1) SotL is an Uninvited fanfic. Probably no one will remember or even have played this old game, but it was my very first computer game and it inspired me to write some fiction way back when. So I'm reviving the old gal. The story concerns the struggle between Crowley's students that leads to the mansion becoming haunted and the forging of Dracan's star. It does take a lot of liberties (because, well, Uninvited didn't have much of a plot anyway). Apologies for the denseness/philosophical bent of the material so early on...it's justified by the rest of the story and by the game.
2) Uninvited and all therein belong to ICOM, which now as I understand it belongs to some other company. Basically, whatever comes from the game does not belong to me.
3) Rated PG-13 because I suppose the general ambiance may offend, but you won't go blind if you read it. The story does make references to a rather occult interpretation of religion (not Christianity per se) that may not be everyone's cup of tea. Said influence was put in only because I felt it added depth to the story, explained the existence of magic a little more, and most importantly explained the religious elements (such as the chapel) in the game. It is not my intent to proselytize or mock anyone's beliefs. Bear that in mind before you flame me.
4) FYI, the manor appears to be based on Boleskine House, the one-time residence of real-life "evil magician" Aleister Crowley (if you could have guessed this, you're as strange as I am). Since I wanted to keep this piece entirely fictional, I ignored the reference. The Crowley in the story, like in the game, is an entirely different, made-up person.
5) Please be courteous and review; I return the favor. I am very interested in hearing constructive criticism and ideas for improvement. Enjoy.
Chapter 1: Hawk
Dim late-afternoon light filtered in through the chapel's stained-glass windows to splash rainbows across the smooth oak of the altar. The old man knelt with an obvious effort, momentarily pausing to study the chapel. The dark eyes that searched the room, although webbed with wrinkles at the corners, seemed to miss nothing, piercing in their sharp intelligence. Built to resemble an ordinary, if small, Scottish church, the chamber was entirely lacking in most of the expected trappings. The altar was bare of cross or idol, and instead of gods or saints the windows depicted vaguely meaningful patterns of shifting colors. All save for the largest, which bore the image of a five-pointed star set within a striated spectrum.
Finally, Crowley dropped his gaze back to the arthritic, thin-boned hands resting on the edge of the altar. Drawing a deep breath, he prepared to enter the meditative state that the Art demanded. The old man's breathing had just slowed to the relaxed rhythm of a light trance when the vision hit in a swirl of color and sensation.
A hawk and a dragon struggle in the skies, fighting over a brass star clutched in the talons of the hawk. The dragon scores the hawk grievously and snatches away the prize. In the moment of triumph, however, the same wounds appear on the dragon, and both fall together. Their blood splashes onto me and burns like ice. The star lands in my outstretched hands, and I cannot look away. I am frozen, forever. The shadow consumes me.
Gradually, Crowley's consciousness floated back to the present. Twinges of pain in his hands returned him fully to reality. Arthritic joints gripped the altar tightly, knuckles sharp white blades against the papery skin. His head, pounding with the dull ache that always followed prescient visions, rested on the polished wood. Crowley's lined cheeks felt warm and damp with tears he could not remember shedding. Normally, the old man prided himself on his discipline and control, but to forsee your own death—that was rattling. Finally, he forced his head back upright, dark eyes wide. What in God's name...?
How long had he been lost in trance after the vision? Crowley wondered. Hours? It was dark, now, and the chapel was unlit and oppressive around his still-trembling form. With an idle mutter of "spearca, abraxas," Crowley summoned tiny sparks that took to the two candelabras beside the altar. The shadows retreated as the flames flared to life, illuminating a pale and shaken old man, dressed for travel in a dark suit and hat.
I can't stop to think now, Crowley reminded himself sternly. I am late already. Regardless of what happens to me, the Brotherhood needs me. Several more deep breaths were needed before Crowley again regained that center of calm—the same trance that had triggered the vision. From here he could touch the power within, weaving it into recognizable ancient patterns with thought, a muttered incantation, and brief gestures etched with fingertips.
"Foris, abraxas!" was the final, forceful mutter. Beside the altar, a horizontal slash of light cut into the chapel's still air, unfolding into a large, glowing rectangle. Crowley nodded to himself in satisfaction. Beyond the portal shimmered a nondescript, rain-swept dark alley, just barely visible through the radiance. The old man stood with the help of his cane and stepped through, confident as only a man accustomed to this kind of travel could be.
They arrived only after sunset, almost all of them alone and all of them the same--dark-suited, stern-faced, casting worried glances over shoulders before approaching the deceivingly ordinary door. Stiffness in the sets of spines, shoulders, and necks spoke of great tension. The ever-present rain descended in a fine mist around horse-drawn carriages as the men climbed down before the unmarked London flat.
The last arrival swung down from the taxi with an effort, supporting himself with a silver-tipped walking cane. Light from the wrought-iron gas streetlamps illuminated the hard-planed, hawk-nosed face of an aging English gentleman, his nondescript dark hair streaked with silver wings at the temples beneath a stylish felt hat. This was the only face he wanted anyone to see, at least in this time and place.
In contrast to its drab exterior, the inside of the flat was pure luxury. The thick wine-and-blue Persian carpet piled lush and soft beneath Crowley's feet. Other well-dressed, sober-faced men lounged on silk-upholstered sofas, surrounded by marble replicas of classical statuary. From a stand in one corner, a musically-inclined servant filled the room with the strains of a violin melody. J.S. Bach, Crowley thought, Concerto Number One in A minor. Another young man circled the group with a tray of wineglasses. Father Michaels had arranged for the finest of comforts to soften this unpleasant duty.
The men, twelve in all, stood out of respect as Crowley entered. He was not the eldest of them, but he remained the strongest, and they had chosen him as a leader of sorts. Twelve pale, tense faces observed in silence as Crowley nodded greetings. He allowed his disguise to dissolve with a brief negating word. Now, the observer--were any allowed at these secretive meetings--would see a far different man in Crowley's place—older, not quite so straight, with the barest fringe of silvery-white hair framing the dome of a bald pate. The shape of eyes and features now marked him as having some Asian ancestry, quite out of place on a run-down London street.
It was impolite to maintain illusions among one's brethren. Besides, all of the men present could already see through his magical deceptions, just as Crowley could see through theirs. As for the servants, they were of no importance. Someone would ensure that they did not remember this evening.
"Crowley." A heavy-set, red-bearded man nodded a brief greeting and lifted the wineglass he'd just accepted. His accent spoke of birth and rearing somewhere near Dublin. "We have waited."
"I was detained." Crowley—it was not his real name, of course, but it served him here in this new place—handed his heavy, wet black wool coat and hat to the waiting servant. "I had a vision. It was…momentarily distracting."
Johan, slim and blond and appearing to all but disappear into the big corner armchair, cocked his head slightly. "A vision?" Several other men also turned renewed attention on Crowley. Guidance--from any source--would have been welcome in these uncertain times.
Crowley shook his head to clear the residual image from his mind. "It is of no importance. It referred to myself alone, not to us, Brothers. I will set it aside so that we may speak of more pressing concerns."
"Shall we begin, then?" At Crowley's nod, doddering-looking but sharp-eyed old Father Michaels bowed his head to intone the traditional blessing. He was not the only out-of-frock cleric among them, but he was the most pious, at least. "Lord, look down upon us in your wisdom and bless that which we do tonight…"
Crowley's mind wandered even as his lips moved by rote. He was not a religious man, not in Michaels' sense at least, but the ritual was comfortingly familiar. Visions suggest futures, they do not foretell them. The key to averting my death must lie in the imagery. The brass star is the pentagram, of course. It is power, magic, the ultimate mystery, the Art itself. Blood…ice…shadow…it does not bode well. It is a terrible thing, what we must do tonight, and its repercussions will stretch for centuries if it is not done correctly. Perhaps that is what I foresaw. Perhaps I will be caught in my own traps, regardless. Thin lips twitched humorlessly. It serves me right, if so. I have lived for far too long, strayed too far from my original course. But the hawk, the dragon, who—?
Crowley opened his eyes to study the circle of faces. None of these pale shadows of former power seemed to fit into his vision. Now that disguises had dropped away, they were universally old, drawn, tired. This was the twilight of the Brotherhood, and their magic was at its weakest. Crowley did not deserve to be first and finest among them, yet such he was.
"Amen," Michaels murmured, and the rest echoed complacently. All eyes returned to Crowley's strained face. He stared back curiously for a moment longer. The comforting routine of the blessing, probably their last together, had left more than one with tears standing in his eyes.
The old man used the cane to lever himself to his feet with an effort. He felt like pacing.
"All of us have read the stars, gentlemen. We know what must be done." Crowley bit back a sigh. "We knew this day would come. We have grown weak, and the world has grown strong, apart from us. There is no place for the Art anymore, not in the royal courts, not in the sciences."
al-Razi stirred, face pale beneath his olive complexion. "But why should we destroy the good with the bad, Brother Crowley? The stars do tell us that to continue our current path would be disastrous, true—no one misunderstands the significance of Mars in the Fifth House, opposing Saturn. But if the Brotherhood…adapted…"
Paraseius snorted, heavy white sideburns almost bristling with irascibility as always. "Shall we become as some of the other old fool 'occult temples', playing at secrets and gathering for no purpose? We have always served mankind, Brother. If we must end that service, then the Brotherhood ends with us."
"Who concurs?" Crowley interjected quietly.
One by one, lowered heads and grimly set mouths communicated unanimous agreement. Ibrahim al-Razi was the last to bow his head in acquiescence, but the pact was made when he finally did. The old man's heart sunk until he wanted to join Michaels in tears, but a leader could not afford such weakness. Crowley craved some objection, some challenge to force them to rethink their plans. The Brotherhood was ancient beyond ancient, the oldest of the world's mystical orders. For centuries they had been the wise men, the advisors to kings, the astrologers, the researchers and philosophers. The world has truly grown beyond us as it enters this new age of reason. Now we are just old men with no purpose. It had been years since they had served their role of providing guidance to the rulers of Europe. The Brotherhood had been forgotten.
"So be it," Crowley noted grimly. "Upon the next full moon, the Brotherhood is no more. Go your own separate ways, gentlemen, and be careful who and what you teach. Remember what all the oracles and charts have told us. Reconstruction of our sacred purpose would be disastrous. No, forgive me." Crowley nodded apologetically to the servant, declining the offered wineglass. "I will return for the conversation…later, perhaps. It is immense, what we have just done, and I must take a walk."
"Spare a coin, guv'nor? A penny?"
Crowley glanced down curiously at the young boy propped up against the lamppost, sandy-brown hair damp from the light drizzle. He was about twelve or so, his legs atrophied and obviously useless. An accident at birth, the man's trained eye noted, that had damaged the spine. Absently, Crowley fished a shilling out of his coat pocket and tossed it into the boy's cupped hands.
"Thank you, sir!" Pleased smile faded to a curious look as he cocked his head, dark eyes large in a thin face. He was not an attractive child, with his prominent ears, his nose a touch too wide, and the crooked teeth of the poor. "Hey, I've never seen a China-man before. I thought you was English at first."
Crowley, already past the beggar, stopped so quickly that his cane skittered across the cobblestones, nearly tripping him. A quick study of hands held before his face verified that the disguise was still intact. They were strong and square, not fragile and knobby with arthritis. The child had seen through the magic effortlessly. That took rare talent.
Occasional wild power manifested at odd moments in some few people, almost always suppressed and forgotten by adulthood. The potential for magic ran wild and fierce, but burned out quickly if it were not fed by study and discipline.
Let him forget, Crowley advised himself. The Brotherhood is no more. But, then, guilt knifed into him. Such great potential, to be wasted in the pointless life of a crippled street beggar. The Brotherhood will not end until the next full moon. Until then, we continue our normal routines…routines which include the selection of apprentices…
It was highly unethical, he knew that. Yet the old man found himself turning and striding back to where the beggar watched somewhat nervously. Unable to get away or fight back, the boy had probably been at the mercy of random cruelty before.
"I didn't mean nothin'," the small figure muttered defensively, scooting away a bit. The narrow back bumped up against he cold, wet metal lamppost, causing him to flinch away. "Honestly, sir. I was just curious, is all."
Joints complaining, Crowley squatted, his face inches from the boy's. The wide brown eyes betrayed no fear—that was not courage in them, but instead the fatalism of one who has no future and thus no life to fear losing.
"I am Korean, not Chinese. Your name, boy?"
The other looked somewhat disappointed by Crowley's Scottish accent, perhaps expecting some exotic Oriental language. The old man had lived in these cold isles, exiled from his homeland, for more years than a child could imagine, and he spoke English as well as a native. Crowley bit back a smile, maintaining his severe expression—on whatever face the boy saw. "Jack, sir."
"How would you like to come and work for me?"
A bitter twist to his lips betrayed the residue of pride in him, though he still looked slightly nervous. "I can't work, guv'nor. I want to, but I can't. My legs, they don't…"
Crowley shushed him with an impatient gesture. "You can't walk," he noted, "but how would you like to fly?"
As Crowley stepped through the portal, Jack's eyes widened in terror and his hands gripped white-knuckled at the arms of the wheelchair—purchased from a London hospital after Jack's enlistment. Once again, the magician found himself in the old manor chapel, which was where he began most of his travels. Bravely, though, Jack made no complaint. Instead, "Crikey! You weren't lyin', were you, Mister—"
"How did we get from the alley to this church? And, uh, where are we?"
"Scotland, near Loch Ness. In time, all will be explained." Crowley smiled. "For now, we will settle you into your new home."
Beyond the beautiful old chapel doors, the yard spread out green and well-maintained, broken only by the dome of the Magisterium and the looming brick walls of the huge manor. Jack remained silent and pensive as Crowley struggled with the chair. Recognizing the boy's uneasiness, he began to speak. "To your right is the garden. Ahead you see the Magisterium. That is the building where I conduct my research, and it need not concern you for some time. You can see the house on the left."
"Bloody hell!" Jack breathed, then blushed. "Uh, sorry. It's a flippin' mansion, that is. You really live here?"
Towering three stories, the manor house had stood for centuries even before Crowley's arrival in Scotland. It had been repaired and even rebuilt many times, of course, but always the foundation remained. The manor was a place of such ancient magic that Crowley could not imagine studying the Art anywhere else. He wheeled Jack down the approaching path, still aware of the child's acute uncertainty.
"There's a town down there," Jack noted, indicating the houses at the foot of the hill. The roofs were just visible over the forbidding height of stone wall that closed off the manor grounds.
"A village, yes. In the Middle Ages they were serfs, serving the manor. Now they mostly own their own land."
He paused for a moment as they approached the door, to catch his breath. Once the boy was rested and fed, he should be strong enough to push himself; Crowley was far older than even he would admit, and unused to physical exertion. "You got a lot of servants here, sir?" the boy ventured hesitantly.
"One…McClellan. You'll meet him shortly."
Jack fidgeted, obviously agitated. "Mr. Crowley, givin' me a job here is real nice of you, but there ain't much I can do even in this chair. I don't know about all this talk of flyin'. I still can't walk." Basic honesty had prompted that admission, but the thin face was tormented. Jack obviously did not want to return futureless and friendless to the streets of London.
"I don't need another servant. McClellan manages well enough. You are to be a student."
Jack's face screwed up with confusion and mild distaste at the word. "Student of what, sir?"
"What do you think?"
The boy was not stupid. "You mean…what you did with your face and with the glowing door between the church and…" He trailed off, overwhelmed. "What makes you think I can do that? I can't even read or write."
"Reading can be learned. And you have the potential. I was not joking when I asked you to fly. You will see. For now—" Crowley had wheeled in through the back door and the main hallway, into the foyer, and the boy gave an appreciative gasp at the fine furnishings. "—you will rest and eat."
McClellan had begun a fire in the hearth, anticipating Crowley's arrival. The flames shed flickering light over the heavy marble mantelpiece and thick silk rug and granted a comfortable ambiance to an otherwise elegant room. Heavy, velvet-upholstered chairs and sofa, all standing on carved hardwood legs, had been carefully selected and arranged to harmonize the effect of the original large works of oil and canvas on the walls. Crowley had never been a believer in asceticism.
Drawn by the noise, McClellan loomed in the kitchen doorway, wiping off his hands with a towel. He smelled of turkey, which, from the sudden muted growl of stomach, the starving boy obviously noted. "So you're back, Master Crowley. And—?" the heavyset young man cocked a curious eyebrow at Jack.
"Ian, young Jack here will be joining us for a time. Prepare the guest room on the ground floor. I suspect he's quite hungry, as well."
Three hours later, Jack had been duly stuffed with turkey, fresh bread, and greens—probably the first full hot meal the boy had ever eaten. McClellan wheeled him into the library, where the master of the house waited, a large old book spread out on the table before him.
Jack eyed it nervously, gaze jumping between the tome, the full bookshelves lining the three other walls, and the astrological charts above. Doubtless the entire room was an alien sight to the boy. By far the oldest and most powerful thing in the house, the huge leather tome had been passed down to Crowley from the man who'd taught him. Every Master of the Brotherhood had a similar grimoire or two in his lineage. The cover's only marking was the pentagram burned into the gold-trimmed white leather, the symbol typically used to identify grimoires. While Jack could not have understood the significance of a genuine tome of magic, the boy was surely sensitive enough to pick up the emanations of power.
"I told you before, Master Crowley"—respectfully, the youngster had picked up on McClellan's form of address—"I can't read."
"We will study together, you and I." For as long a time as we have. "You will learn two types of reading here, letters and symbols. These are symbols, and they are…easier." Crowley pointed at one of the most prominent sigils on the first page. "This here, boy, means 'abraxas'. This is the word of power we use to seal all of our spells. Observe."
The old man absently pointed, not even bothering to look. Surprised, Jack's gaze followed the finger to the sculpted seaman's bust on a marble pedestal just outside the open door. "Specan heafod, abraxas."
"The door is open," the bust announced in a sepulchral voice, marble lips moving stiffly with the magic. "The storm approaches."
Jack gasped. Crowley paused, momentarily startled despite himself, though for a far different reason.
One of the simplest, the spell merely redirected the caster's thoughts to the nearest human-shaped object. A small amount of telekinetic control allowed the simulacrum to speak whatever was prominent in one's subconscious mind. Often, its reply was couched in the form of a riddle, which made the spell an excellent tool for self-awareness. Disturbed by the message, Crowley decided that he needed time to meditate on its meaning. For now, however, the boy demanded his attention more urgently. "Now you try, boy. You remember the words?"
Eagerly, Jack mimicked Crowley's gesture. "Speckan. Hey-a-fod. Abraxas." When nothing happened, the small face fell.
Crowley smiled. "I never claimed that this was easy. Successful spells require many things—correct pronunciation, visualization, training, focus. You will learn all of them, in time." Lord, let there only be enough time… "Let's look at the symbols for the spell you just saw."
Jack leaned close, fascinated despite himself by the alien mysteries and secrecy of this place. Crowley held back a smile. Time enough, I hope, for you to learn, little hawk. I am counting on you to become the Master before the dragon comes. Before the storm approaches with the door open.
"It is what you've done," Father Michaels confided. Expression troubled, he accepted another teacup from the stoic McClellan. "The Brothers—forgive me, the others—are angry, confused. You yourself warned us not to teach the old ways, and then you take an apprentice that very same night."
Crowley waved McClellan back to his other duties and gestured. The old porcelain teapot floated to his end of the foyer table lazily. He's right. What on earth did persuade me to take in my little hawk? It was too much of a coincidence to be sheer pity. "I will thank you not to put words into my mouth." They were all equals now, merely distant acquaintances instead of brothers and colleagues. Still, Crowley retained a piercing-eyed air of authority that quieted Michaels' sullen look and made the priest sit up a bit straighter. "We no longer teach the Brotherhood's lore. We no longer follow our mission. But nothing stops me from teaching a hawk with clipped wings to fly."
Michaels shook his head, not daring to challenge his former leader but still unsatisfied. "But it is so dangerous. You yourself have told us how useless the old knowledge will be in the new world. Why not follow the rest of us and let the secrets die with you?"
Crowley's sharp face softened slightly as he reflected. "I don't really know. Part of me doesn't want to give up the dream. Part of me doesn't want to see millennia of knowledge die without an heir. Perhaps we still have a minor role left to play, as individuals instead of as a group."
"That is shaky logic," the other man observed. "Suppose this…Jack does not share your ethics? There is no more Brotherhood remaining to censure our own."
"I am the Master, still. He will learn what is right." Besides, Crowley thought. Jack is not my dragon. How angry you will be when that rears its head, my lost Brothers.
He couldn't tell Michaels or any of the others about the vision, about his driving unconscious need to train Jack in order to fend off some unforseen future menace. They could no longer band together as allies in a crisis. Besides, Crowley had the sinking premonition that the dragon would be as much of his making—his fault—as Jack was.
"I cannot stop you," Michaels muttered grudgingly. "You are your own man, Br—Crowley." He sighed. "God go with you. And with your apprentice."
"And with you, Father."
Crowley found him alone in the chapel, gazing up through the stained glass of the largest window with a lost-in-thought expression on his face, hands clenched on the arms of the wheelchair. The boy had filled out in the past six months. Rest and diet had contributed a natural ranginess and height that never would have been his in the slums. Even his legs, though still paralyzed, had recovered muscular mass due to regular gentle exercise.
"Just a star," Jack mused aloud at the hollow sound of the older man's cane on the marble steps. "No Christ, no Madonna, no angels. Why not? This is the strangest church I've ever been in."
"It's a chapel, my—our—personal chapel. Not exactly a church." Crowley paused. "The God we worship has too many faces for the window to depict. And no real face. The star is a symbol."
"Of power. The power within me—and yourself. The five-pointed star symbolizes the human body, the elements working in perfect harmony, the protection of magic. It is where the physical world touches the immaterial."
"That's magic. Where and when and how they interact." He was quick, the little hawk. His tenacity in studying the Art, born from years of helplessness on the streets, had earned him the nickname immediately. Only afterwards had Crowley remembered the vision and realized the name's appropriateness.
"Or perhaps the knowledge that there is no division between them." He smiled privately at the boy's puzzled, thoughtful frown. "That is the Art. It is—" Crowley almost blurted, that to which we swear our lives. Cursing himself, he substituted, "—our occupation." And a noble one, still, God willing.
"So we worship the power?" Jack, amused by the concept, thankfully did not catch Crowley's slip.
Crowley shrugged. "Is there a difference between the power connecting man and the universe and man's conception of God? Think on that, Jack. Be prepared to discuss it with me tomorrow." Crowley turned on his heel to leave the boy to his meditation. It was a difficult concept for one so young, so early in his training, but the older man wanted to get a grasp of exactly how talented and intuitive the boy really was. He had not yet found Jack's limitations. It would be a challenge for both of them.
He didn't turn. "Yes, child?"
"I didn't see the star symbols—pentagrams—in any of the spells we've looked at."
The boy was fast. "No. There never are. Some symbols are too powerful to use in direct magic."
"But if you found some way to make it safe…that power would be a good thing, right? You could do rather a lot with it."
Anxiety prickled along Crowley's spine. Jack couldn't know how far he'd just strayed into a major contention point among the former Brothers. "It is…most complicated. And most dangerous to try. Give yourself time to learn the basics first, Jack."
"Yes, Master Crowley." The youngster's tone was immediately contrite, but Crowley couldn't help but recall the vision that still haunted his dreams. A hawk and a dragon struggle in the skies, fighting over a brass star clutched in the talons of the hawk… Jack, what will you do to trigger this? What will you do—or make—to produce such power? His last thought was almost plaintive: How can I avert it, before the shadow consumes us all?