under the name and you'll see a safe-deposit box there, with instructions to open it only if someone comes to access the account. I'm authorizing you to open it now."
The teller tapped away, then she looked up in shock. "He's right. The records indicate that only a bank employee may access it."
"Bring it here immediately." As the teller left, the manager, Allen Willis by the name on his desk, said, "This is all very cloak-and-dagger for an account. May I ask why your ancestor went to such trouble to hide it?"
Machias smiled. "It's a mystery."
The teller came back with the box and opened it, revealing an envelope made of yellowing paper. She handed it to the branch manager, who opened it and looked inside. "There appears to be a phrase in here, with instructions to allow anyone who can recite the phrase correctly full access to the account." He looked up at Machias. "Are you ready?"
Without hesitation, Machias said, "Here was a gorgeous triumph; they were missed; they were mourned; hearts were breaking on their account; tears were being shed; accusing memories of unkindnesses to these poor lost lads were rising up, and unavailing regrets and remorse were being indulged: and best of all, the departed were the talk of the whole town, and the envy of all the boys, as far as this dazzling notoriety was concerned. This was fine. It was worth being a pirate, after all."
Everyone else in the room stared at him. He looked around and said, the hint of a smile at the edges of his lips, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain. Chapter fourteen, page ninety-one."
Mr. Willis looked at the paper again, then showed it to the teller and the CEO. He turned back to Machias with a smile. "Mr. Castle, it is my pleasure to inform you that, after so much time, the account is now open. Allow me to type in the code to access it." He began typing as the teller asked with a pleased expression, "Would you like some coffee?"
"Never said no to a good cup of coffee in my life," Machias grinned, then asked Mr. Willis, "So, how much do I have in the account? Enough to get some decent grub?"
The manager looked at the screen for a few moments, then looked out from behind the screen with the look of a man trying to close a sale. "MR. Castle, might I interest you in having one of our investment specialists join us?"
"Well, after interest, even with the conversion to credits, there is a rather large sum in here."
"How large are we talkin' about? Enough for me to get a house?"
"Sir, the balance of your account stands at 6,261,405,730 credits."
Machias' mouth dropped open, hit the floor, and started drilling for coal. "Come again?"
"After three centuries of compound interest, even after the conversion rate of thirty American dollars to one Galactic Credit, you are, if I may say so, quite wealthy."
Dr. Y'Kasia managed to get over her amazement faster than she expected. "With that kind of money, Machias, you could get your own space station."
Machias felt himself sweating slightly. "Okay…okay…okay. Look, just put it away for right now. I need to think."
"Of course. Feel free to use our waiting room while we bring your account up to current, and appropriate, security levels, then we can have one of our investment consultants bring you some suitable ideas on how to properly use your fortune." Mr. Willis began typing at his console as Dr. Y'Kasia helped Machias up, walking him outside to the waiting room.
As they sat down, Dr. Y'Kasia said, "Well, I would say this day turned out much better for you than…"
"This is a DISASTER."
The asari stopped. "Excuse me?"
"That's…too MUCH money."
"I don't understand. Think what you could do with those funds, start a business, Goddess, start your own company, live like an emperor for the rest of your life, travel the galaxy."
"No. Daddy always told me that having too much money is just as bad as not having enough money. On top of everything else, this is just too much. I'm going to have to worry about confidence men, people wanting me to buy things. Worse, I'm going to have to wonder if everyone's going to want to stick with me just because I've got money!" Machias bent over, covering his face with his hands.
Dr. Y'Kasia patted his shoulder. "Wouldn't it make things simpler to simply have the bank arrange a stipend, like an allowance, restricting the rest of your money so you simply don't seem to have that much money?"
He looked up. "They can do that?"
Dr. Y'Kasia laughed gently. "I can see why you left control of the family finances to your wife…oh. Mac, I'm sorry, I didn't think…"
"It's all right. It's fine. It's just going to have to take some getting used to." He sighed. "Besides, I don't know what anything costs anymore. I may need the money after all." He considered a moment. "How much do you make?"
"About 110,000 credits per annum, why?"
"I want to hire you as my head shrinker, accountant and all-around guide to where and when I am. Double your salary, payable up front, plus all expenses."
Dr. Y'Kasia thought about it. "On two conditions."
"First, you tell me everything about the world of magic."
"White Council isn't going to like that, but under the circumstances, I do owe you a heap…very well, but you can't go blabbing to anyone about what I tell you."
"As if anyone would believe me. I do have my professional reputation to consider."
"And the second condition?"
"No matter what, our relationship remains professional," she said primly. "Nothing more."
"Oh, don't your fret about that. The thought of THAT never crossed my mind."
"Well, good," she said firmly, but a part of her wanted to scream at him, And WHY would that never cross your mind? Is it just because I was more mature than asari my age, pursuing a career instead of shaking my "assets" in some cheap bar?
Fortunately, it was a small part, and it occurred to her that she might not be as mature as she thought she was.
"So, we got a deal?" Machias held out a hand.
"We have a deal." Dr. Y'Kasia shook the hand.
"Good, does that mean I get to find out what your first name is?"
"Does that mean you're gonna start calling me 'Mac' now?"
"I'll think about it."
"Anyone ever tell you you've got a little bit of an attitude when you finally let your hair down…so to speak?"
"Oh no," she said innocently. "Never."
"All right, smooth-talker, since you got yourself a new job, YOU can buy me lunch."
Machias and Megani found themselves in a large park, going through barbequed pork ribs and napkins like there was no tomorrow. As they finished, Megani wiped her mouth. "You were certainly hungry."
"Well, haven't eaten this good in three hundred years."
"Ha ha. What are you planning to do next?"
"Well, there's a problem."
"That didn't take long."
"Hush. What you have to understand is that magic comes from life itself. Everything that lives contributes to it. Water, air, earth, fire, spirit energy, all of that is just a shaped manifestation of that energy. And I can feel that so many things are alive here, that it's a surge of power and energy. More than I've ever felt before."
"That's good, isn't it?"
"No…" He looked around. "It's too much. Whenever other mages, sorcerers, wizards and fey use magic, it leaves ripples, echoes in the world. It's like fish that break the surface of a lake. But this…it's calm. No ripples at all. Nobody on Earth seems to be using magic. Nothing on Earth is using magic."
"Isn't there, well, someone you can call? What about this 'White Council' you mentioned earlier?"
"I've tried contacting them. And believe me, back in my day, they may have been hard to get to sometimes, but never this hard. I've also tried using the Sight to see if I can find anything, and there's nothing." He looked around. "Come with me, over to those trees."
"I thought we agreed we weren't going to have that kind of relationship," she said with a grin, but followed as he led her into the trees. "What are you going to do?"
"We're going to go into the Nevernever. It's a direct path to the Fey Realms. Someone in the Summer Court can tell me what's going on."
"What is the Nevernever?"
"A sort of alternate plane of existence. The space where the Fey Realms are." He concentrated, attempting to trace a circle in the air, expecting the air to shimmer as the doorway opened to the Nevernever itself…
…which wasn't opening.
Machias did it three times, growing more frustrated each time. Megani asked, "Are you sure you're doing it correctly?"
"I'm doing it the same way I've done it a thousand times before…just give me a minute while I try to figure this out."
Megani watched, curiously seem him gesture and draw sigils in the dirt. Finally, he sat back and groaned. "Anything?"
"Yes…I've determined, without question…"
"…that I have no clue whatsoever what happened."
She sighed. "Then let's assess the result, if not the cause."
"The Ways and Paths to the Nevernever have been sealed off. Completely blocked. And that is supposed to be IMPOSSIBLE."
Machias looked seriously at Megani. "That there is only one magical creature anywhere on Earth, and you're lookin' at him."
"How is that possible?"
"It's not…it's like they abandoned ship." He looked around. "What in blazes would make them do that?"
TO BE CONTINUED…