Orders of Magnitude, Arc 1: Estramoz. Prologue

Prologue

But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living… for the price of wisdom is above rubies. Job 28:12

The first thing that Adelberto noticed was the oppressive heat; Évora was known for being warm, but this was bordering on unnatural. These were strange times, but God worked in strange ways. It was a stroke of fortune that this stranger, who was no Christian or Moor, was willing to pay such a handsome sum for such strange cargo. Adelberto was a poultry farmer by trade, he lived a simple life and had simple needs, but in the last six months, he had fallen on difficult times. Even when every last galo came down with the febre vermelha, his Faith never waivered, for the galinhas were unaffected. This gave him at least a few months time. He was confident that the Lord would provide, and He did.

The man was waiting, as promised. He stood near a circle drawn in the ground with chalk. There were five buildings nearby that looked new’ in fact, they looked like cages, but Adelberto could not think of any beast large enough to warrant a prison that large. He then thought about his cargo, and what would happen if it were discovered. The local authorities were friends of the Lord, it was doubtful they would care about some leftover weapons from the Reconquista. Crates of scimitars. Piles of nooses. They were tools of the Lord; their victims were simply Moors.

The man spoke. “Ola amigo. Leve o seu ouro, deixar o vagão, em seguida, partem. Egeustimentis.” The man shook Adelberto’s hand, and Adelberto shuddered for a moment, but complied. Quickly.


The man removed the tools from the wagon. He breathed in deeply, then began the chant.

…Eu dar-lhe um Nome, eo Nome é perdido . Eu dou-lhe o sangue de fora da minha veia , e uma pena eu puxei de asa de um anjo . Eu chamo -lhe nomes, de meu senhor, meu senhor . Eu convoco com veneno e chamar de dor. Eu abrir o caminho e eu abrir os portões. Vem. Vem…

He closed his eyes, and felt the heat from the five caged dragons begin to dissipate, counterbalanced by an unnatural chill. Well. That had worked. He traced an ankh in the air with his wand, said an unfamiliar word, and the chill lifted. Soon enough, he would ensure that the counterspell was lost forever, but he still had much work to do. He pointed his wand at one of the cages containing the Welsh Green, and fired off a spell at each cage in rapid succession.

“AVADAKEDAVRAAVADAKEDAVRAAVADAKEDAVRAAVADAKEDAVRAAVADAKEDAVRA”

He was preparing for war, and he was building his army.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 1: Estremoz. Chapter 1: Swords and Stars

Two years earlier

“Did you not think that I, the one who would be most likely to see the rightness in your cause, would be offended that I was the last of the Four that you approached?” Helga Hufflepuff took a sip of tea, watching her friend’s reaction closely. “It is fair to say that I and my brethren are known for little, save for our tenacity. But I dare say that hard work often beats a faster path to Truth than cleverness, cunning, or courage.

“I have seen what our students have done. I have seen what we have wrought. I know what we are capable of. And yes, I have heard the prophecies. Even The Prophecy.” At this, Heraclius Hero arched an eyebrow.

Helga continued, “Friend, I have often considered walking the same path as yourself. I have often considered abandoning my companions, walking away from what we have built. The others, they do not see the extent of the danger as clearly as I do.”

“So then, you will aid me, when the others have rebuffed me?” Heraclius asked.

Helga began to speak, but her regretful smile communicated everything Heraclius needed to know.

“You’re a fool! All of you are!” He slammed his fist into the table, causing the other people in the pub to look over in irritation.. “You’re so damned clever, every last one of you. You only believe the best because you want it to be true! But has it ever occurred to you that sometimes, the simplest solution is the correct one? I am well aware of the manifold interpretations. Rending asunder the fires of the sky. Tearing open the eyes of heaven. Tearing apart the very stars in heaven. They all speak to one thing: destruction, death, the end of all things! And you, you cursed deathists, you wish to let it happen, in the misguided hope that The Prophecy means something other than the obvious!”

At this, Helga’s phoenix, Howard, cawed softly, and Helga interjected. “Do you not think that out of death, can come rebirth?” Heraclius cut her off, “Not this again. I have heard this enough from the others, but from you as well? No. I do not accept this. Death is never good. Death is never right. And I for one, will not stand idly by and watch as you march this world towards oblivion, made worse by the fact that you think you lead us into salvation.”

Heraclius stood up to leave. “SIT.” The command seemed unsuited for Helga’s lips, but it was spoken with such force, anger, and determination, that he was almost bound to comply. “You have insulted me and mine enough. It is fortunate that I did love you, once. You have little idea of the sacrifices I have endured for the sake of you and your wretched companion. The lies he told me. I had made beautiful, terrible things. My power was growing. I was to be The One, to lead us to a new era.

But he came to me, with honeyed words and promises. He came to me as he came to all of us, and I gave him an audience because of you, because of our love. He told me the plans he had for my Cup, the ways he would channel our power to create the ultimate creative force. He told me LIES, and now all I have to show for my life’s work is THIS!” She angrily shook her teacup at him. Fortunately, it was empty. Not that it would have mattered.

“He shackled me, he shackled all of us, Meldh. And you allowed it to happen. You knew. You allowed this, this monster, to become masters of all of us. Even yourself. You began this march, this inexorable spiral into stagnation. Despite this, I never sought to strike against you, but you would be well to know that you only live by my grace. We have watched the passage of time for a millennium, you and I, and I do not end such friendships lightly. But the tools of my will are spread wide, every man, woman and child wizard in the whole of this part of the world uses a piece of my Will. And through them I command a great power. See to it that you do not give me cause to turn that power against you.”

Meldh considered his response. “You call me by my True Name, It is a word I have not heard in centuries. I shall return the favor, Ελαολογος. But know this. You do not absolve me of blame out of some misguided loyalty to our centuries together. You know as well as I do that I had been Bound. You know that I would not have deceived you otherwise.”

Her hand whipped out, faster than what should have been possible, “Egeustimentis. Egeustimentis Ba. You have known the counterspell for ages. We all have. Even without the Touch, I can see your mind, I can see no traces of the Touch.”

Meldh breathed in deeply. So. Now was when we was to tell her. “You know the depth of Merlin’s cunning. I have taken a Vow.”

A pause.

A long pause.

She said nothing.

“Not under my own volition, so to speak, but nonetheless, I am Bound, forever more.” This made matters considerably more complicated. After a time, she spoke. “Would you move against us all the same, Vow or no?”

“I would. But I would not have lied to you. I would do as I do now, moving openly.”

“And have you spoke with Godric?”

“I have not. His pride would not permit it. Nor would mine,” his words were tinged with bitterness. At this, she finally laughed.

“To think. All of history, all of fate, the future of all our kind, will be altered by the pride of two jealous men, quarreling over a woman.”

He smiled in return. It was genuine. “More significant events have been precipitated by less.”

Helga began to speak.

“Then there will be war.” At this, Meldh nodded.

“And you know that we will win.” At this, Meldh nodded.

“And yet you still will move against us.” At this, Meldh nodded.

“Because you truly, deeply, believe that what you are doing is right.” At this, Meldh nodded.

Helga closed her eyes. No one is the villain of their own story. She stood.


Godric sat in his study, his eyes closed. No rescuer hath the rescuer, indeed.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 1: Estremoz. Chapter 2: Freedom

Many years earlier

The Foothills Near Λείβηθρα

Archon Heraclius Hero surveyed his army, his people. When he spoke, everyone heard, both mankind and God alike.

“The old Gods have ruled for too long. They have given us a hint, a taste of their power, and now we shall turn that power against them. For too long have they shackled the ambitions of mankind with their Magic. Man must rise of his own strength, and our strength is our mind. We, and those who come after us, must use this strength to build great things. We must not become bedridden, becoming reliant on an insidious crutch: this will-work that we do not understand, “gifted” to us by those who would use it to drive us into stagnation.

Magic, though it may be a blessing in some respects, makes us the play things of the Old Ones. If we rely on magic to build our empires, to grow our foundation, we build a house on sand. Our house must be built on rock, and that rock is our mind. A true curse is not one that brings nothing but misery. A true curse grants you power, a true curse is one whose pleasures are so intoxicating you do not wish to abandon it. Magic is that true curse.

Eperesto. Look at this. Sanguista. Is it not wondrous? Volesonorus. Is it not beautiful? That is the hallmark of its danger. Can you apply the principles of reason to these spells? Can you predict what words will cause what effect? If you cannot, you are a puppet. You are a plaything, stabbing in the dark, blindly grasping into places you know not with power that you know not. You are at the mercy of those who grant you this power.

Look around you. Do you see the glittering stone, the wondrous palaces, the plentiful houses, the water that courses through our city, the food that is bountiful upon your plate? That is the legacy of mankind. Look around you. What is the legacy of Atlantis? Do you live in a house that Atlantis built? Can you eat food that Atlantis has summoned? The old ones wish to keep us shackled, to keep us in their thrall, to damn us to millennia of darkness, subservient to them. I say “No!” We are subservient to no beings but ourselves.

Let us rise up! It is the start of a new dawn. No longer shall the world be ruled by muses and gods and fairies and Mystics. That is a world of stagnation, a world where we make no progress because no progress is necessary. You shall be the ushers of a glorious dawn, and history shall remember you brave souls as the true fathers of mankind!”


It took over thirty-six hours, but they succeeded. He lost slightly over one half of his men, but they succeeded. He took an arrow to the shoulder, and suffered an inch-deep slice across his leg, but they succeeded. They had broken the lines of the Titans, stormed through the mountain stronghold, and destroyed the Third Tower.

As a result, the Central ley line was lost. Creatures across the land blinked out of existence, those who relied on the ambient magic generated by the connection. More powerful creatures with their own nodes remained, but were diminished. The Muses and the Titans and the Fates and Furies narrowly escaped into another world.

The impact was felt as far as Egypt, where the priests of Ra and Anubis felt the power of their relics die in their hands. It was felt as far as the Arabian Peninsula, where Djinni died in their lamps. It was felt as far as Alto Alentejo, where the Falxian Priests could no longer feel the magic within their rock warrens. But they were free. Man was free to grow and develop a civilization.

Albion, however, was still imprisoned. It had the Eastern ley and the Northern ley, that lay in crux with each other, amplifying their power to the extent that no Tower was needed to anchor it to this world. The peoples in Albion would be held in thrall for generations.

But, Albion also had Ελαολογος, the master artificer. She had arrived centuries before, after having successfully reproduced the Rod of Ànkyras. The original was as large as a stave, with multiple cores of several creatures whose properties lay in synergy with each other, and could easily amplify the caster’s power. When miniaturized, however, it’s power was greatly reduced. When reduced to a single core, it became, at best, a useful little tool for small bits of hedge magick. At worst, however, it was a crutch, and could potentially limit the magical development of an entire region.

Deep Magic is difficult. It requires the proper state of mind, the ability to hold multiple realities in one’s thoughts, to manipulate both in synchrony with each other. When cast properly, it can yield awesome, yet dangerous results. Many people have the potential for Deep Magic. Fewer people have the resources to pursue and cultivate this talent. Even fewer have the required skill to do anything useful with this, without years of training.

When using a Rod of Ànkyras, even a fledgling wizard can violate the most fundamental laws of nature and produce water out of the aether. Why would anyone bother to pursue Deep Magic, when such miracles were within the grasp of mere children?

Yet, when wholly reliant upon a Rod of Ànkyras, even the most powerful of potential mages will likely do nothing greater than summon living flame, or temporarily change the Substance of a Form for a matter of minutes.

It was with this in mind that Ελαολογος, many years before, had left her lover and travelled to an unfamiliar continent and took a new name and made a new home, and eventually, started a new life.


The Archon strode to the camp, still feeling the glorious high of victory. He looked out among his people. He looked out among mankind. He smiled, because he knew that a new dawn was rising, a new dawn where a man would be free to exercise the fullest fruits of his mind; his capacity to reason. He looked out and he smiled for these were his people. He went by many names, one of them meant “protector of mankind”. Although he had long since discarded the name, he took the appellation seriously. These were his people and he was their protector, and they protected him.

He dwelled briefly on the hypocrisy of fighting magic with magic. He dwelled briefly on the pain of loving his people but not trusting them. He quickly moved on, for trust is a deeper bond then love. A parent loves their child, as Heraclius loves his people. But, a parent cannot fully trust the judgment of their children; a parent will afford themselves certain privileges, certain rights that they cannot afford their children. So too was Heraclius the shepherd of his people. At one point in the past, he was one of the chosen, picked (perhaps capriciously) by the Old Ones to help them shape their vision of the world dominated not by man but mages. He was gifted with great power and lore. But he did not turn that gift against men. He was the Protector of Mankind, and he took that honor seriously

As he strode through the camp, he looked upon his men, men who fought valiantly while many of their companions perished. It was, no doubt, a sacrifice, but importantly, they chose the sacrifice. He was not a ruler who would choose for his men. It was not his place to choose whether they should give their lives or not. He offered them the choice and they accepted, because they were men of honor, they were men of foresight, they were men of bravery.

One man had fought with such ferocity that even in the heat of battle, it had caught Heraclius’ attention. That man had now discarded his battle armor, and was standing in front of a small fire, gazing into its depths, alone. He was middle aged, with a body that was at one point in peak physical condition but now wore the hallmarks of age like a badge of honor. His face was deeply lined. It was a face that had seen much. Perhaps too much. His green eyes were warm, though. Heraclius spoke: “We have won a good battle here friend. You fought well.”

The man placed his hand on Archon Heraclius Hero’s shoulder and replied. “But there are still more to be fought. You are a worthy leader. But I fear you may not yet be strong enough for the battles to come. Egeustimentis.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 2: Gods. Prologue

The man emerged on the back end of eternity, his Will nearly broken, his Life nearly lost. He desperately reached out backward across the span of Time, but he knew what the result would be. Nothing. What he created should have been Paradise. Instead, it was Hell. They were gone, all of them, and he had no one to blame but himself. No one was left to blame but himself.

He looked forward into the depths of Time, and what he saw horrified him further. So many were already dead at his hand, but there were to be more. Countless more. Billions more. With every day that passed, the Curse that now bound this world and all worlds would grow. New lives would be created, lives so unbelievably, horrifyingly, tragically short. There was nothing he could do to save them.

Not yet, at least.

He had looked through Time once more, and in that instant of calculation, he embraced all possible futures and saw only one. The world must be unbound. The world must be sacrificed for the sake of all other worlds. There was no other way. How could there be? This was his burden, and every moment wasted, a new tragedy was born.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 2: Gods. Chapter 1: The Fall

He would soon find that there were others, those who had foreseen the cataclysm and taken steps to ensure their safety. Tragedies. More tragedies. They were anchored to this world, thus they too must be unbound. Nog-Nandh of the Flame, Yanotuk of the Cups, Ma’krt of the Rock, KriXiang of the Glass, Shiggoth of the Spire, Neirkalatia of the Cross, Danu of the Beast, Gom’Jorbol of the Rod, Kari of the Cube, and a handful of others.

And himself, Merlin of the Line. He too must be unbound, this he knew. It was a sacrifice he would be proud to make when the time came: one life for infinite lives. It was a sacrifice that all of his kind should be proud to make, twelve lives for infinite lives. It was a sacrifice the entire world should be proud to make, billions of lives for infinite lives.

Over the eons, he met with them, when this new Earth was still young and wild. Some had woken, and wandered the world. Some appointed avatars to be their proxies. Others still lay slumbering. Most, however, clung desperately to their lives, and waged mean and petty wars against each other for dominance over a child’s playground. He left these sad creatures to their own punishment, for he knew they would either end each other, or be ended by the new masters of this new world.

Shiggoth was the first to fall. He left behind, (as the others would as well), his point of anchoring to this world. The Spires of Shiggoth were fearsome, powerful, and dangerous. But they were useful. Such things do not last long in this world or any world before they are discovered, abused, and eventually destroyed. He would let the universe take its natural toll.

The others, however, were more problematic. Merlin was powerful, but not omnipotent. He was knowledgable but not omniscient. He devoted much of his early days to searching, gathering lore and knowledge and power and puissance in the process. After a time, he came into a plan. He needed their powers, and once he claimed them, he would set to his work of saving the world. And he need not waste one more minute.


After Shiggoth, Danu was the next to fall. He was anchored to his people and his creatures of the land. He always was a man of the people, even in that distant past. His people and his creatures, both fair and foul alike, had settled upon a little island, and lived their small lives, content among themselves. When Man arrived, they were intrigued. Some waged war. Some made mischief. Some made love.

But they all knew that Man was the true master of this new world. So when the mysterious stranger arrived and offered them a world over which they could truly be sovereign, they agreed in their entirety. When the transmigration began, Danu felt himself diminish. When it had ended, his anchoring to this world had departed, he felt himself no more.

Danu ceased to endure.


Nog-Nandh slept. Nog-Nandh dreamed. It dreamed of death, of horror, of bodies and teeth and limbs, in their countless trillions. It dreamed of the death it felt responsible for. This horror, this oblivion, was preferable to waking to face what it had wrought.

So Nog-Nandh slept. It slept for countless eons, dreaming the same dreams. Of course, had it so chosen, it could have dreamed joy, hope, and love. But it did not want peace. It wanted absolution. That absolution would be born in pain and loss.

When Nog-Nandh dreamed of something different, it knew its day of reckoning had come. It dreamed of a man, so unfamiliar. It dreamed of a man, an old friend. It dreamed of lined faces and green eyes and strange robes and strange hair strange eyes strange face strange teeth the teeth the teeth the teeth–


On the shores of the lake of teeth, where the black hills end.

–the teeth. The landscape of Nog-Nandh’s nightmares had coalesced into distinct geography. In the sky was rain, for it always rained from eternity into eternity. Today, the rain took the form of mist. A light fog of milk wafted through, collecting dew upon the jagged frozen rocks at an outcropping of the lake.

This world, this living nightmare, stared into the eyes of the strange man who existed as nothing but fractal shadows. And undefined period of silence followed. Nog-Nandh’s nightmare-world finally spoke.

“Merlin… Please.”

At that, the new lords of this land arrived: the people of Danu. When the last of them came, Merlin wove all of Nog-Nandh’s will into the fabric of permanency, ensuring that as long as Nog-Nandh endured, so too would this new land. And as long as this new land endured, so too would Nog-Nandh. It was not absolution. It was Purgatory.

Tírr i’nna n-Óc endured.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 2: Gods. Chapter 2: Cups and Wands

Every scholar of magical theory knows that three is a magically powerful number. Now, there are certain disputes over why this is the case; some suggest that it has something to do with the physical pattern of the ley lines that connect the three major magical crossroads of the world. But the current fashionable theory of Functional Magic suggests that in a freeform, three-dimensional space where all else is equal, a triptych of nodes is the ideal configuration to most efficiently harness ambient magic. This theory has been backed up by several experiments and the principles of Arithmancy seem to bear out these results.

However, anyone even remotely familiar with the tale of Harry James Potter Evans-Verres (who, depending on who you ask, is either the foreseen savior or destroyer of this world) would be well to doubt the veracity and rigor of these experiments. The fallacy of incomplete evidence immediately comes to mind. And indeed, the true scholars of Deep Magic know that the explanation is far simpler.

As modern-day Slytherins know, three is simply the optimum number of people for a plot. One man alone is a crackpot, and would have much trouble converting others to his cause. Two is certainly sufficent; two can create the illusion of consensus and conspiracy, and can pressure a single person into action. However, only the most foolhardy of would-be plotters would devise a plan with no contingencies. If you are only Two, and something goes awry, you become One, and now you have no conspiracy to leverage. And because only a true fool would pursue a plot more complex than necessary, true plotters look for threes: no more, no less. As Saint Atilla, a master plotter unto himself, once said, “Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three.”

As such, there is always the leader, their trusted advisor, and a disposable confidant. As it was in modern times, so too was it in the ancient days. For as long as anyone with the capacity for memory can recall, there has always been The Three. In the beginning, it was Merlin of the Line, the leader, who was but himself. There was Gom’Jorbol of the Rod, the trusted advisor, who had appointed a mortal woman as his proxy and given her a measure of his Will, his Time, and his power. And there was KriXiang of the Glass, the disposable confidant, who went by many names, the most familiar of which was Topherius Chang.


It was in the ancient days that The Three began their plot. They began by removing the local leadership of Greece through a combination of spellcraft and outright assassination. Then, they stacked the local Thing with their pawns, and reached into the minds of the great philosophers and orators of the day. Finally, they took over the government by establishing the Eleusinian Mysteries. All things considered, a winning move was still a winning move.

They were opposed, of course, by a Coalition of Old Ones of less foresight and greater greed than themselves. The Three had a crucial advantage, in that they were willing to sacrifice themselves for their cause. And so it was that The Coalition had committed the third classic blunder. Any Guilderian scholar is well familiar with the first two blunders, but the third (significantly less well known) is this: “Never bring war against an opponent who has less to lose than yourself.”

Despite this, in the first century BC, the Coalition performed a masterful coup, and their pawn Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix deposed the Eleusinian Mysteries. A back-and-forth game of cat-and-mouse took place over the next century, with leader deposing leader, pawn fighting pawn, which ultimately ended it yet another seemingly decisive victory for the Coalition. But they placed far too much trust in their mortal pawns, and became far too reliant on their artifacts of power, which were anchored to this world and thus destructible.

There was one pawn of the Coalition, who saw the glory of humanity, and envisioned a future where they were not enslaved by the whims of ancient manipulators. And in time, that pawn moved strategically across the board and was elevated by his masters, and became the regent of Neirkalatia of the Cross. He betrayed his master, took her secrets for himself, and in the name of Mankind, led his army against the Titans of the Coalition at the foot of Mount Olympus.

Neirkalatia of the Cross, had waged a desperate and fearsome defense in the heart of her stronghold. In her desperation, she established a direct connection with the final Spire of Shiggoth, which in turn had a direct connection with the Central ley line. The power would, of course, eventually destroy her bodily form, but she would have sufficient time to end her attackers and ensure that her crux was properly bound.

But one does not tap into the anchor of Merlin of the Line without cost. Had she been more prudent, she may have gone unnoticed, and may have succeeded. But she was reckless. She poured all of her Will into establishing the connection, and as such, he became aware of the encroachment. He knew the time was right to sacrifice the Central ley, and in the instant he made the decision, all of its power was directed through the connection to Neirkalatia and every aspect of her, her Will, her Time, her Self, and her crux were burned through to the core.

The Coalition fell that day.

It came at a great cost to The Three. KriXiang of the Glass had sacrificed himself, after a fashion. His anchor of power, an incomplete and yet perfect reflection of itself, was turned upon two of the Coaltion: Yanotuk of the Cups and Kari of the Cube. KriXiang had sealed the three of them in a place beyond Time. The Three became Two, and the knowledge of a number of objects of terrible power were lost beyond Time as well.

It would soon come to be known that two aspects of Kari and Yanotuk had survived the Sealing. The Cup of Dawn, and a single Box of Orden. The loss of the Boxes of Orden was a blessing; the three of them combined represented such a vast destructive potential that Merlin had at times considered directly challenging Kari for control of them. The loss of the Cup of Midnight was a horrific tragedy; it was instrumental in one of his more crucial plots, and the lost centuries would ultimately account for billions upon billions of deaths. Yet another sacrifice.


A curious fact of the anchors of the Old Ones is that they are nothing more than labor-saving devices. They are world-bendingly powerful, but they also do nothing that a powerful, knowledgeable, and most importantly, determined wizard could not accomplish. It was in this spirit of hard work and tenacity that the proxy of Gom’Jorbol had years later succeeded in recreating the Cup of Midnight.

It was on that day that the first whispers of The Prophecy reached the lips of seers and fates across the world.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 3: Methods. Prologue

“You BITCH!”

Her world was ice. Her world was crystal. Her world was fire, burning through every metaphor until nothing existed of her but the abyssal depths of her dark side.

Crucio!

She felt nothing.

CRUCIO! CRUCIO! CRUCIO!

Her breath came in ragged pulls and she poured all of her magic into the pain. Still, nothing.

“YOU FUCKING BITCH!”

She reached for the nearest heavy object, a candlestick on the nightstand. She was still naked. They both were. Normally when she was exerting herself, her hair would come loose, cover her face, obscure her vision. But today, it was slick with sweat and blood, and stuck to her back and chest.

She swung the candlestick, hard.

“This is for my mother!”

She swung again.

“This is for my father!”

CRACK.

“THIS is for Babette!”

The candlestick finally snapped. At this point, what she was swinging at was an unrecognizable, pulpy mess.

“YOU KNEW. This entire time, you KNEW! This entire time you could have done SOMETHING. ANYTHING!”

She choked out a sob. With no convenient weapon, and almost no magic left in her, she resorted to her fists.

“God damn you. GOD DAMN YOU.”

Impossibly, the breaths still came. She knew there was one last thing to be done, and she had held a small part of her magic in reserve. She hoped it was enough. With an angry cry of effort, she plunged her fist, augmented by a small flow of magic, into the chest of her victim. With a wet sucking sound, she pulled out what she sought.

A green, fist-sized chunk of crystal. The Heart of Koschei the Deathless.

She had a speech written in her mind, about the millions of deaths that Koschei was responsible for, and the blood on its hands and the good that it could have done and the choice of inaction and the path of evil and her own grand dreams and ambitions and how she would change and save the world. But she could not form coherent words, only vitriol.

“You… fucking.. BITCH.”

She held up the Heart. It was poetic in a way. She would use its own power to destroy both the Heart and its owner. It would, of course, be diminished. It would be a sacrifice. But it would be more than sufficient for what she hoped to accomplish.

She used the final mote of magic left in her to transfigure the Heart into something lesser. It was smaller, the size of an egg, and it was no longer the brilliant, iridescent green that reflected an infinite multitude of colors while still maintaining its own identity. Now it only reflected what was on her mind: dark, ruddy, sticky blood. She tapped into the power of the Heart.

Its form was Changed. As too, was the God beneath her. An instant before, it was a broken, but living, breathing person. An instant later, it was a corpse. It was over.

And that was the tale of Koschei the Deathless.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 3: Methods. Chapter 1: Hogwarts

Six months earlier.

“Nell!” She pretended not to hear him.

“Nell!” Nope.

NELL!” She kept her head buried in the book.

“Don’t make me send a Howler over there!” She rolled her eyes, and briefly glanced up over the top of her book. “Whatever.” That red-haired git of a Weasley, somehow had grown handsome in a silly sort of way in his sixth year. He was still tall and gangly though. And he had a stupid name. Festivus. “Can I help you with something?”

Festivus’ companion, who up until that point had been eying Nell’s friend sitting next to her, chimed in, “Oh, I think he needs a lot of help.”

“That’s certainly true, my dear, but I come with the noblest of intentions. See, I read in a book once–”

She cut him off. “YOU? Read a book??”

“Don’t get too excited. Bewitching Witches and Ways To Woo Them. Brilliant, if I do say so myself. It says that the only thing women want to do is to talk about themselves, and that the greatest gift you can give them is your ear.”

His friend wise-cracked once more, “I don’t think there’s a big enough box to fit those things. Unless you plan on dropping her off of the side of the Tower and letting her use them as parachutes!”

“Shut up, Ollie. Can’t you see that I’m winning her over with my charms? If you–” Nell interrupted him. “Oh, I’ve seen you cast charms. And I think I’d rather hear that Howler than watch that again. If you must know, I’m currently researching the edge cases surrounding exceptions to Gamp vis-a-vis the substance-form dichotomy, specifically concerning the influence of mind altering spells such as the Confundus Charm and Geas.'”

Nothing. Just a blank stare. She rolled her eyes. Gryffindors.

Festivus blinked a few times. Ravenclaws.

“Cool! Well. I just got done putting a little something special in the pumpkin juice. So forgive me if I’m not impressed by your less lofty pursuits.”

“Go away before I Geas YOU. I’ll make you think Ollie here is prettier than I am!”

Ollie couldn’t resist the obvious joke. “You know, I’d like it if you made Helena think the same thing!” Helena blushed furiously. Nell feigned a look of confusion. Festivus gave Ollie a sharp jab in the ribs with his elbow.

Git, Nell thought.

Git, Festivus thought.

Ollie was busy thinking about Helena.

Helena was busy thinking about–“Watch it, here comes Headmaster Gag-Me,” Festivus whispered under his breath, breaking the awkward silence.

“Good morning Festivus, good morning Grumblechook! I trust you had a productive summer!” Headmaster Gagwilde strode in, interrupting the conversation with his usual dramatic flourish.

Grumblechook Ollivander rolled his eyes: he hated his name. His mother said it was an old family name, but he secretly suspected that she lost a bet with her brother-in-law. “Ollie” was just fine as a nickname. While Festivus and Ollie had a perfunctory conversation with the Headmaster, Nell briefly pondered wizarding genealogy.

It was long rumored that Godric Gryffindor had an illegitimate child with Galath Ollivander hundreds of years earlier. That child continued the Wizarding tradition of the time: “One family, one child,” and for centuries perpetuated the Ollivander name and bloodline by having male child after male child after male child. That is, until Genevieve.

The Ollivander bloodline had to be preserved, for obvious reasons. But so too did the Ollivander name; it was good for business, after all. As it so happened, their distant cousin had given birth to a baby boy: Garrett Goyle. Sadly, the mother had died in childbirth, and the father had abandoned her months before that. So it was that Garrett Goyle became Garrett Ollivander. He eventually married Brunhilda Nott. and the Ollivander name endured. And Genevieve Ollivander married Septimus Weasley, and the Ollivander bloodline endured.

False-brother and false-sister had their respective children on the same day: Festivus Weasley and Grumblechook Ollivander, and the two have been virtually inseparable ever since. By blood, they were not even cousins. But despite this, people called them “the twins”. They did everything together. They were so close that they often finished each other’s–

“–sandwiches?”

Nell’s concentration broke, and she looked up. Festivus had scooped up a particularly disgusting looking plate of sandwiches and offered one to Nell and her companion. She grinned. “No, thank you. Really. Did the house elves make that sandwich? Or did you make it out of house elves?”

“Who can tell, anyway, with last year’s crop? Well, I’m off to go stuff my face. Enjoy!” And with that, Festivus departed. As he walked away, he turned back over his shoulder and called back to her, “Oh by the way, steer clear of the pumpkin juice!”


Helena was still blushing. “You know, I don’t… I don’t think you’re pretty. I mean. No. I don’t mean you’re not pretty. I mean. Oh. I, uh…” She blushed even harder, and looked down at the table, stammering.

“Helena. Helena. It’s okay. Really.” Nell put her hand on Helena’s. “Really.”

Her hand stayed there. For a brief moment, she looked directly into Helena’s eyes, and smiled the smallest of special smiles.


Perenelle du Marais’ parents were healers. Making people feel better was in her blood, and it came to her naturally. “This world is a broken place,” her father reminded her, constantly. “It is our role to fix it.” Every day, she reminded herself of her goal, and strived to wear the mantle her father had passed down to her.

Because they were healers, the accident was all the more tragic. Perenelle had a sister, once. A sister who, like her, was so full of light, and wanted nothing more than to be just like her father, and fix the world. A sister upon whom she doted, and who adored her. Wizards are preternaturally resilient, but even mundane things can take their lives, if help is far enough away, or the condition is serious enough.

Sadly, modern techniques such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation were unknown to wizards in the 15th century. Lungs filled with water were notoriously difficult to treat. Her parents tried desperately to coax the liquid from her, but to no avail. In her desperation, Perenelle transfigured the water into a different Substance. She knew that if the transfiguration broke, it would be instantly fatal. Perenelle had barely finished her first year, and struggled mightily to maintain her Magic. Her parents knew better than to hold out false hope, even though she screamed at them in rage, imploring them to help her, even as her Will faltered. As she held her sister in her arms, she poured everything she had into it, and more.

It was not enough.

Her parents passed in her fifth year, victims of Dragon Pox. She would later learn that a cure had existed for centuries. The world was saturated with stupid, senseless deaths. The world was broken, and she intended to fix it. Even if she had to break it first. Over the years she had heard whispers, old tales of artifacts and Gods from a bygone era, stories of lore beyond reckoning. In the summer of her fifth year, she left her native Alderney and travelled the old world. She visited the marble edifices of Alto Alentejo. She saw the tombs of Egypt. She spoke with the wraiths of Białowieża. She was still young, so young, and thus collected no more than whispers, murmurs. But there was one murmur that rose louder than the others.


The mass of students in the Great Hall murmured. Another Dark Lady to teach Battle Magic? But Morganna was one of the best professors that Hogwarts had seen in generations!

Headmaster Gagwilde stood at the podium at the forefront of the Great Hall, delivering his beginning-of-the-year address with the affected, eccentric pompousness the students had grown to know and love. “Yes, it is true. Our beloved Professor LeFay has departed Hogwarts, leaving us with a vacancy. Fortunately, Professor Ollerton was doing a bit of adventuring in Poland over the summer, and convinced a new Dark Lady to share her lore with us. Witches and gentlewizards, allow me to introduce you to our newest Battle Magic professor, Miss Baba Yaga!”

Any student who had been drinking pumpkin juice immediately spewed it from their mouths in a fantastic synchronized spit-take, prompting waves of laughter to ripple through the Great Hall. Baba Yaga? Headmaster Gagwilde was famous for his jokes. This had to be one of them.

Festivus Weasley and Grumblechook Ollivander, for their part, were particularly proud of their ingenuity. Comed-Tea in the pumpkin juice? Classic! Helena Ravenclaw, who had been smiling almost uncontrollably to herself prior to this, looked over at Perenelle. Normally, she too would be grinning, despite herself, at another one of Festivus’ stupid pranks. But instead, she had the Look. That look that Helena had come to recognize from their years together at Hogwarts. Long years, spent watching. It was the same look Nell had when you asked her about her parents. Or her sister. Her Dark look.

“Nell? Are you…” Helena considered putting a hand on her shoulder, but thought better of it. Nell blinked a few times, and the smile returned to her face.

“I’m fine.”

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 3: Methods. Chapter 2: The Kiss

Three months earlier

It was the Kiss heard around the world. The Kiss that launched a thousand conversations in the common rooms of Hogwarts. The Kiss that had the wise professors nodding, having seen the pattern before. The Kiss that had puerile young wizards practically falling over themselves to get the details.

It started, as most such Kisses do, with alcohol. Lots of it. In this case, several bottles of illicitly obtained Armagnac. Someone had nicked them from the Headmaster’s private store. It was their fifth year and they had just received the results of their O.W.L.s, and even in the 15th century, students were prone to celebrating bare mediocrity.

“Partying” had never come natural to Nell. In her mind, celebrations were for events worth celebrating, and passing one’s Ordinary Wizarding Level test meant exactly that: you were ordinary. However, she had long ago learned that you simply cannot fix the world by yourself, for the most important part of the world is its people. And you can’t get people to change unless they like you.

Nell had also learned the necessity of altruism, if you could truly call it that. When you do right by someone, they want to do right by you, most of the time. There were always exceptions to every rule of thumb, but if she performed ten random acts of kindness, eight or nine of them would be returned in kind, which was more than sufficient. Nell rarely had only a single iron in the fire.

Her mother had taught her the value of being useful. If you constantly did the right thing by the right person, they would become reliant upon you. “Unconditional support gives you the ultimate power over a person, for you can withdraw your aid at any time, free of any repercussion. You must never ask for something in return,” she had said, “For this is no trade, and you are no merchant.”

It was said that Perenelle was ambitious. And indeed, she held sway over fully half of Hogwarts, students and professors alike. She helped Gryffindors with their homework and never charged a Knut. She aided Slytherins in their small plots, and never called in a favor. She worked hard alongside Hufflepuffs and studied hard alongside Ravenclaws. She aided professors by corralling unruly students, grading exams, processing paperwork, and never expected any special treatment in return.

Those of Hogwarts observed that three times she was presented with badges of honor: Prefect, Head Girl, and a medal of Special Service. And thrice did she refuse them. Was that ambition? Hogwarts was simply made a better place by the presence of Perenelle du Marais.

Her power was unspoken, never once had she held her favors over someone else’s head or threatened the withdrawal of her assistance. For sure, there were those who tried to take advantage of her kindness, but she dealt with them easily: she simply was no longer kind to them. As such, she enjoyed a level of freedom in Hogwarts that few students had before and few would ever have again.

She walked openly in the restricted section of the library, she inquired about deep magics and high ritual above suspicion. When the school learned of the death of her parents, students and professors fell over themselves to offer her compassion, condolences, and charity.

It was because of this that, despite not hailing from a wealthy family, Perenelle was able to afford a trip across the Old World during the summer of her fifth year. It was because of this that, despite not hailing from an ancient family, she was practically handed a roadmap of secrets that guided her travels, ensuring she would return from the journey enriched with lore.


It was also because of this that Nell permitted herself a celebration, and it was also because of this that she found herself in an uncomfortably small cabinet with Festivus Weasley, waiting patiently for Headmaster Gagwilde to depart for dinner so that they could pillage his unnecessarily large collection of unnecessarily expensive spirits.

“You appreciate the fine arts, right?” he whispered. She rolled her eyes. She wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but it was sure to be cringe-inducing. She didn’t respond.

“I’ll take that as a yes. You know that this is usually the part of the play where the wacky, dashing hero and the beautiful but shrewish heroine get pushed into each other’s arms by some improbably ridiculous combination of physical comedies. And it usually ends with a kiss. Hint.”

“I wonder if someone ever taught you that when you’re flirting with a girl, it rarely pays off to call them a ‘shrew’ in the very same sentence.”

“You wound me, dear Nell. The shrew in this situation is none other than myself. In a delightfully subversive twist, I am the beautiful heroine of our own little comedy. You, my dear, are the persistent hero that simply can’t take ‘No’ for an answer. Although if you were to ask me out now, who knows if my answer would change!”

“Oh, I think I’m fine not knowing the answer.”

“Some Ravenclaw YOU are, ignoring a riddle like that.”

“Some Gryffindor YOU are. You haven’t once directly asked me out without hiding behind a joke.” If there were space, this would have been where Nell indignantly put her fists on her hips and looked imperiously up at that oversized, fire-headed twit. But as it was, they both were awkwardly stooped over and no such dramatics were possible.

“Will you go out with me?”

She stifled a laugh. He elbowed her ribs. “Oh god, no! Of course not!” She stifled another laugh. “I’m not even going to bother with some silly cliche like, ‘I don’t want to ruin our friendship.’ No. Just no. A thousand times, no.”

“You’re a devil-woman, you know that? This summer, I’m going to find myself a nice Veela, and then you’ll see what you’ve been missing out on!”

“So you’re saying you want me to watch? Gross. Also, no.”

“Oh. No. Nothing so crude. Our lust will be so all consuming that we can’t help but fly into fits of passion everywhere we go. The Great Hall, the classrooms, the hallways, your desk… It’s just a statistical inevitability that one day you’ll be minding your own business, probably doing something Ravenclawy like reading while walking, and stumble upon us.”

“It’ll be easy enough to avoid, I’ll just steer clear of any unpleasant smells. It’s already nearly unbearable in this cabinet, I can’t imagine what horrific scents would emerge from you if you were to sweat. Now, shut up. The Headmaster is leaving.”

She had made sure to cast an unnecessary strong Muffliato earlier; she knew how Festivus loved his banter. They watched through the crack in the cabinet as the Headmaster gathered his things and departed. They emerged, looked around, and began scanning the office. A portrait on the wall coughed.

A portrait of an old, wizened Mage with a mischievous grin on his face was pointing quietly at a bookshelf. Nell winked at him. She had arranged for an illicit Portait Passage for the portrait of Headmaster Porpentine years earlier, giving him direct access to The Bawdy Brothel of Batsheba, the famously explicit painting by Lord Dolomphius LeValley. They walked over to the shelf, and the portrait coughed, “Prometheus Bound.

Fortunately, Nell was fluent in several dialects of Greek, both ancient and modern, and recognized the book. It was ancient. Did they have “first editions” in Ancient Greece? She reached for it, pulled it slightly, and realized it was on a pivot-and-latch mechanism. The bookcase came loose, swung around, and opened to a secret passage whose walls were lined with hundreds of bottles of wine, spirits, and ales. They quickly loaded up her mokeskin pouch, rearranged the bottles to make it less noticeable, reset the trap door, and made their way to the exit.

“We were never here!” She whispered to the portrait of Headmaster Porpentine. But he had already disappeared, and she could hear the faint whispers of illicit giggling through the Portrait Passage. She grinned, and rolled her eyes. Men.


Nell was famous for her self-control, even when she had consumed more than a few drinks. And she had consumed more than a few drinks that night.  But when you are so close with someone for so many years, you begin to notice the subtle signs, like a rope becoming slightly frayed around the edges. And Helena Ravenclaw and Perenelle du Marais were very close, indeed.

Ever since they were first-years, they bonded over shared interests, personality traits, and philosophies towards life. They were both devastatingly intelligent young women in a world that did not look kindly upon that sort of thing. They both were fiercely competitive, both with each other and the outside world, and they both hated to lose. Nell had never quite learned how to lose, and Helena rarely had cause to.

And more importantly, they both wanted nothing more than to be recognized for their skills and talents, rather than their undeserving gifts of genetics and lineage. Even as a young girl, Perenelle was captivating. It led to quite a lot of unwanted attention from unsavory people, and the old nursery rhyme her father had taught her still echoed in her mind:

If there is a doubt
Just raise your hands and shout!
Those silly acrohandulas
will run away and pout!

Nell did not want to simply be the dumb, pretty girl. Her parents raised her better than that. She held herself to a higher standard. It made her work even harder to prove that she was more than just a porcelain face, and, in time, more than just a full figure.

And there was Helena Ravenclaw. The final remaining name-descendent of the Founders. With her came the death of the Ravenclaw name. Everywhere she went, she carried with her the unwanted aura of history, and the air was heavy with expectation. She desperately wanted to be known for being something other than The Last Scion.

They both were secretly terrified of being a footnote in the grand tale of their companion. Helena, the Dorky Friend of that Hot Ravenclaw Witch. And Nell, the Insignificant Sidekick of the Titan of History and Prophecy. They both knew their own fears, and as such, knew the fears of the other. It went unspoken yet understood, as did many things between them, which only strengthened the bond of their love and friendship.

Helena had more raw talent than Nell, but Nell was more cunning and more familiar with the more obscure (and thus powerful) spells and rituals. Nell also had the greater capacity for alcohol, which was fortunate because she had consumed quite a good deal of it this evening.

That capacity was quite apparent, especially because she had volunteered to be the test subject of Festivus’ new ritual. When he explained it to her, she quizzically cocked an eyebrow and asked, “So, if this works, then what was the point of our escapade in Headmaster Gagwilde’s office?”

“Isn’t it obvious? It gave me the perfect opportunity to ask you out!”

“And how did that work out for you?”

“Swimmingly if I do say so myself. With every loss comes opportunity: Professor Porpentine is a dirty old bugger, and that portrait of him told me about the secret peephole in The Bawdy Brothel.”

“Gross. Now, what if this doesn’t work?”

“Well, it could turn that water into anything from a love potion to a Draught of Living Death.”

“Great! Let’s give it a shot.”

The room grew silent as Festivus drew his wand. Always the dramatist, he let the anticipation build. And build. And build. Finally, he began the incantation

Pesternomi Peskipiksi
Turn this water into whiskey!

Silence. There was no discernible change in the cup that Nell was holding. But that was not entirely indicative of failure. A skillful dramatist herself, she held up the glass, gave it a sniff, paused pointedly. In one swift motion, she lifted it up and drank the entire thing in one gulp.

The room was silent. The anticipation was unbearable.

Then Nell made the face.

The room erupted into cheers. Men hugged, women swooned, and for a brief moment Festivus was king. The ritual was immediately cast again on the hastily assembled fountain in the center of the room, and witches and wizards flocked to it with their goblets to celebrate the occasion.

Nell, despite herself, was impressed. A sacrificial ritual, delivering unto the caster a fixed quantity of whiskey at the expense of an equal quantity of water. It was barely 16 syllables long, invented and cast by a student who was barely 16 years old. That was impressive even by her standards. Centuries later she would look back at this moment in a much different light.

The amount of energy in that sacrificed water could have leveled Hogwarts 1000 times over. It was 50 times more powerful than the weapon that she and Meldh had empowered the Muggle scientists to create: a tragic but worthy sacrifice which in a single day had destroyed the collected lore of Terumoto and Sumitada, and broken the will of Grindlewald’s allies in the Orient.

Such power in the hands of a boy who was not even a man. His Rod of Ànkyras, a devious facsimile of Gom’Jorbol’s original anchor, ensured that that energy was harnessed safely and efficiently. But the danger was still there and it was appalling. Even Perenelle did not know all the secrets of Gom’Jorbol’s staves, so even she was not aware of the full extent of the danger. Had a single Dragon heartstring lay out of warp with the Yew shell, that energy would have reflected back upon itself and vaporized the whole of Scotland.

Perenelle knew now that she was far too valuable to risk even such infinitesimal possibilities. Perenelle knew now the true danger, she knew now the price that the multiverse would pay for her failure.

But centuries earlier, she was simply a teenage witch, impressed and slightly drunk. Centuries earlier, her response was the face. Helen knew that Nell was acting for the benefit of the crowd, trying to make the party that much more memorable. Nell never made the face. She had drank much larger quantities of firewhiskey at one time than she had just now.

But, Helena also knew that Nell was not unaffected. Her sure stance was just a hint more wobbly than usual, her crisp dictation slightly less precise, her eyes a fraction less focused than normal. Helena knew the signs, and she figured, what better time than now?

“Nell! Are you excited for your trip?”

“Yes, oh yes. Professor Ollerton has given me some great leads, as have the Nutcombe hags. I have enough money to make it all the way to Greece, and if I’m lucky I made even be able to visit Arabia.”

‘You know that if you need anything… You know, Galleons–”

“No. Helena, no. I wouldn’t ask that of you. I don’t want you to feel…. I don’t know. If something were to happen, I don’t want you thinking that you were responsible for it.”

“You know that I could never not feel that way. If I ask you not to go, if I told you our friendship depended on it would you still leave?”

Nell paused. Was this her way of asking? “But we both know that you would never ask that of me, we both know that you would never make such an ultimatum.”

“I know. And believe me, I wouldn’t do that to you. I’m just saying, what if I did? Would you still go?”

Nell paused, again. “No. I wouldn’t.”

“So. In a way, I do have the power to stop you and I’m choosing not to. So if something were to happen to you it would, in a way, be my fault.”

“You don’t need to worry. Seriously. I can take care of myself.”

“I know. But I’m not the one who brought up the danger, you are.”

Nell sighed. “I guess you’re right. I’m going to some dark places, and I will probably meet some dark people. I guess if I’m being honest I’m a little bit scared.” She did not let on just how dark were the places she was visiting, or the people she was seeking. She did not let on how scared she was.

“No, you’ll be fine. We both know you will.”

“Yeah. You’re right. Well, umm.. I guess I should, I don’t know. I guess I should say, goodbye.” Her eyes were glossy, betraying the tears she had successfully fought back. Nell’s tone and expression were somewhere between “Goodbye, see you in the fall,” and “Goodbye forever”.

In a moment of recklessness Helena pulled Nell close and she put her lips on Nell’s.

What.

If there is a doubt just raise your hands and shout no we shouldn’t do this Yes why not she wants it so much she will owe you forever she wants it so much you can use this No friends don’t use friends Stupid silly ignorant of course they do friends use each other and make them feel better while doing it No doesn’t feel right Yes it does you know it does you have wanted this we know we have wanted this to see to look to feel to taste not seriously not for real just a taste yes just to taste you could have just a taste think about what you want what’s the harm no one gets hurt everyone wins everyone wins you’ll be doing the right thing to do the right thing she is broken fix her fix her fix her fix her fix her

Nell gave in.

In the background she could hear the bawdy cheers and hoots of the other students. Witches did this sort of thing all the time for attention, so no one thought much of it beyond a moment of alcohol-fueled experimentation. Despite that, The Kiss was all anyone would talk about for the next few days. But Nell and Helena would never get that chance, for the next day, Nell had already departed on her journey.


Bored bored bored bored bored

Boring boring boring boring

Ordinary, normal, boring people little ants in the afterbirth nothing but ants and flyers little mouches, moochy too much too much too much just can’t

BORED

Koschei the Deathless strode restlessly across its chambers. It had lived a thousand lifetimes with a thousand different names and each one was the same: boring. It had tried being a hero. Boring. It had tried being a tyrant. Boring. It had tried being a man. Boring. It had tried being a woman. Boring. It had tried being a king, a queen, a prince, a pauper. Nothing. It felt nothing.

All things were within the grasp of Koschei the Deathless. It had met all the interesting people in the world. It had read all the good books, and then written books even better. It had celebrated its first grandchild’s tenth birthday party in the new world, it had celebrated its first great-great-great grandchild’s hundredth birthday party around the fairy rings of Stonehenge. Still nothing. Always nothing, always bored.

When all things were possible, nothing had meaning.

Orders of Magnitude, Interlude: Source Code

All of the following is true. It is not, however, necessarily useful.

Magic is real; that is to say, Magic is a subset of physics, which is real. Furthermore, there are no ends that Magic can achieve which cannot be achieved without Magic; that is to say, Magic is not strictly necessary.

The “language” of Magic, like first-order logic, is primitive, basic, and mind-numbingly obtuse at any reasonable level of complexity. So it should be no surprise that one of the most basic discoveries in Functional Magic Theory is that Magic is non-recursive. That is to say, Magic cannot cast Magic.

However, most Functional Magical Theorists have not read Gödel, Escher, Bach.

It is possible (although complicated) to cast a spell which references itself. Therefore, it is possible to write a spell which references Magic as a whole. Therefore, it is possible to write a spell which recreates Magic as a whole. And because any effect that Magic is capable of causing can be duplicated without Magic, it is possible to recreate Magic without the use of Magic.


“Am I to be impressed?”

Harry had learned the subtleties of the synthesized voice of Lord Voldemort, and at this particular point it conveyed weariness. “You have succeeded at creating a physical embodiment of a tautology.”

“Professor, I don’t think you understand the implications.”

“How often will you forget that I am not, unlike your fellow companions, a wholesale idiot? Of course I understand the implications. And if you would permit yourself to see those implications through to their endpoint, you too would be unimpressed. This was always your weakness, boy: you grow impatient after the first few levels, and are too easily satisfied with your oversimplified explanations. But with every problem, there are levels upon levels upon levels that must be considered.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “So how do you know when to stop? You’re right of course, but that doesn’t tell me anything useful either. There are infinite levels to any problem.”

If Lord Voldemort’s box had a face, it would be smirking. “When you are one level higher than everyone else.”

“That’s quite clever.”

“Yes, well, that is why we are in our respective prisons. I know you, boy. I know that you have grown, and I know that you truly believe that you play the game at a sufficiently high level to win, and in some ways you have. In other ways, you have not. I am you. I know how we think. I know how I thought at your age. You have anticipated my blaseness, and yet you tell me anyway.

“Clearly you have thought through the first few levels of our interaction, so it would please me if we did not waste time by going through the motions. You are not so eager for praise as you were years ago; you would not simply tell me for the sake of having someone to tell, which means that there is some trump card, some hidden bit of lore that, in your opinion, changes the state of the game. What is it?”

“Sorry Professor. There’s no lore, no trump card, no hidden knowledge or artifacts.” Harry paused.  “You could say it’s something of a riddle.”

There was another pause, this one even briefer. “You have found the second Box.”

Harry grinned. “Not found. Recreated.”

Lord Voldemort measured his words carefully. “I confess that I am still no expert in the trite practice of being nice, so I did not anticipate this. Of course, you would not truly release me. You have created the second Box of Orden, and within it placed a small, unbroachable, inescapable world that is free from Magic, and within that placed one of my Horcruxes. You have created a crude, basic facsimile of Magic within this world, sufficient to allow me access to my Horcrux. Because I have sensed no avenue of release, clearly you have not activated the reconstruction of Magic, which means you are waiting for the proper moment to unveil it. Much like myself, you always had a taste for the dramatic.”

In response, Harry snapped his fingers.

“I suppose, Mr. Potter, that you were hoping that the moment of dawning comprehension would follow your grand gesture, not precede it. I apologize for not playing the role you were expecting.”

Harry couldn’t keep himself from grinning again. “I expected you would expect that. Levels and levels, Professor. I knew that you would figure out what I had done quickly enough, and from there it would be fairly trivial to determine exactly when I would allow you access to the second Box. So the only way to beat you at this little game was to completely take myself out of the equation, so I brought in my secret weapon: Luna Lovegood.  I had Luna write a number on a piece of paper, which I have only just now opened.” He paused briefly to read the number, and then continued. “And after this many seconds, I will ‘flip the switch’.”

“You must be almost as bored as I am, and we all must amuse ourselves in our own way. I would ask why you do me this favor, but I assume you intend to ‘rehabilitate’ me. It would not be in my best interest to discourage you from thinking I am rehabilitatable, so I shall not.”

Several minutes passed, in silence. Then, Lord Voldemort felt it.

“Ah.”


Tom Riddle examined his new prison. It had been eight years since he had inhabited a corporeal body. He recognized this as the body of his youth, free from the modifications made necessary by his role as Voldemort. He was in a small study. There were no doors or windows. There were, however, bookcases. Every wall a bookcase, every bookcase stacked two layers deep with books. On the desk were two objects of note. Firstly, a pair of boxes which he recognized from his conversations with Harry as a computer. Secondly, a wand. His wand.

Despite knowing that he would have placed no traps or wards upon the wand, Tom was still cautious. He channeled a small flow of “Magic” through the wand. It felt different. Synthetic. Like a rubber glove. It would take some getting used to, but it was real, and it was functional.

He cast his mind out, exploring the infinite that lay beyond physical barriers. There was only one true pathway that led away from this room. And it led to the other Box, a fuzzy morass of seething organic matter, all teeth and burrs and clouds and wisps of fat.

He cast his mind further, exploring the infinite that lie beyond the infinite. He saw all the possible pathways, all possible Boxes, all possible mistakes, all possible moments of weakness. He strode further out into nothing, passing by the most minute of possibilities, the coincidences and the bizarre. He strode further yet, into the deep nothing. Every so often he would encounter the barest of threads, the most impossibly impossible circumstances: atoms spontaneously degenerating in just the right ways to create just the right effects at just the right times. He briefly pondered the lives created and lost upon these distant threads, and then pondered no more.

He strode further yet.

The threads were limitless, Tom knew. Permutations could be stacked on top of permutations, and refactored in with the new results, ad infinitum. At a certain point, however, the threads grew faint enough and infrequent enough that they were formally indistinguishable from the nothing.

He stayed at this moment beyond Time, and pondered. He then strode further yet.

He felt the exact moment when he emerged on the other side of Eternity, and after another infinity, he was back where he started: The single black thread of Time that stretched from the beginning of Tom Riddle to the End of All Things.

In an instant, he opened his eyes and snapped back to his reality, the only Reality that mattered. The reality that he and all things were Bound to.


“Ah.”

Lord Voldemort’s box flickered with a brief shudder of red energy. He could sense that he was gone for less than an instant.

“I have not had much occasion in my life to say this, even more so now given my current predicament. But, I thank you, Harry Potter.”

Harry smiled, a true smile of grace. But it was only a moment before his trademark wry grin returned, “But it’s not completely altruistic.”

“There’s no such thing, boy. Of course I understand your intent. Time flows differently there. It loops back upon itself. I was gone for an eternity. I returned in the fraction of an instant. Thus, you intend to put me to work. I am to create something, the nature of which you have not told me which means that you will not tell me. I suppose somewhere on those shelves is a book designed to teach me to use that computer.”

“Correct. I am giving you a chance, Professor, to create what you have desperately wanted more than anything in the world.”

Another brief pause. Another brief flicker. “Someone intelligent to talk to.”

In that instant, Tom Riddle was gone again.