In any recording of events, any number of details may be left out, thought to be minor or inconsequential by the one writing. In thinking back to some of the details I've left out so far, I realize that I have become jaded. Things that in themselves would have others writing and going on the talk show circuit for the remainder of their natural lives have faded into the background of other things to me.
One such event that comes to mind took place shortly after our initial meeting of Joshua and his friends. While Simon and I were eating at a restaurant in Old Town, he picked a solitary person out of the crowd by his thought patterns – a serial killer.
Simon took a strange offense at the thought of this serial killer – not the natural aversion one has to such activities, but instead... well, in retrospect, it was sort of how a professional may look down at an amateur or dabbler. That's a moderately disturbing thought. I believe it was the killer's delusions which had irritated Simon so. Simon never has had much patience for those he saw as narcissistic or delusional.
As for what happened, well, use your imagination. Simon was a skilled necromancer, and this was a serial killer he was following around. I had mixed feelings about his tactics at the time, but now I can't help smiling at his occasional sense of mischief. Perhaps I will write more on that one at a later time.
Another such example would be a time that we staked out an abandoned open-pit mine overnight. The place had a reputation for demonic hauntings. Some had speculated that these hauntings were the actual reason the mining had stopped. In truth, however, it had simply stopped being economically feasible for the company operating it. Still, though – the stories coming from there did make our ears prick up. At some point late in the night or early in the morning, the scenery around us slowly began to change until instead of an abandoned open-pit mine, we were in the middle of a forest straight out of fairy tales. We both felt a profound sense of depression when we saw the forest, a sort of depression that communicates “never again” or “gone forever.”
Some time later, Simon explained that the haunting was likely from an elemental spirit, displaced by the ruin of the area to which it had designated itself the guardian. It is from this experience from which I draw most of my understanding of elemental spirits.
While that experience was profound, I would find it difficult to dedicate more than a couple paragraphs in passing to it. While somehow being profound, it was but a minor detail to a much larger picture. Simon and I chased ghosts and hunted what many would call demons. We sought out knowledge that had been hidden or forgotten for millennia. We've seen what lies beyond, and much of what lies in-between. The extraordinary had almost become the same as the mundane for me. I began to see the world in a different way with various little bits of hidden magicks now in plain sight.
For his part, Simon had told me that he was impressed with my progress. He said that I was extraordinarily clever, and that my skill in the arcane was developing much faster than he had expected. I found necromancy to be particularly intriguing, although I was rather shy about it. I suppose that in a way, it made me feel sort of like a pushy telemarketer calling during dinner, though rather more profound.
Simon found my shyness amusing and kept pushing me. “You command them,” he would say. “You don't ask them for favors.”
“It just feels weird,” I said. “Waking up the dead and ordering them around. I mean, is there anything wrong in particular with trying to at least show them kindness?”
Simon regarded me for a moment. “Not in particular, no. But you must also remember that the dead do not think like the living. In general, they do not care about things such as respect and kindness. They also may be quick to seize a perceived opportunity and turn on you.”
I often thought back to the cat that Joshua had butchered. I remembered its fear when I initially trapped its spirit, but then its eagerness when I calmed it and pointed it back to Joshua.
Speaking of the cat, its spirit was now coming to me with increasing regularity. I actually found myself looking forward to its visits. Sometimes it would simply watch me from a distance, sometimes it would curl up in my lap and quietly purr. Never while Simon was around, though. It seemed to have a strong aversion to Simon.
I also found myself drinking somewhat less. I still very much had a taste for Irish whiskey, and I still would sometimes fall asleep in an alcohol induced stupor, but it was becoming a less common occurrence. Not necessarily out of conscious effort – I just felt less inclined to do so. Perhaps it did me good to effectively wipe my childhood home out of existence. Maybe that fire took some of my childhood with it. I imagine that for many, that's a depressing thought... but for myself, numb oblivion is perhaps the best I can hope for.
So, this brings us more or less up to date. Simon was becoming more and more frustrated with our search for the strange one who assisted Joshua and the others in raising a demon. He was asking me every day about my dreams, and when I told him that I'd dreamed of nothing remarkable, he would ask me again about my past dreams. I suppose I understood why he did it, but I still found it intrusive. I figured that much of what my dreams told me was intended for me alone, and I wanted to keep it that way.
As his initial frustration mellowed, he occupied himself with more frivolous things that he found entertaining. One example I can think of would be a new age author and healer who was in town to promote his newest book. Simon sat patiently through the speech, then quite easily made a fool of the writer during the question and answer portion. He always managed to come off as polite, but still somehow cutting. I almost felt sorry for the writer. Almost.
Eventually, Halloween came. I'm not sure what I had been expecting, but so far, the night had been uneventful. Simon and I sat in his library drinking whiskey and reading. Outside, there was a chill wind that came and went in gusts.
I remember that night fairly well still. The night seemed full of restless energy, but I could not think of anything worthwhile to do with that energy. Nevermind that Simon was a Magus and I his apprentice, and this being the night in which the veil between the two worlds was at its thinnest. For lack of anything better, I was reading Poe, and was in the middle of the Masque of the Red Death as Simon gazed at me thoughtfully.
“Michael, have you ever wondered how it is you will meet your demise?” Simon asked then.
“Kind of, I guess,” I answered. “Not sure how much serious thought I've given it.”
“What if I told you that I could show you your death?” he asked.
“I'd be skeptical, unless I believed you were about to kill me,” I answered. “I've never been one to believe in there being a set future.”
“Yes, certainly we do have free will, but we also have paths and purposes,” he said. “It is those that determine our final outcome, whether for better or for worse.”
“Isn't that contradictory?” I asked.
“Let me give you an example – if the death you are shown is the ocean, what does that mean?” he asked.
“Drowning, I guess,” I answered.
“That's a likelihood,” he said with a nod. “But what led up to it? Were you on a voyage and overtaken by a storm? Were you tied up in chains and thrown into the ocean? Were you tempted into the depths by bare-breasted sirens? Or maybe you just foolishly stumbled off a pier?”
“So, you can show me my death, but not the circumstances?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “One can learn much about himself through the experience.”
“What's involved?” I asked, my interest piqued.
“Simply looking into a mirror,” Simon answered. “A rather specific mirror at an old friend's shop, to be fair.”
Simon drove me to an area downtown. Not the part that says, “this is where the action is,” but instead the part that says “things have kind of moved on from here.” The ones who hadn't moved on from here mostly lived in the perpetual gray of the chemicals that made their lives more bearable. Simon parked his car in the pale, dead glow of a mercury gas streetlamp. He then led me into a narrow alleyway between small apartment buildings – apartments that made my old one seem light, cheery, and luxurious by comparison.
We continued down the alleyway past a number of other buildings, many abandoned. It all felt surreal, somehow. In the distance, I sometimes heard music or police sirens, but the loudest sound in that alleyway was our own footsteps. Finally, we came to a single, unobtrusive door illuminated in the red-orange glow of a sodium vapor lamp. Simon shook the door open from its worn frame and we stepped inside. In it was a long hallway. There was not much remarkable about it – the floor was concrete, the walls were white, and the light was sickly. There was something about that hallway that was profoundly depressing. Somehow, it communicated the despair of those outside whose only concern was to seek chemical numbness.
At the end of the hallway, there was a metal door – not especially heavy, nor did it stand out significantly from the other doors in that hallway. In my mind, I heard a faint whisper, then I heard a lock click. Simon opened the door.
Inside was an occult shop such as we only see in the movies. The light was a dim golden-red color, the shelves were filled with every manner of curiosities imaginable, and there was in the air a strange incense – one that seemed somehow familiar, but I could not imagine where I may possibly have recognized it from.
Further inside sat an old man dressed in somewhat traditional Asian garb, drinking tea. He quickly took notice of us and got up.
“Simon, my old friend,” he said with genuine pleasure.
“Aditya,” Simon acknowledged. “It's been far too long.”
“And who is this one?” Aditya asked, looking at me with intrigue. “He carries a great weight with him, it seems.”
“This would be Michael,” Simon said. “He's my apprentice.”
“A worthy one, I think,” Aditya said. “You'll want him to look into the black mirror, of course?”
“Of course,” Simon answered.
Aditya bowed his head and held out his hand.
“After all this time, Aditya?”
“Apologies, Simon,” he answered. “Business is still business, after all.”
Simon grumbled as he pulled out his wallet.
I was led by Aditya and Simon down a long hallway dimly lit in an eerie red light. There was a strange sense of being watched from all directions as we walked in silence, as though unseen forces eagerly awaited my seeing my fate.
As we walked, I began to wonder if I actually wanted to see my death after all. Would it change anything? It seemed like something most people would think they wanted to know, but a little frightening in reality.
Finally, we came to a door made of ornately carved wood accented with red fabric panes. I looked to Simon and Aditya.
“This is as far as I can go,” Simon said. “What's in there is for your eyes alone.”
Aditya opened the door and bowed his head, gesturing for me to go inside. Wary, but unable to resist my curiosity, I stepped into the room, the door closing silently behind me. Incense smoke hung thick in the air, the room dimly lit in golden light and draped in red. Ahead of me sat a large, flat, polished slab of obsidian. Not sure what to expect, I walked toward the slab, which I had guessed was the black mirror.
For what seemed several minutes, nothing happened. Then I noticed slowly, subtly, the flat surface facing me began to lighten into a cloudy gray. Dark shapes began to move in the gray mist, eventually coalescing into one form. Hazy at first, the form began to take shape.
The shape was distinctly that of a woman, although no features beyond her silhouette were apparent. She seemed to somehow embody everything I wanted in a woman. She seemed to me somehow to be the incarnation of love and desire, although perhaps it makes no sense for me to say so purely from a silhouette. Nonetheless, it seemed to speak more to my mind than it did to my eyes. In fact, even immediately following this vision, I could at best only give a vague physical description of the shape I saw in the mirror. I would not have recognized anyone who fit that silhouette. I am guessing that the mirror only used imagery to make it easier for the mind to accept what it was being fed.
The shape in the mirror began to fade, and so did the mist, leaving behind a simple slab of polished black obsidian. I suddenly felt light-headed, and my legs weak. I collapsed to my knees, which as it turned out were padded by pillows on the floor I had not previously been aware of.
“Greetings, apprentice,” said a woman's voice somewhere behind me.
I turned to look, but my vision was distorted. The room almost seemed to writhe around me, and I felt a faint sense of vertigo. But I did notice the silhouette of a woman rising from a divan. Her movements had a peculiarly ghost-like quality to them. “Who are you?” I asked, trying to shake the feeling of vertigo and regain my senses.
“You'll regain your senses with time,” she assured me. “As for who I am, I am the Guardian.”
“Guardian?” I repeated dumbly.
“Your guardian, at least for the time being,” she purred, moving closer to me. She was truly a strikingly beautiful woman, dressed in traditional Eastern garb, much like Aditya had been. Hers however, while ornate, seemed also to be more functional. She also wore a strange sword tucked under her sash.
“Why do I need a guardian?” I asked.
She crouched to my level. Her face was now inches from mine, wearing a slight mysterious smile. I could only guess at what her thoughts may have been. The small space of air between us was feeling very warm. She gently took my chin in her long, graceful fingers, and turned my face back to the mirror. Instantly, I launched myself backward away from the mirror. There were in it now a number of dark shapes that seemed human only in the vaguest sense of the word. Their shapes were of the long-dead – emaciated and distorted, with vacant, hungry expressions as they clawed desperately at the mirror, doing their best to try to break through at me.
“It's not often they get that worked up,” the woman said, seeming impressed. “You must have something they really want.”
“They wouldn't be the first ones,” I said, thinking back to my encounter with the skin walkers.
“They will not be the last, either,” she said. “You are a strong one, I think. Very handsome, too.”
There was something about her voice, about her mannerisms, even her fragrance, that had an intoxicating effect on me. I found myself very much wanting to impress her, to know more about her, but I could think of no dignified way to broach the subject. I could only dumbly follow her lead. At the same time, alarm bells went off in my head, remembering what the mirror had showed me. It would be a cruel irony if my guardian from what lurks in the mirror was to be my death.
“My name is Maya,” she said. “Come, I will lead you back to the others.”
I felt as though I were sleepwalking through a dream. Maya herself still seemed somehow ethereal and ghost-like. Her wrist was gently linked through the bend in my elbow as we walked in silence. I felt as though there were so much I wanted to ask her, but I didn't know where to start. All too soon though, we were back in the main part of the store where Aditya and Simon sat having tea.
Aditya gave Maya a stern look. “I see you've met my daughter,” he told me. “I hope she didn't bother you, but she is necessary to ensure... certain elements stay on the proper side of the mirror.”
Just then, I briefly felt Maya's sharp nails dig into my arms. “How is your tea, my father?” she said in a voice that seemed simultaneously subservient and bitterly mocking, walking toward him.
“Your wit is becoming dull and tiresome,” Aditya said pointedly.
“No, father,” she said. “My wits, like my kris, are always bright and sharp.”
Simon gestured for me to exit with him as the two stood staring coldly at each other.
“What was that all about?” I asked when we were outside.
“Maya is young and she is restless,” he answered. “Aditya has very specific ideas about how a daughter should be, and she is not living up to them.”
We made the drive back home in silence. I was still feeling as though I'd been drugged, and Simon seemed more or less aware of it. Idly, I wondered what he saw in his turn in front of the mirror. He quietly walked me up the stairs and to my bedroom.
“You can tell me what you saw in the morning,” he said. “For some reason, looking into that mirror takes a lot out of a person.”
As I fell asleep, I vaguely remember the ghost cat lightly jumping onto my bed, laying on my chest, and purring me to sleep as it stared at me intently with its green eyes.
I was in the room with the mirror again. No one else was there, and there was no way out of it. “Michael...” my name was called in a musical female voice.
Slowly, I gravitated to the mirror. In it was again the female figure, but it had begun to take on more distinct features, until in that mirror stood the incarnation of all my desires. Slowly, I recognized her – the Midnight Haired Woman from my dreams.
“Are you my death?” I asked her.
“I am also your life,” she answered.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Life and death,” she said. “Is that not enough?”
“How can I find you?” I asked.
“When the time is right, I will find you,” she answered.
I woke up to the cat growling, its tail lashing side to side. It seemed to be looking past me, its eyes wide and ears laid back. I looked behind me, but saw nothing. The cat then let out one angry sounding meow, then ran into a shadowy corner where I continued to hear it emit a low growl. I got up to look out the window to see if something outside might have spooked the cat. I found it a very interesting thing that a ghost cat could be scared so.
Looking down in the golden-red light of the street lights, I saw a lone figure straddling a black racing motorcycle. While I was feeling more lucid than I was earlier, I could not get any particular sense from the lone figure outside. It was certainly strange however that the person should be simply sitting in front of Simon's house for so long. Maybe they were the one who spooked the cat. Feeling a little uneasy myself, I put on a t-shirt and jeans along with boots, and tucked my sword under my jacket before going outside.
As I walked outside, I could feel the figure staring at me, making no move. When I got within ten yards, the figure removed the helmet, and I recognized Maya.
“Why did you follow me?” I asked.
“It's part of the service,” she said.
“What service?” I asked.
“With the mirror,” she said. “Remember, I am your guardian.”
“Do I still need one?”
Her eyes flashed in irritation.
“I'm not complaining,” I said quickly. “I was just caught off guard. There's a lot going on that I don't understand.”
“Indeed there is,” she said, her voice still having a hint of flint in it. “Come with me.”
I began walking toward my Firebird.
“What are you doing?” she said. “I said to come with me.” She gestured to the seat behind her on her motorcycle.
“Oh, umm... okay,” I said. I didn't trust motorcycles, and the thought of sitting on something that was barely a seat even in purely technical terms didn't appeal to me, but Maya hadn't left much room for argument. Awkwardly, I got onto the motorcycle behind her, noting that she still wore her peculiar short sword. I fumbled around to find something to hold onto, causing a heavy sigh from Maya, who then took both my arms and put them around her waist. A quick rev of the engine, then we were off.
Although I had begun to feel more lucid since the experience with the mirror, being near Maya had once again caused me to feel intoxicated much as I had immediately after the mirror. The city lights went by in a blur as she nimbly maneuvered between cars. Even as she drove the motorcycle, I noticed a faint, pleasant fragrance of jasmine and lavender coming from her.
Eventually, we came into the downtown area not far from where the shop was. Maya rolled her motorcycle to a stop in front of some depressing-looking apartments. After chaining her bike to a light pole, she led me into one of the apartments.
The apartment she led me into was nothing such as the exterior led me to believe. All the walls were draped luxuriously in red velvet and silk. Incense hung in the air. Maya stepped behind a privacy screen to change out of her riding leathers, and when she came back out from behind it was dressed in a kimono.
“If you don't mind my asking, why did you bring me here?” I asked.
“To protect you,” she said. “I have been the guardian of those who gaze into the Black Mirror for many years now – since I was twelve years old. I have seen many people step in front of it, each with a different reaction. It is very rare for the spirits of the mirror to behave in such a way as they did with you. It's very rare for them to even reveal themselves such as they have. There are only two other times I've seen them do that. One of those times was with your master, Simon.”
I twitched involuntarily at Simon being referred to as my master. Although I've freely acknowledged such in the past, for some reason, hearing her say it bothered me. Perhaps it was the tone in which she said it. “And the other?”
“The other was myself,” she said.
“What did you see?” I asked without thinking.
She gave me a hard look for a moment, and I felt ashamed for asking. Her gaze softened after a moment, however. “I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
“I saw a woman,” I said.
“Was she pretty?” Maya asked.
“Very,” I said. “The most beautiful I've seen.”
Maya flinched slightly as though shaking off a momentary annoyance. “A betrayal, perhaps,” she said.
“I really don't know,” I admitted. “And I only saw the silhouette. What did you see?”
“Maybe I'll tell you later,” she said as she reclined against me with a slight twist of her body. Without realizing it, my hand found her waist. She sighed contentedly and leaned her head back against my shoulder, giving me view of the soft curves of a breast which had become fully exposed. She either didn't seem to notice or didn't care.
What followed was the most passionate love-making I have ever known. To say that someone makes you feel like a virgin all over again has become a tired cliché, but I'm at a loss to figure another way to describe it. There was nothing casual about it, nothing lazy or sloppy. We worshiped at the altars of each other's bodies, setting every nerve to tingling with the mind still always reeling in anticipation of what would come next. It felt sacred, and I had never known its equal before or since.
When Maya returned me to Simon's mansion, the sun was still hiding behind the mountains. The sky was slowly lightening, and the autumn chill was in the air. As she sped off on her motorcycle, my emotions were in a chaos of confusion. What had just happened? Was I in a relationship with Maya? Did I want to be? What would Simon think? Not to mention her father...
She was certainly beautiful, and she was mysterious – perhaps too much so, as I knew almost nothing about her.
I quietly went back inside, went into my bedroom, and went to bed. Simon had stayed up very late the previous night, and would likely be sleeping late. I knew I would be. With luck, he wouldn't know that I had left, and there wouldn't be any questions for me to awkwardly answer.
“Good morning,” Simon greeted me with an ironic smile as I joined him in the kitchen in the early afternoon. “Rough night?”
I felt the blood rushing to my face.
“There's nothing to worry about, Michael,” Simon assured me. “She is a charming young woman... but I wouldn't get my hopes up of it going farther.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to shake off the momentary embarassment.
“What's that phrase the kids are using today?” he asked. “Oh yes, 'I tapped that.' Granted, it was a year or so back.”
It would be a lie to say I wasn't shocked. What did any of it mean? Why had she brought me in and seduced me? It felt almost incestuous knowing that Simon had also had sex with her.
“She is attracted to power,” Simon explained, as though hearing my thoughts. “There's no harm in it, just never allow your feelings to get the better of you.”
For most of the day, I read and kept to myself, trying to distract my mind from the events of the previous night. Eventually though, I began to feel restless. I got in my Firebird and drove to the downtown area, where there seemed to be a Día de los Muertos festival going on. The festivals have always intrigued me – the artwork was always colorful and vibrant, and death was celebrated more than feared. There is, I suppose, a certain freedom in death. The ultimate freedom, really. It is the one force that proves just how trivial our conceits and notions of rank and class truly are. In the end, we're all the same.
I wandered the plaza, looking at the vendors as a band called “Whett Phart” performed some ska music, and found myself having fun for what felt like the first time in quite awhile. I remembered my childhood dreams of becoming a rock star, and listening to the live music made me feel a bit wistful for that. Finally feeling some of the heavy thoughts of the day, the week, the month, and maybe even years evaporate, I bought myself a skull mask and a couple cleverly made sugar skulls. I also got myself a very large and messy burrito, and had a seat to take in the sights and sounds as the bands changed. Now one called Duende had taken the stage wearing their own devil masks.
I was then approached by a woman wearing a devil mask. Somehow she seemed familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
“You stand out like a sore thumb, even with your mask on.” It was Maya; she said it almost affectionately as she pulled off her mask.
“That may be the first time I've been told that since I was ten years old,” I commented.
“Others may look for you with their mundane eyes,” she purred. “I look for your energy... and in its way, it quite literally makes you glow.”
“That could be useful to know how to do,” I commented.
“Simon hasn't taught you?”
“No... I mean, I can usually detect a presence, but I can't really distinguish people in a crowd like that.”
“Then I will teach you soon,” she said. “But now, let's dance!”
As I always did when I was near Maya, I felt a strange kind of intoxication. It occurred to me that this may have been some kind of charm she had been using deliberately on me. I remember the books in Wicca saying that such spells were unethical and would backfire. But, I found myself not necessarily minding. It was like a pleasant buzz one gets from drinking. Everything just seems slightly more vivid and surreal, and inhibitions faded.
We danced, I don't know for how long. Everything around us had seemed to pick up a life of its own. The masks seemed more real than the faces under them. It felt magical, and even with her devil mask on, I could see Maya smile knowingly at me.
When the performance was over, we walked around downtown, talking idly. Despite how many people were still around from the performance, the night had a peaceful quality to it.
At one point, Maya stopped suddenly. She scanned the area silently, a hand on the hilt of her sword under her coat. She stood like this for what seemed several minutes. I wanted to ask what was wrong, but my instincts told me not to interrupt her. So, I began silently scanning the area with her. I sensed the edges of it, and it made my veins run cold.
“Michael,” she said tensely. “Are you parked nearby?”
I pointed at my Firebird parked near the church.
“Good,” she said. “Let us calmly and quietly walk to your car.”
We did so, despite my almost overpowering urge to run.
“Now, go!” she shouted.
She didn't have to tell me twice. I briefly saw a glistening, tarry silhouette of a distorted, emaciated figure in my rearview. It reminded me of the shadow figures in the Black Mirror, and it seemed to have risen from the pavement itself. With engine roaring, we were gone.
Maya guided me to a place in the desert west of the city near old lava beds. I saw a vague outline of a wide circle in the dirt around us, invisible to the untrained eye.
“What was that?” I asked.
“What did you see?” Maya asked me.
I described the tarry, distorted, and emaciated figure I saw, as though from the Black Mirror.
“Mm,” she said with a nod. “I saw a wolf.”
“Why would you see a wolf? I asked.
“When I looked into the Black Mirror for my own fate, I saw a wolf,” she said.
“So, a wolf is supposed to kill you?”
“The mirror is seldom that literal in its reflections,” she said. “What is your master's family name?”
I rather automatically jumped to Simon's defense. “I'm sure it's not him,” I said quickly.
Maya looked at me with what might have been pity. “Nonetheless, I don't trust him. Or my father. I created a number of safehouses like this for myself where they can't find me.”
“That sounds rough,” I said.
“My father is a cruel man,” she said. “He is interested only in opportunity and ambition. My mother was the opposite, though. She was beautiful, intelligent, and kind. She sought to be one with nature, not to conquer it. My father was drawn to her because of her power. He quickly grew bored with her, and would hit her. She tried to poison his tea once.”
“What happened to her?” I asked.
“My father says she became sick,” Maya said in a flinty tone.
“You don't believe it?”
“If she was, he made her so,” she said, then looked away. “This conversation is depressing me. Please take me home now.”
The drive back was made in awkward silence. I wanted to say something, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to say, or how Maya might respond to it. For her part, she only stared out the window the whole way back.
When we got back to her apartment, I walked her up to her door.
“You may come in... if you like,” she said, seeming strangely vulnerable.
I hesitated, remembering what Simon had told me. “Do you do this often?” I asked, immediately regretting my choice of words. “I mean, Simon was telling me...”
Maya's eyes were blazing with fury now. “So what am I to you now? Am I Simon's damaged goods?”
“That's not what I meant at all,” I pleaded.
“My body is my own!” she told me. “What I choose to do with it is my choice alone! Good night, Mister O'Donnell.” She slammed the door.
I left with a strong sense of guilt. It wasn't at all what I meant. I wanted to know if she'd been using me for some reason, as Simon had suggested. There is, however, no delicate way to ask such a thing.
The next evening, Simon and I were exploring an old sanitarium. We were exploring each floor, but he seemed preoccupied with finding the basement. I hadn't seen any signs that this facility had a basement, but he insisted that there would be one, and by his talk of it, a large one.
In my peripheral, I kept seeing dark shapes darting around. Sometimes climbing down walls or across ceilings, almost always on all fours. These figures startled me each time I saw them, but Simon seemed to think they were hardly worth noting.
“Bah!” he said distastefully. “Just scavengers.”
“Scavengers?” I asked.
“When something especially ugly has happened at a place, it tends to be filled with minor elementals that feed off the residual energy. They look scary – shadowy with distorted features, sometimes glowing eyes, sometimes rather tall, sometimes scarcely bigger than a rat. Mostly though, they're harmless... unless they're in a feeding frenzy.”
“They look kind of like the things I saw in the black mirror coming after me,” I said.
“They actually are quite similar, to be honest,” Simon said. “In theory, the ones in the mirror are much more dangerous – they're more hungry, and sometimes will go into a sort of feeding frenzy if the right person steps in front of that mirror.”
“Maya said they did with you,” I mentioned.
“Indeed they did,” Simon acknowledged. “Thankfully, they weren't too difficult to shake off. It takes a lot just for them to come to our side of the mirror, and they typically can't.”
“One appeared to Maya and myself last night,” I said.
“Well now, that is unusual,” Simon said. “Then again, you seem to be a rather valuable piece of psychic real estate.”
“Not by choice,” I said with a short laugh.
“On Maya,” Simon then said. “Her style of magick is similar to your own, and she's been at it much longer. Don't necessarily trust her, but learn what you can from her – she is a powerful one.”
“I'm afraid I made her angry with me,” I said.
Simon laughed his rich laugh. “Don't take her mood swings too seriously,” he advised. “I think mostly they're for show.”
After a time, Simon and I split up to search on our own. Eventually, I did find a basement. I decided to look through it on my own before calling Simon over, conjuring a small red orb of light to see by. One of the first things I noticed in the basement was the unusually high number of the scavengers Simon spoke of – black, vaguely humanoid shadows crawling on the floor, the walls, even the ceiling, some with dimly glowing eyes. Outside of the basement, I was seeing only the occasional one, and it was generally from the corner of my eye. These, however... they were in the basement as thick as cockroaches. And they didn't seem to try to hide from me like the other ones did, either. Though not being obvious about it, they seemed to be watching me.
I resisted tensing up my body as one is naturally inclined to do in preparation for a fight, but instead did my best to relax my muscles and to build up my energy in preparation for an attack that felt more inevitable with each step. Finally, it occurred to me to send a thought out to Simon, hoping he would arrive before it was too late.
The scavengers were now stalking me more openly, but making no overt move toward attacking me. They seemed instead to only be watching me for now. It occurred to me that I should leave, but when I turned around, I saw several shadows with glowing eyes blocking my way. Not only was I being watched, but I was being herded, like a cattle to the slaughter.
I came to a large room at the end of the wide corridor. There were many eyes, and they were all on me. While the eyes themselves betrayed no emotion, and there were no faces to speak of, the feeling I sensed was hunger.
“You cause a great commotion for someone so young and inexperienced, apprentice,” a calm voice said.
“One of my many shortcomings, I'm sure,” I commented drily.
A dry chuckle responded. “You're an interesting one. Even with no hope of escape or perhaps even survival, you don't plead or bargain.”
“What do I have to lose?” I asked.
“A great deal more than you realize.” The source of the voice stepped into the sullen red light from my orb. He wore a hooded jacket, and almost none of his features could be seen beyond that. “Are you truly so confident in your abilities?”
Just then, one of the scavengers seemed to silently unfold itself in front of me. It rose to at least eight feet tall, and its arms were similar to that of a mantis.
“It's hungry” the stranger said.
Without a word, I sent a bolt of energy directly into the scavenger. There was a quiet moan as it fell to the ground in a black mist. The other scavengers seemed to be whispering a great deal.
“You've upset them,” the stranger said in an amused tone. “I imagine this will hurt you a great deal.” He walked out of sight as the scavengers began to converge on me.
I sent another, more urgent thought to Simon, hoping he wouldn't be too late... hoping that indeed, there was anything he even could do about the sheer numbers I was now faced with. I drew my sword and concentrated my energy into it until it glowed with a silent blaze.
It started off with two or three of the scavengers attacking me at a time. I was getting a few gashes, but was able to fend them off, several falling to the floor in black mists. Eventually, the attackers came in higher numbers, and I found myself feeling fatigued as it went on. The scavengers were beginning to overwhelm me, the gap between myself and the mass of shadows narrowing.
When I was ready to collapse and surrender from sheer exhaustion, I noticed the gap beginning to grow again. The scavengers were distracted. I was dimly aware of the sound of another sword sheering through air and through shadow.
Eventually, a familiar sword with a jagged blade broke through, followed by Maya. Dressed richly in traditional garb, she barely seemed real. She was every inch a warrior, however, displaying agility and prowess that I had only seen before in movies.
I mustered what strength I had left and again took up my sword, focusing my energy into the blade. I cannot begin to guess at the number of scavengers that had fallen by our blades or bolts of raw energy, but it still was not enough. Again, the scavengers were closing in on us, and things were again looking hopeless.
Then quite suddenly, they stopped. I sensed their fear. There was a deep groan, as though the very earth the building sat on groaned, then the scavengers seemed to suddenly burn from within to embers before fading into the ground in a black mist.
Simon strode almost casually toward Maya and myself, the tap of his cane on the floor clear in the sudden silence. “I apologize for my tardiness,” he said. “I was, however, being led on a merry wild goose chase by our old friend.”
He must have seen me flinch. “You know which one I speak of?”
I nodded. The one who had spoken to me was the one who orchestrated the events with Joshua and his brother. The one that taught them to summon whatever spirit possessed his brother. The one that watched us.
“And you,” he addressed Maya with some amusement. “Still protecting your ward, I see.”
“Of course, magus.” She wore an unreadable smile.
Simon chuckled. “Come, Michael. It's been an eventful night.”
I deliberately fell behind with Maya. “Maya, I'm really sorry about earlier,” I said. “I don't think of you as damaged goods or anything like that. I'm just... really confused, I guess.”
She regarded me briefly, still wearing her enigmatic smile. “That is okay, Michael. Go, join your master.”
There was nothing I could do or say. The walls were up, she may as well have been on the far side of the moon. I no longer felt the pleasant intoxication or even warmth in her presence. Instead, I felt something more akin to an empty space where she stood. To this day, I often wonder how things might have turned out differently had I not asked the stupid questions about her and Simon.
Whatever Simon was hoping to find in the basement was apparently not there. Not finding it, or any trace of who I now thought of as the watcher demon, he eventually became impatient and irritable. We eventually went back to his mansion.
I still had no idea what Simon was preoccupied with. Why he questioned me so closely about my dreams. What he was searching for. A wild goose chase, indeed. His hunt for the watcher demon made some sense, at least. That was something more tangible.
And what was my part to be in this all? Was I simply along for the ride? As I lay in bed early that morning with my mind too busy to sleep, the ghost cat silently hopped up onto the bed and gazed at me with sympathy in its eyes. It then nestled itself into the bend of my arm and purred me to sleep.