Strange New Worlds
Mia sat. She waited for a sign but no sign came. She heard only the occasional distant, angry honking of cars in the gathered mêlée somewhere ahead of her. Her eyes dropped as if she were about to cry, and she called to her sister in the Shadow Lands for guidance. A few minutes more and with her sister still not arrived, Mia knew that true change had come to her. But not to her directly. The world revolving about her had changed. Shifted and unglued from the path she had known all these years, the world had unexpectedly gone off-center. It spun crookedly now like an unbalanced top ready to fall. The impact of it all, of this new order of things, meant the nuances of her magic unwelcome and out of kilter with the aether of the new world. This had happened only once before. The day she had killed Simon; things had unglued like this, but in time, she had found her way forward. Her own powers she relearned. Regardless of becoming Magus Supreme, the universe and all it contained waited for no one – not Simon, not Mia, nor the one who was now coming…
* * *
When I awoke, I was in bed. The sheets, hot with my body heat, made me feel closed-in and agitated. I felt as if I were under duress and flung them off. I was surprised to see I was naked. A kindly voice beside the bed tut-tutted me, and white fine-skinned hands reached forward and pulled the covers back above my waist.
I turned my head to my right to see, gasped with pain, and then turned back almost immediately. A woman I had never seen before sat beside the bed. My neck hurt like Hell and I said so.
“You were singing the loveliest song I’d ever heard. Now you’ve woken and spoiled the ending,” the strange woman said.
“Wha..?” I began to say, but stopped, realizing it was the same word I’d used before my collapse. What! What? What… WHAT is a nonsensical word; we use it only when we already know the answer to our questions – I’d strike it from the dictionary if I could, for it is word which has no real value or meaning. It is as empty and as void as the yawning pit in my stomach. The Bridge Master would love it. Trade it for my child if I could, I would.
I fell back against the pillows in despair, closing my eyes, and thought of Becky and the terrible thing she had done.
* * *
The point had come where drivers, conscious of the price of gasoline, shutoff their engines and, because of the heat, wound down their windows. Some had even stepped from their cars and stood on the road chatting like old friends. Mia looked at a group nearest her with an annoyed frown creasing her forehead, for she alone remained sitting with her engine running and her air-conditioning blasting.
* * *
The woman told me her name was Camilla. She wiped my brow with a cold, wet cloth and told me I was in her master’s quarters. Who? I enquired.
“Michael… I mean,” she began again, “The Master of the Tower.”
I opened my eyes at that, turned, and despite the pain shooting down my neck, looked her squarely in the face.
“Well, he used to be Michael… but he’s changed now… but not changed enough for me to forget him, nor him I. I don’t understand why, but maybe you will… when you speak with him.”
Her tone was plaintive and her face pretty. I guessed her age to be about twenty-five, twenty-eight or thereabouts.
“You know him?”
She rinsed her cloth in a bucket beside the bed and brought it up to my head again. It felt good.
“Yes. I know him, or at least knew him before his change. We were to be married, but then… he changed and… and…” This last seemed to distress her and she took the cloth from my brow and wiped it beneath her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No. It… It’s just that he thinks we can still marry. He says he will take me away from this place and we can be happy again. But how can that be? He is a Unicorn now, and this is the only home I know. There are no other places. Where are we to go? If we leave the safety of the tower, surely the Chora will kill us both.”
I closed my eyes again, wishing for her soft caress to return. I thought back to Lilith’s strange story on the Dias. It was the story of Michael Scudamour, the finder of Orfieu’s mirror – Lilith’s Mirror-Heart.
Camellia’s cold cloth returned. I drifted and I think I slept, for it seemed only seconds had passed before I opened my eyes and saw Camellia was gone. The light was dimmer too and the shadows of the room longer than I remembered.
I felt sore, groggy too, but the long sleep had refreshed me. It was as if I’d just swam up from the bottom of a some deep, dark oceanic abyss and breathed for the first time.
Stretching my arms and legs and deciding they were serviceable, I climbed from the bed. By the length of the shadows in the room, I guessed it to be late afternoon. I wondered where the young woman had gone. Perhaps, I thought, I had simply imagined her. I looked stupidly at the small chair made of woven cane beside the bed in which she had sat, but little else of her presence remained.
The room was a small, rectangular affair. Its walls were stone. There was a window and two doors. The door opposite the window was made of heavy oak planking banded together with iron straps. An enormous padlock hung from its clasp. The primary entrance, I guessed, but locked from the inside. And the other door at the foot of the bed, smaller and less imposing, led, I guessed, to where the young woman had gone. Beside this smaller door, there was a large dresser, atop it a tall pitcher of water and a bowl within which to rinse. Hanging on a hook beside the dresser was a gown. The gown was towel in texture and brown in color. I took it down and put it on. Made for a much larger man than executionerofthewill, it was heavy and dragged behind me like a bridesmaid’s gown, but otherwise, I found it comfortable.
A mirror hung above the dresser. My reflection in it, executionerofthewill’s face, was terribly scratched and scared where I had fallen face-first into the stone parapet of the tower. I looked as if I’d come out the wrong end of a cat fight. I touched at the largest scratch and pulled my hand away in pain. I rummaged through the drawers of the dresser, looking for some kind of antiseptic ointment, but found nothing but linins and tablecloths.
I went to the window and tried the catch. Finding it locked I gave up fiddling with it. It would, I decided, do me no good to escape this place without my companions or knowing of where I was to begin with. Besides, I was not in any way under any real duress: this room was clearly not a dungeon, nor was I chained to a wall and, seeing no instruments of torture anywhere about me, I should count myself rather lucky. And if the young, attractive woman I had met earlier be my jailer, then I was more than lucky.
The window looked west. The sky was the bluest thing I’d ever seen. There was not one cloud up there to impede the perfect ultramarine hue that hung upon this treeless world. It was so snooker-blue that I rubbed at my eyes thinking the windowpane or my eyes were simply deceiving me, but no, the weird blueberry color remained. The world beyond my little cell was soaked in blue.
Beneath the window, I saw a courtyard. Beyond the courtyard, I could see teams of men and women working on the larger, outer wall of the tower’s extremity.
Extensive spider-like scaffolding straddled the wall. I saw mortar, mixed by hand, at the base of the wall by women wearing wide brimmed hats. These, passed in wooden buckets up the scaffolding, hand-over-hand, to men laying stone at the top of the structure brought to mind a simpler time in human history – a time in which machines did not exist. In the crisp blue world, the work looked heavy and hard and the waning sun itself looked hot, beating down upon the workers relentlessly. They looked like blue ants crawling about the structure. Their heads topped with their odd, china men hats, bent to their work with a gusto matched only by the relentless, beating sun above. A rising dust billowed round them and most had their mouths covered with cloth rags to keep the worst of it from their lungs. I wondered at the dust. Perhaps, I thought, it was the cause for the strange blueness of the sky.
The work looked backbreaking and, watching them closely, I noticed an eccentric jerkiness to their movements. The motion of their limbs seemed unnatural, jerky – almost spastic. They bent, rose, lifted, and walked, carrying their burdens as a robot would. A combination I supposed, of the hot sun and primitive nature of their tools and manual labor. I shook my head at the scene; if this was the future then I wanted none of it. Nothing outside my prison window looked like the future. Earth had reverted to a cruder, harder time when man was beast and the weight of simply existing, humanity’s greatest burden.
I found the blue-tinged, middle-aged world beyond my window to be vaguely horrifying in its poverty. I turned from the window in disgust, deciding to explore the rest of the room.
I went to the door beside the dresser and tried it.
Locked. I studied it for a moment, frowning. With little else to do, I went to the bowl of cold water on the dresser and washed at my face. The bar of soap made a thick, loamy lather in my hands and smelt faintly antiseptic. I washed gingerly. The pain in my cuts was excruciating, but when done, I felt better for making the effort.
I studied my face. I decided I had been lucky not to break my nose or any teeth when I hit the parapet.
What was wrong with me? Becky was not my property. I’d been married long enough to know that I had more control over a tornado than a woman. Becky was her own woman… but the child… the child belonged to us both. Becky had chosen for me.
She had no right to do that.
I dragged the small wicker chair to the window and sat staring in dismay at Earth’s weary future. I watched its people build their wall under their aquamarine sky imagining ways I could improve their lot with simple ropes and pulleys until the sun began to set.
Beyond the wall, I saw little thatched roofs of an outer village. And as the sun slipped away, thin wisps of dark smoke wafted into the sunken blue-blackness above them. Supper was being readied, and seeing it reminded me of my own hunger. I had never been hungry in Wormwood but now, returned to Earth, I found myself ravenous.
Out in the courtyard there came the peal of a bell. The workers on the wall set down their crude tools, bricks, and buckets. And in unison, left the wall and marched like little robots across the courtyard to a stone archway in the Tower proper. Here, they disappeared from my sight, off to their homes and suppers, I supposed. And they seemed, apart from their jerk-like movements, to be a normal people to me. Yes they lived an antiquated existence in an agrarian-styled village, but… they and the village existed in the shadow-realm of the Dark Tower. It was incongruous in its normality for nothing of the Tower was normal in my mind. The pervasive presence of Scudamour in my world and me, here in his, should, I felt, be more terrifying and yet it did not seem so now that I was finally here.
Darkness came suddenly, sucking the blue from the world, eating it up as crows do corn – now surely I felt – the malice and evil of the Tower will show its true face. I sat staring until the last of the light vanished. Everything outside was nothing but a grim darkness and I was alone.
I waited expectantly for evil to come.
A key turned in the lock of the smaller of the two doors.
Trepidatiously I turned to look, but I only smiled, seeing only the young woman, Camilla, enter. She was alone, and holding a candle that threw long lashes of yellow about my room, I saw her properly for the first time. Her face was smooth and rounded. Her hair, long and brown, loosely knotted by a blue, bowed ribbon, ran almost all the way down her back. She wore a long blue dress, its hems embroidered in green and gold filigree. She was beautiful.
On seeing me sitting at the far end of the room, her eyes lit up. “Oh, you’re up,” she said brightly. “I thought for sure you would still be asleep.”
“I’m sore, but I’ll live,” I joked. “Thanks to you.”
I added the last not knowing why. Camilla was very pretty, I suppose.
“Are you hungry?”
“Yes, very much so.” I stood and grinned. “Is it to be bread and water for me?”
She stepped back shyly. “Bread and water? Goodness me, no sir. You are not a prisoner here. It is for your safety – and mine too -,” she indicated to the door through which she entered. Behind her, I saw the beginnings of a much larger apartment. I could smell food cooking. The smell was heavenly. “- we are both locked in here together.
“But come,” she reached forward, surprising me by taking my hand and tugging at it lightly. “Supper is almost ready.”
I followed her through her door not knowing what to expect.
Her apartment was large. Before me was the main room. Its most striking feature was an ornate etching on its walls and ceiling. The engraving had a darkness to it that seemed to transcend the room, for, carved into heavy wood, a single stamped image of war extended everywhere, and oddly, even too, onto the furniture. The furniture mirrored the scene behind where it sat against the wall. The singular scene depicted men and Chora in full battle dress, fighting with swords and spears. It was like something one might expect to see in a medieval tapestry, but for the odd fact that pregnant women, standing proud and aloof, in the foreground, watched the action with what appeared to be an adoration bordering on worship.
Heavy blue draperies covered the windows. The light in the room reflecting from them gave the room and its extraordinary countenance an ancient, ebony glow that was somewhat more disturbing than the violence depicted there. And the lighting… looking up, I saw copper tubing – the telltale sign of gas – leading to two ornate crystal lanterns affixed to the ceiling.
The furniture was heavy and sumptuous and, as I described, mirrored the motive directly behind it.
I felt as if I’d fallen into the parlor of a Victorian princess. Camilla, with her tied hair and ribbons, looked every bit the part.
I stopped and stared, astonished. It was the most remarkable room I’d ever stepped into.
“What is this?” I asked of her.
Camilla looked about the room casually, following my stare and replied, “It is a depiction of Great Genomic War, the war we fight now. This tower is forefront in its battle-lines. We will be first to succumb or first to victory… But come,” she tugged at my hand again. “Michael said you are a stranger to our lands and the intricacies of this war may not be common knowledge to you and your kind, in your home Tower.”
I let her pull me inward. The fantastic etching gave me a feeling of dread the longer I stared at it. I felt watched, as if Camilla and I were center stage in the heat of the battle. All carved eyes turned toward us: overstressed, muscled arms and fisted knuckles, gripped swords, spears, knives, cudgels, and chains suddenly halted mid-thrust, mid-throw: death and victory postponed to watch just the two of us walk across the room.
I looked away from it, but it was not easy, for it was everywhere. Camilla’s smiling face was the island I sought. Her eyes were blue, and guarded by heavy, dark lashes that when she blinked, touched gently the rose of her cheeks. Her oval face, perfect in gentle symmetry, was a face as precious as an island to the man lost and fallen overboard, adrift at sea: a man such as me. And to such a man, she was a north star by which to steer by, as true as any compass, her face filled me with a sense of safety from the violent, carved cacophony of loud art round me.
In the middle of the room was a large polished table. Behind it, an oversized, stone fireplace, inset into the wall, provided good warmth – its existence there I found agreeable in an otherwise gruesome space. The hearth was giant-sized; its opening was large enough for me in which to stand, and made the fire look small. But the fire’s ambiance, like Camilla’s face, gave the room character and warmness that it would otherwise lack.
To one side of the hearth, I saw a stack of cordwood and three heaping buckets of coal, enough to keep the fire going for a week, if need be. Above the coal and stacked wood, I saw hanging salted meats and sausage drying. On the other side were my clothes, hung neatly upon a clotheshorse. My shoes, standing on their toes with the heels against its base, looked polished and dry.
The room’s battle image extended even to the stone hearth. It lined the insides, extending up into the chimney. I tried not to look but the thing was pervasive, so I kept my eyes on the delightful face of my new friend, just to ignore it.
To the left of the fireplace, a wide archway led to another room. On long wires hanging from its ceiling, cast-iron pots and pans dangled dangerously above a long butcher-top island piled high with plates of food. Obviously, it was the kitchen. And the aroma emanating from the kitchen was simply the best thing I think I’d ever smelled. Camilla saw my face soften, and smiled at me.
“You have traveled far. I’m sure you have… it’s basic, I’m afraid: pork, pumpkin, potatoes, carrots and new beans. It was the best I could do at such short notice. I had to beg for carrots. I was not expecting a guest. I hope… I hope it’s sufficient.” She dipped her head in apology, only looking up when I did not speak for a few seconds. I was speechless. Her kindness was beyond all words, and not knowing what else to do, I reached forward and hugged her. The moment would have been awkward but for her. My gesture was the right one and she laid her head softly against my chest for the longest moment before we parted. And her smile, when she looked at me so candidly, reminded me of a happy lamb. She beamed, straightened my gown, then suddenly cried out, “Oh, Oh! But you must dress for dinner! I repaired and washed your garments! You must have been through a great many adventures, for your clothes were so terribly torn and ripped. Come and see.” Camilla pulled me with both hands to one of two pillowed sitting chairs before the fireplace. I grinned at her enthusiasm. Leaving me beside a chair, she went to the clotheshorse and plucked my trousers and shirt from it. She hurried back to me bearing my clothing as if they were a First Prize at a Country Fair and, after giving it to me to inspect, she stood by the chair pensive and silent, waiting nervously for my approval.
* * *
A Magus sees the world not in images but in patterns. Images are concrete shapes behind the universal morass. These shapes make patterns in the ether and these are all a Magus can see. And no matter how advanced their sight, what they see is what the rest of us see, but only better.
Mia lifted her head and looked for those patterns now. The world’s shift offered her little, so she just guessed. The first thing she noticed was the color blue.
Five people milled about in the emergency lane talking. Three of them wore blue shirts of varying shades. All three were men. That had meaning in itself, but in this new world’s shifted state, Mia knew the intricacy of the male factor would elude her, so she stuck with color only. Now, of the other two, they were women: one wore a light blue dress with a short hem and the other, a red summer dress that flowed about her as if it were a sheet pegged tight to a clothesline caught in a strong wind. There was no wind. All was still, and yet the dress moved with a life of its own.
The woman in the red summer dress held her hair with one hand as she spoke. Mia focused her attention on her, for she was wrong against the blue. The woman had her back to Mia. She was speaking to one man, distinguished from the other men, only by his brown pants (the other two wore black). The man pointed up the freeway in the direction of the blockage and Mia guessed he spoke heatedly about whatever it was that was causing the delay. Another man climbed from his car and came up to the little group. He wore a white cotton shirt embroidered with wide, orange-yellow flowers – another wrong color. This man stood beside brown pants; a careful look creased his face. He dared not speak while brown pants harangued.
There were two blue cars in Mia’s immediate vicinity. Mentally she drew lines between all the blue things she saw. All things joined to the shape of a blue triangle. The man in the flowery shirt and the woman in red dress were its apex.
Mia studied the man more closely. His face – it was familiar. She knew him! His skin was white, but his face bore the remarkable resemblance to an Africa now long lost. Then suddenly she knew.
Yes. The bone structure of his jaw curled into a perfect chin. The aesthetic continued down his neck into wide, powerful shoulders. There could be no mistake.
Zachariah! The man she had cursed all those years ago. But it could not be him, a relative… a descendent? Possibly – yes, probably – maybe.
This Zachariah wore a UK basketball cap (blue). He had short-cropped black hair that curled up from beneath the cap at his ears. He was tall and thin, just as the man she knew as Zachariah from so long ago. The world’s shift made it impossible for her to know for sure. All she really knew was the look-alike was but one of two points drawn in a blue, pyramidical pattern across the freeway. He represented a beginning of all patterns that began with Ben. And the woman?
There were two red cars on Mia’s right – they were bumper to bumper and so no connection other than that, but wait, she thought. Her own car was red. She connected the dots again and saw they pointed back to the women in red. She looked back to the two red cars – in the front seats, she saw two women – a double pattern then: red and female. It formed a crooked T in her mind. Thyestes – and Mia, suddenly hungry, grasped painfully at her stomach. Carefully, she spoke softly into her fingers, reciting a spell to quell the blinding hunger pangs, but the spell fell empty from her lips and did nothing.
She licked her fingers. Hunger gnawed in her gut. Breathing heavily she made another sign into the air and grasped at her bosom. This seemed to work, for the hunger fell away and Mia, left to wonder at what had just occurred, went cautiously back to piecing the puzzle of the new world order about her. Mia had thought to climb from her car to stretch her legs and to see better, but she knew a warning when she felt one. She was in danger, but from where and who? Best stay put for now, she decided.
Silver was the color of the two trucks closest to her and, two cars behind, she saw another. She craned her neck to see. Silver was a base color as far as trucks go, but it was not true not for mudguards. The predominate color of the average mudguard is black, but the truck nearest had the cartoon character of Yosemite Sam with his six shooters blazing. Inscribed below his feet were the red colored words “Back Off.” Very common in the trucking world, but now Mia thought it important. She unfocused her eyes and saw the image of Back Off and Yosemite Sam blur into a single flowery visage.
The mudguards on the other truck said Harley Davidson, the word’s colors, embossed one over the other, in red and white, too, when looked at without focus, blurred into a spiraling stream of pink and, in Mia’s minds-eye, she saw flowers again. She did not need to go back to check the truck behind, for she saw easily now, if one considered it too had similar images embossed upon its mudguards, then it formed a rectangle beginning with the Zachariah lookalike and ending with the woman in the flowing red dress, who stood beside him.
Trying to lift the long forgotten memory to the fore of her mind, Mia studied the lookalike more closely. As she did this, he suddenly turned and looked her squarely in the eye. He opened his mouth. He shouted no word, but Mia knew it all the same. He mouthed the word: RUN!
Seeing the gesture directed to someone behind her, the woman in red looked at him in surprise. And turning – for Mia was already moving, scooting across to the passenger side when the woman turned and saw her – but Mia was slow. Her size made it difficult to get into the passenger seat. The woman in the red dress’s jaw tightened on seeing Mia. She sprinted towards her car with her red dress flying. To Mia, it looked as if the woman had suddenly sprouted blood red, gossamer wings.
Mia kicked open her passenger’s door and jumped onto the hot freeway asphalt. She looked back and, catching a quick glimpse of the woman’s face, a burst of adrenalin shot through her body. She bolted around the nearest truck for cover.
It was the young woman she had seen lying in the grass only an hour before – the Proto-Magus.
* * *
I returned from my little room dressed and feeling oddly elated. Camilla bustled about the kitchen; I heard her singing an oddly lilted tune as she worked. I saw the table was now set. The table, made from a dark Ironwood and was easily ten feet long and, between two candles, there were set placemats, cutlery, a basket of bread, and plates set for two – side-by-side. Cozy, I thought. There was a bottle of corked wine between the candles, a screw opener beside it. I took up the wine in my hands and using the screw, eased the cork from its neck.
Suddenly Camilla was there beside me with two pewter goblets in her hands.
“The table is very big,” she said. “You don’t mind do you? I do so want to talk with you. You are the first visitor I have had since I’ve been here…
“You really don’t mind, do you?” she repeated. Her eyes were steady but her voice wavered uncertainly.
“No. Not at all,” I replied. “A good dinner with a new friend is exactly what I need right now. Really I do.”
She smiled at me and I returned it in kind. We held our gaze for an imperceptibly long time that normally would be rude between strangers. She reached forward and touched my arm and, breaking our gaze, returned contentedly to the kitchen.
I knew I was in trouble. I was in trouble good. And I did not want it to stop.
* * *
The woman in the red dress reached through her car window and, fishing hurriedly through her purse, came up with a gun in her hand. She looked to where Mia had slipped behind the truck, pursed her lips in irritation, and set off in pursuit, with the gun held high.
She ran hard. She saw green and allowed it to lead her. She ran along the edge of the medium strip following a colored pattern of green cars and one small Pick-Up Truck with a long green sign noting that the driver belonged to the city’s best (most excellent) plumbing company. Across the medium strip, the westbound lanes that lead back to the city, traffic moved at its normal pace. But, it came in bundles – the drivers must be slowed at the accident site or whatever it was behind them, rubbernecking Mia supposed, and because of it, there was ample space for Mia to cross the freeway when or if the patterns told her to do so. There were trees and bushy places in which to hide over there. Mia so desperately wanted to bolt the road, find a hiding place, stay there until she could fully sense the new-world order of things, and then properly stand her ground against the newcomer.
But for now, following the only patterns she could make head-or-tail of, she continued along the edge of the medium strip in the eastbound lane. Her heart beat like a huge, overworked Tom-Tom. Perspiration pooled at her thick hairline, squeezing its way through her hair to her forehead and ran freely in thick goblets down her nose and cheeks. No magic, no power, no amount of universal exploitation could change the fact that Mia was severely obese. During the war, she had been thin, but since returning from Europe, she, like so many others of that lucky generation, began to amass body fat like a miser hoards money.
People in their cars could only stare in dumb amazement at sight of Mia’s great bulk zigzagging through the mêlée of stopped cars, she came at them huffing and wheezing like an overwrought steam train. But one man did step from his car. “Ma’am, do you need help?” he called out to her. The man’s face paled and his eyes widened when Mia kept coming at him without slowing, and when a gunshot came from up the road behind her, the man launched himself back into his car like a startled rabbit.
“Jesus!” she heard the man exclaim as she went by.
And Mia, crying aloud, added “Help me!”
The long line of green she had been following suddenly ended in a maze of black and white cars. A dead end, she knew. She looked longingly across the medium strip and the westbound lane, to the woods there, but no pattern made itself visible. She leaned against a Honda to catch her breath and looked back the way she had come, back into the morass of stalled cars for clues.
She saw blue again. It was indistinct and protracted, for it consisted only of stripes lining car doors and stickers splashed across bumpers. The pattern was staggered, the type of path forged by a drunken man or a person who dodged bullets for a living. Mia moved, pushing herself heavily from the Honda and the two goggle-eyed children who peered curiously at her from its backseat with their fingers pointing.
Mia did not look back. She heard a man’s hostile shout and a woman’s scream come from behind her; the sounds from alarmed people at the sight of an open gun told her all she needed to know.
Abruptly, stopping at a yellow school bus empty of children, Mia lost the blue. She looked hurriedly about and there, affixed to the back of a white Mercedes, she saw the grinning face of the Vice President’s face embossed upon a blue colored political sticker. She rushed toward it and saw a blue Chevrolet ahead of the Mercedes. Then something strange happened. The back window of the Mercedes flashed pearly white and then simply evaporated. Mia saw the driver, a woman, fall forward against the driver’s wheel, hit her head, and drop her body instinctively into the passenger side of the car. It was an odd thing to see, for there was no sound accompanying the destruction. Then, as Mia rounded the back of the car, a thunder so loud roared in her ears that she staggered slightly and almost fell. She caught herself before she went down hard on her knees. The violent noise was a good thing, for she kept her head down now and, stooping forward, she all but crawled to the front of the Mercedes before bursting forth like a flushed, plump pheasant. She passed the blue Chevrolet and, seeing her own car ahead, ran instinctively toward it. Behind her, a rapid burst of gunfire came. Mia came up behind the truck that had originally penned her in. She turned. Then a sudden movement of blue from the side of the freeway caught her eye. A woman with coal black hair wearing a blue denim dress was looking back down the line of cars from where the gunfire had just come. Her mouth was open in shock and her hands were clasped tightly over her ears. Mia turned on her heel and ran toward her. Just as she turned, she heard another explosion of gunfire and saw three dark holes appear in the big silver door of the truck where she had been standing – the woman in the blue dress was definitely the right direction in which to run.
Mia ran past the woman who reached instinctively for her to help. The woman’s face was one of fear and pity. But Mia did not stop. She pushed past her and ran across the emergency lane and up onto the sloping hill of green grass that met the freeway’s edge. In the distance, set in stark relief against the morning sky, she saw three blue silo tops peaking over heavy leafed oaks. They looked like rockets readied for space, perched tidily upon their launch pads. Mia ran toward them. The grass was wet with the morning’s dew and so it was a slog, and she was heavy, and she was tired, and she felt an enormous weariness and fatigue weighing her down as she ran up the gentle slope.
When Mia crested the slope, she stopped and looked at her feet. They felt weird. She was wearing only one shoe. She must have lost the other back on the freeway. She kicked off the remaining shoe, and despite her better judgment, she turned to look back to the freeway. It was alive with people. They were running too, running between the cars and trucks like a ragged, boiling stream of salmon. The people ran east, toward the obstruction where, presumably, there were police up there to protect them from the mad woman in red.
And behind them she came, purposeful, relentless and unafraid. The woman in the blue denim dress began to yell something at the woman in red. The woman in red ignored her choosing instead to glare at Mia atop the little ridge of green grass. Her eyes were focused and black. With her quarry in plain sight, she strode past the woman in the blue denim dress and passing her, swung her gun hard against the woman’s temple, knocking her to the ground and silencing her outrage.
Further back, on the emergency lane Mia saw a man dead, his shotgun, lying inert on the berm beside him. Blood spilled from his skull and pooled a few feet beyond his head. But for the sound of human bodies rushing – their clothes rubbing and the occasional sound of a door slamming as people left their cars and joined the hurrying eastbound stream – a horrible, deadly silence hung in the air.
Mia turned away as the woman came easily up the grassy bank toward her. Mia could not see the silos now because the copse of oaks blocked her view, but she knew they were there.
A white fence beside her disappeared into the tree line. Behind it, three horses stood staring at her, their ears flickering in interest because of the gunfire. Mia ran alongside the fence. She was long past exhaustion now. Her body moved as if on autopilot. She could hear the sound of feet clumping in the grass, so closely now, and she feared it was all but over but for a bullet lodging itself into her brainpan. She summoned what strength was left and ran harder than she’d ever run before. She reached the tree line and hazarded a glance over her shoulder. It had not been the woman in the red dress clumping in the grass, spurring her forward, but one of the horses. The horse was piebald. It was large and mottled with gamey pink splotches upon its grey hide. It was ugly beast. The horse stood beside the fence staring back at her. Mia stopped and, turning in awe, stared back at the horse, ignoring now the proto-Magus, with her red dress flying about her and her black hair flowing round her pale face and with her silver gun pointing forward, stalking decisively alongside the white fence come to finish her.
There was something familiar in the horse. Flowers! Mia never had had much time for animal speak, as some Magus’s before her had. She searched her memory for the word “thanks” and, finding it, spoke it into the air with a signing from her right hand. But the word fell flat against the ground, going nowhere. The correct patterned ligatures and striations of the new world were still invisible to her – even the simplest magic was of no use here. Despite the oncoming woman’s closeness and her outstretched gun, Mia felt it important to thank the horse. She tried another offering, but it too fell flat. Mia should have despaired then, falling into inconsolable depression, dropped to her knees and allow for the inevitable but for what happened next. Mia could run no more. Her heart thrummed and her body ached. It was as if she had fallen from a great height upon hardened, sharpened rocks. Her night of no sleep, calling upon the dark magic of Baal to engage Lester, had taken a great mental toll on her – and now this. Physically weak and bereft of her powers, she, the longest-lived Magus of them all, watched passively as her successor, gun in hand, came along the fence line to destroy her.
Mesmerized, Mia watched the proto-Magus come. As she came up beside the piebald horse, the big animal suddenly swung its head toward the woman, striking her on the chest and neck. It was a powerful blow and the woman went down as heavily as a felled tree. Her gun slipped from her hand and lay beside her.
The horse looked down curiously at the woman who, sprawled, groaning in pain on the wet grass, scrabbled for her lost gun. She cursed loudly at the horse above her.
The horse shook its head and looked to Mia one last time. It turned and trotted amiably back across the field, back to its two fellows.
Mia took the hint and bolted into the trees.