Orders of Magnitude, Arc 1: Estramoz. 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.


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 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.


She felt nothing.


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


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!”


“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–


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 3: Methods. Chapter 3: Saturn Ascends

“Naught shall avail him that he should not fall, fall shamed, an intolerable fall. For he himself against himself prepares a foe, a portent irresistible, devising fire to outflash the lightning-fire, and might sound the thunder to outroar, and shattering old Neptune’s trident spear; that oceanic plague which shake the earth. Yes, stricken by this evil, Jove shall learn what difference lies between a king and slave.”

Prometheus Bound

August 1, 1899

“Please, Master Flamel, please!” Dumbledore held the broken body of Ariana in his arms. He was a handsome young man, barely come of age, and surrounded by the aura of prophecy so blindingly bright that even the least sensitive of minor seers would have noticed. “She is still alive, I feel it! Give her a taste of the Elixir. Please! You’ll have my undying loyalty. Everything I can ever give you. Anything. Everything. It’s yours! Gellert, he has already uncovered great Lore, I can wrest it from–”

Nicholas Flamel raised his hand for silence. “Mister Dumbledore, I understand your pain. But the Elixir of Life cannot be doled out lightly, nor at the whim–”

“WHIM? She’s DYING! Mrs. Flamel, please, talk some sense into him!”

Perenelle stood toward the window, for she couldn’t bear to face the conversation.

Mom, Dad, please. Please. Do something. You’re healers. She’s breathing now, look she’s breathing now. The water is gone, now do something. Do something!

“Look! Look at her face. Mrs. Flamel, she knows this is the right thing to do. You can see it! Why are you letting my sister die?”

“Mister Dumbledore, need I remind you that you are a guest in our house?”

“This is a house of fools! A house of tyrants! You could change the world with what you have, and yet you hoard it. You stand there imperiously watching my sister die, how can you live with yourself? You have the riches of nations,” he gestured to the pots filled with bubbling lead and gold. “And yet you do nothing. You have eternal life! And what have you done with it? What have you–”

“Silence. Speak no more. For you speak of things of which you know nothing. Now, you will listen to me.” Nicholas Flamel’s hand darted out and touched Dumbledore’s shoulder faster than he could have ever hoped to react. “Egeustimentis.”

Dumbledore existed as slightly more than a fraction of consciousness within his own mind. It was laid bare before him: an automaton of levers, gears, bubbles, slicks, and whorls, and among them all, a scene coalesced. His sister and himself. His sister, young, beautiful, glowing. Himself, old, with half-moon spectacles and a ridiculous hat that looked like nothing more than a squashed mushroom.

They were in Godric’s Hollow. The cemetery. Albus laid flowers at a grave that he knew without looking was the grave of his brother Aberforth. As the flowers touched the ground, the scene shifted. Ariana held the flowers now. There were two graves, side by side. Albus and Aberforth. Ariana stood, still young and beautiful, her eyes stained with tears. She was tortured.

In those eyes. There were husbands, friends. There were children, students. There were lovers, enemies. They were all coming into her life, they were all leaving. In what felt like a mere moment. All those that she had ever loved and all those that she ever could love, gone. And yet, an entire world of people for whose sake she must exist. The pain was palpable in her eyes, it was beyond tears, it was a fundamental part of her being. She was tortured.

The fraction of consciousness that was Albus resisted this. “Love will always find a way, there are always people to love, people to give meaning to the world. You and Perenelle have loved each other for centuries.”

Flamel sensed this opposition. “We are companions, yes. But I confess that often I find myself longing for my… next great adventure.” At this the scene shifted once more.

Now Albus was with Ariana, outside of Time. Although her body was young and repaired, so too was her soul. She was surrounding by all those she had ever loved, all those that she ever would love. It was bright, clean, pristine, like the Platonic ideal of King’s Cross Station.

The train that was Albus Dumbledore’s mind pulled in through the tunnel, and Nicholas Flamel was the conductor. He adjusted a switch or two, turned a few gears, and finally, with a warm, kind smile, pulled a lever. A gust of steam billowed from the train’s whistle, and a wave a great peace washed over Dumbledore.

“You are young, Mister Dumbledore, so you do not understand the curse of age. Although I cannot help your sister in the way you request, I hope you see you now that I have truly helped her. And I hope I have given you some measure of peace.” The tears had stopped, and the look of a righteous anger and Albus Dumbledore’s face was gone.

Dumbledore stood, knee deep in the calm ocean waters outside the cottage of the Flamel family. He held Ariana’s body, and he had no tears. Although Ariana was gone for now, she was not gone forever. It was sad, for certain, that she would miss out on this brief flicker of a moment of this infinitesimal facet of the universe. But she would persist. They all would. Sooner or later, he would venture into eternity and they would be together, forever.

The waves washed around him, lapping gently at his waist. The ocean called to him, The voice of Neptune gently whispering, “Let go, let go, let go…”

Dumbledore let go.

“I envy him, in a way, Nell.”

Meldh’s voice broke the silence. Perenelle was still fighting back the tears. The entire proceeding hit her in the gut on a visceral level. Of course, Meldh was right. Sure, it wasn’t as pretty and clichéd as a pure white train station that took you “beyond”. And yes, the ethics of mind manipulation were questionable at best, even if the manipulation was subtle and ultimately beneficial.

But ultimately, the conclusion to which he led the child of Percival and Kendra was correct. She had seen enough of magic, had enough of the theory worked out. Horcruxes. The Bone of the Father. The Ritual of the Starfire. The True Cross. All of these pointed to one single truth:

No one was actually gone.

How could anyone who considered themselves rational doubt this? Both she and Meldh had died! And yet, they were still here. Sure, the rituals were complex, and they were enormously costly. But that was just an optimization problem. The information was there. What made up the entirety of a person’s being, whatever that may be, existed in some form, beyond the death of their physical body.

She had some theories which she never got around to testing. Many of them involved Time. Many more involved the absurdly complex and anthrocentric nature of Magic itself. Right now, it didn’t really matter one way or the other. What mattered is that it was possible. Time was no longer her enemy, as it was in her youth, when every wasted minute was a tragedy. She was no longer filled with the unflinching anger of her youth.

A very small part of her looked back in regret, to a time when the Old Ones had called her Æsahættr, a name which meant “God-Killer”. She was young, so young, and yet, even then, she had accomplished so much. So much more than that ridiculous nihilist from whom she took the Stone: boredom was so absurdly bourgeoisie that even now it still made her sick. Even he, her, it, was not gone.


Pain… Pain still hurt. Even though Death did not matter. Pain… Pain was still bad. She understood very well the pain of thinking that one you love is gone, lost forever. Nell was still a healer at heart, and wanted to spare people that pain. She still remembered–

please, Master Payens, please. I’ve heard the rumors. I know you know people, I know what people say about the Cross,” she gestured violently at the plain-looking wooden cross adorning the nave of the temple.

“And what can you offer me in exchange for such a gift,” spoke the man, who once was tall, proud, and fit, and was now overweight and sallow.

“Everything I have, and more. Anything. everything! Just please, please. Help.”

“Everything you have?” Hugues de Payens laughed, mockingly. “Your family are healers, are they not? Not exactly a wealthy profession.”

“DONT MOCK ME!” Perenelle screamed, the desperation apparent in her voice as she could feel her hold over her magic slipping. The only thing keeping her sister’s lungs from being liquified from the inside out by de-transfigured water and muck was that thin thread of magic which was being stretched farther and farther beyond its limits with each glib remark.

“Oh? Or what?”

“I… I…”

“I know you, child. I have seen your personality before, in so many others. You see a problem in the world, and you burn with righteous rage. You hate the world for not fixing the problem, and you take the responsibility upon yourself, which you think justifies your impudence and rashness. Mark my words, child: it’s easy enough to ask big questions and make big plans. But to follow them through? What have you done with your short life besides angrily make demands of someone greater than yourself?”

She was already turning to leave. This was useless. Just another jaded power-hoarder. Damn him, damn his entire Order, damn his Knights, damn his Cross. God damn every last one of them. She would tear the world apart. She would rip apart the gates of Heaven, tear apart the very foundation of Christendom to pull her sister back.


August 10, 1979

“These words,” said Nicholas Flamel, “Are not called the Words of Power and Madness lightly.”

“Legend says they have been lost. But this is not the first time you have surprised me with hidden lore,” Dumbledore examined the words in the Pensieve with keen interest.

“Ah, but they are lost. They exist not in my mind, or the mind of any other. I could not recall them even if I wanted to. Nor could you. Go ahead, try to tell me the words you just heard spoke. Try anything you can to recall them.”

Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak, but could not. Faint echoes of the words swirled around in his head but there was nothing concrete for him to grasp. He understood the abstraction but couldn’t complete the metaphor. Interesting. He entered the Pensieve, listened to the incantation, and hastily wrote down the words as he saw them.

…ogeai dacra, nitesh taps, sorc mareht’d nataog….

Nothing. He saw the words, heard the words, but still, nothing. There was no comprehension. “Power and Madness, indeed, Master Flamel.”

“They are the Words of the First Enchanter. As with everything, there are levels upon levels of meaning to them. Legend has it that their true power was as an incantation that would lift the shackles of the Interdict. And yet, the Interdict has ensured that such knowledge could never pass from anything but one living mind to another. You will be using the words their meanest of purposes: a mere passcode to Merlin’s web of prophecy.”

“So I shall speak Merlin’s words in the heart of Merlin’s tower while holding Merlin’s line bequeathed to me by Merlin’s successors in order to access the knowledge that has been hoarded by Merlin’s web… It seems to me that you possess quite a great deal of knowledge and lore that once belonged to the Prince of Enchanters,” Dumbledore smiled with a twinkle, and yet there was a strange tone to his voice, a hint of warning. “Take caution, my old friends. I know that we have had words about your non-intervention in the past. A great deal of lives and pain could have been spared if you were to directly intercede on my behalf. And not just with this matter of mine, but with others, and with other heroes who have come before me.

“But I know you are no cowards, and I know you both to be good, decent people, and that you truly believe one death is too many and one minute wasted is one minute too long. You would not suffer such losses or make such sacrifices lightly, if not for the greater good, a higher cause, a deeper plan… A hidden hand, guiding things, if you will.”

“Choose your words carefully, Albus,” Nicholas spoke.

Perenelle held her hand up. “Peace, Nicholas, peace. Let our guest continue his speculation.” Inwardly, she rolled her eyes. Who actually says ‘Peace’ like that?

“It is not my intent to speculate, only to observe. You have done me and mine many great favors over the years, in exchange for lore that most would consider paltry in comparison to the magnitude of the aid. I am truly in your debt. However, you are not accustomed to fighting your battles directly, or dealing in overly complex plots. You are not used to being, as they say, ‘in the trenches’, and I know all too well how it can be much easier to see a pattern from the outside but not the inside. So I will offer the following advice:

“When there are Three, there is always a leader, a trusted confidante, and a disposable lieutenant. I have come to know and love the both of you and it would trouble me greatly if any harm came to either of you. So please, for your own sake and not mine, know that with which you deal. And take caution.”

“Your words are well-intentioned. A lesser person may be inclined to take offense at your presumption, but we are no fools. You do know a great deal more about plotting than either of us, and it’s been centuries since I’ve personally slain a Dark Lord,” Perenelle spoke, softly, and turned to look at Nicholas. I wonder if that was too obvious? I’m not very good at all this mystical, wise talk.

Meldh could sense her apprehension, and he stepped in. “Indeed, Nell, indeed. Albus, this is one task in which you cannot fail. You must listen to the prophecies, and you must truly comprehend them. The world hangs in such precarious balance. The path to salvation is but a single thread that must pass through the eye of a single needle in a rainstorm. There is more than one Dark Lord that you will be defeating in the coming years. Beware εσχατος εχθρος, Albus.”

August 10, 1979
The Department of Mysteries


The words crashed in Dumbledore’s mind, an unceasing battery of waves breaking against the walls of his sanity. And yet, despite their fractured dissonance, when put together, they sang a song of such beauty, order, and righteousness that he could not deny the path he must walk.

He saw that all prophecy was true, and all prophecy had levels upon levels upon levels upon levels. The layers of meaning forked, and forked again, and bound back upon themselves. There was the Crux, he was the Crux, so was the boy, so was his mentor, so was his enemy, so was the boy’s enemy. And there was The Enemy, the Dark Lord, not just Grindelwald, not just Voldemort, but the One True Dark Lord, the enemy who had menaced all beings since the dawn of time. He Who Went By Many Names:

Mot. Thanatos. Uncle Hendrick. Yambe Akka. Shaitan. εσχατος εχθρος.

It went by many names, and came in many forms, and they were all warriors in this final battle. Even his true love was a warrior, in his own misguided way. Dumbledore would fight as well. He would not fight against the Death of the Body, for he knew that those before him had already conquered that foe, and he looked forward to the day when he would reunite with Aberforth and Ariana and all those who had come before him. He would not fight against the Death of the World, for another even greater warrior would soon rise to wear that mantle.

No, Dumbledore would spend his last days fighting against the Death of Love. Hate had no place in Arcadia, and an eternity without love would be nothing so more than Hell. As he stood in the ruined chambers of the Hall of Prophecy, he was filled with an intense love, a love for all of life and all people and all things, and he knew that for their sakes that not another minute was to be wasted in his task.

He began.

Early August, 1991

“It’s time, Meldh.”

Meldh paced restlessly back and forth in the cottage. The report was as clear as day: The Parselmouth who wears the Crown of the Serpents could locate the Stone, infallibly, and they were in grave danger. The evidence was so thorough, so overwhelming, so convincing that it simply had to be true.

Which meant, of course, that it was a bold-faced lie.

After a time, Meldh spoke. “The banished father has returned, and he has laid for us this new Path. We must follow it, and we must make it seem as though we are acting according to his design. It must be convincing, both to the Riddle boy and to Albus.

“One of us must go to Hogwarts. The Mirror cannot leave its grounds, we cannot risk that. We must visit in person, and we must maintain the ruse,” Perenelle was packing their things as Meldh was speaking, “Once the Stone is gone, we must be seen to age and wither and eventually die. Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel will be no more.”

Perenelle stood and faced him. He was tired. And he always spoke in that ridiculous, affected tone, like he was a character in a play, when he was tired. Really, they both were tired. She had been fighting for centuries. He had been fighting for centuries longer. But it was all coming to a head now. The final battle would come soon and the conduit would soon be destroyed, for good.

She stared at the eyes of her companion. She had deep love for this man. There was, of course, no Eros. The difference in age was far too great, even now. Meldh would have called their love Philia, but he always was a bit ceremonious and used big, fancy words when everyday terms would suffice. After all, he started calling himself “Meldh”, which was just silly, in her opinion. There wasn’t anything wrong with Heraclius.

But regardless. To Nell, Meldh was her friend. And she loved him. It would pain her to be away from him, after they had spent so much time together as Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel.

But one day, pain would be a thing of the past. Just a childish thing that humanity had outgrown, like Death and War and everything else. But until then, she had work to do.

Orders of Magnitude, Arc 3: Methods. Chapter 4: A Song For You

Borley Rectory
February 27, 1939

Hugues de Payens was tired. He wanted to go home, he wanted so desperately to be with his brother, and his husband, reunited once more. Soon. So soon. His wet, bulbous eyes watched as the Hungarians ransacked the place. As the minutes passed, their anger became more visible. The plain wooden cross on the wall seemed to mock them as they searched in vain. He did not move from his armchair when he finally spoke.

“Keresitek ember akit a villám megjelölt és ő kioltja majd a csillagokat.”

The commander of the Záh Kardja stopped. His subordinate looked at him, warily. “A kövér ember túl sokat tud . Meg kell ölni őt,” but the commander shook his head.

“Azt, hogy könnyen kitalálja , öreg. Mondja el, hogyan működik az Igazi Kereszt, és akkor lehet élni.”

Hugues laughed. It was an undignified, wheezing laugh, wet with rheum and phlegm. They were here to finish that girl’s work, what she had started in Sontag. He stood up, prompting the death squad to raise their blade-wands. He dismissively waved his hand and walked to his desk. He closed his eyes, and let his Magic flow into the room. A small metal plate materialized on the table. As it did, the wooden cross transmuted into cold, chilling iron.

Soon, Ignotus. Soon.

He reminded himself that, despite different methods, they all fought on the same side against the same enemy. He walked over to the commander, and presented him with the plate. For a moment, he looked into the man’s eyes.

“Láttam az előrejelzések is. Most van itt az ideje . Vedd ezt , és vele együtt legyőzni az utolsó ellenség.”

The commander was young, perhaps in his thirties, with eyes that had seen far too many atrocities, won far too many Pyrrhic victories. He understood, though, and he nodded, taking the tablet. As soon as he claimed it, Hugues whirled around, whipped his wand from his robes, and with a flourish: “AVADA KEDAVRA!”

The men stood, astounded as the bolt of green light shot from Saint Payans’ wand into his own chest. A palpable burst of power was felt throughout the room, and the crop of strange plants in the nearby greenhouse undulated wildly, as if in response. Immediately, the commander jumped into action.

“Vegyük a Kereszt. Eget a hely a földön . Győződjön meg róla, ezek mandragórájából elmúltak , minden utolsó. Ezután hagyjuk.”

As his men set to work, the commander stared at the tablet. There was much he did not understand. A set of instructions on one side, which was straightforward enough. But, on the other side, there was simply a drawing and an epigram, and it was hard to say what was more disturbing. The drawing: the mark of Lord Grindelwald. Or the epigram:


Centuries earlier

It was the scandal of the century. It had happened plenty of times before. Hogwarts was a hotbed of pheromones and poor decision-making. The penalty of course, was instant termination, and they had lost a handful of Herbology professors, Potion masters, and Care of Magical Creatures professors just in the six years that Helena had been there. But a Battle Magic professor? This was unprecedented. The victim though, was still officially unnamed, as of right now. It was Hogwarts policy, of course. And because it was Hogwarts, it always came out sooner or later. As Helena wandered past the portrait of Barnabas the Barmy, she wondered who–



It sounded like someone was slapping a steak against a wall. Over and over. She was on the seventh floor, and it was coming from behind a door that she had never noticed had been there before.

“You… Fucking… BITCH!”

What… The…. Hell?

The door was slightly ajar. Her curiosity was too much. She peered inside, and instantly regretted it. Something she had wanted to see for so long, ruined in an instant, made ugly and terrible and horrifying.

Nell was naked.

Covered in blood.

Holding a stone?

Helena couldn’t help herself. Like a stupid character from one of those stupid plays her father always took her too, she screamed, and immediately clasped her hand over her mouth. Nell’s head whipped around and they locked eyes.

Helena ran. And ran. And ran.

Months earlier

Festivus pushed the bag of gold across the table. “Nell, my dear, you insult our honor.”

“We should be paying YOU for this wonderous opportunity,” Ollie exclaimed.

Nell took the sack of gold. She knew it was a token gesture. They knew it was a token gesture. She knew they knew it was a token gesture, and they knew she knew it was a token gesture. Had they accepted the gold, Nell would have felt no ill-will. Nor would Festivus and Ollie had Nell not offered. Nonetheless, the dance was appreciated by all parties, as it was the dance of trust and friendship.

Nell spoke. “I’m not an expert at plotting or pranks–”

“–Neither are we.”

“We are masters.”

“Well. Okay then. I’m not master at plotting or pranks. But I do have enough clout to where I can make sure that there won’t be any consequences.”

“Not for us, at least.”

“Well, there won’t be any lasting consequences for her. I’m just trying to… Ah… Prove a point.”

“I won’t even ask.”

“Good. As usual, I’ll pay for any supplies or expenses.”

“And as usual, we shall be honest beyond reproach.” Ollie held his hand to his heart.

“It’s so delightfully lurid. Who should the other victim be?” Festivus inquired, half to himself, and half to Nell. Ollie and Festivus had a quick sidebar conversation, and suggested a few names between the others.

“I’m sure you’ll have a score of volunteers. I mean, you’ve seen her.”

“I know for sure that I wouldn’t mind!” Ollie grinned. “Me neither. You know what they say about Dark Witches…” Festivus nodded as his imagination wandered. Nell rolled her eyes, sighed dramatically, and smiled inwardly.

The previous day

She was unearthly beautiful. A perfect, symmetrical face with pale, icy eyes flecked through with veins of violet. Snow white skin, smooth, taut, and unmarred. A figure both voluptuous and athletic, hugged suggestively by the multilayered, flowing dress, leaving just enough to the imagination, but revealing enough to give the imagination a place to start from. She was entrancing, and it was almost enough to make Helena forget.

Baba Yaga stood at the front of the class, arms folded behind her back, waiting patiently for the final students to trickle in. Of course, the last two were Ollie and Festivus. The twins sauntered in with that casual, smirking look about them that telegraphed to the world that they simply did not care where they were supposed to be or when they were supposed to be there. That attractive, carefree confidence, charming by virtue of its sheer naïveté.

The moment they sat down, Baba Yaga began to speak without preamble. “Good morning, class. You are in your sixth year of Battle Magic, which means you have reviewed and presumably mastered tactics, strategy, wandwork, footwork, and martial arts. You have learned offensive spells, defensive spells, crowd control spells, anti-personnel spells, and utility spells. Out of all this, who can tell me what is the most important lesson of Battle Magic?”

An anonymous Ravenclaw boy raised his hand, “Never use a complicated way of dealing with an enemy when you can just Avada Kedavra them?”

Baba Yaga considered. “A valuable lesson, indeed. However, observe. AVADAKEDAVRA!”

The class screamed. The Ravenclaw boy ducked as the bolt blazed towards him. Students behind him dived out of the way, and the curse smashed into the wall behind them, leaving a black scorch mark and a shower of green sparks.

What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck??

“Please elaborate on the error I made, class.”

“Are you insane??” Nell shouted.

“Child, do you rea–”

“I don’t CARE if you THINK you have things under control! Things can go wrong! Things DO go wrong! What were you thinking??”

“Child, come to the front the class. Now.”

The class was silent. This wasn’t the first time that a Battle Magic professor had done something fabulously dangerous, with the potential to go horribly awry. But Avada Kedavra?

Nell did not move. Festivus whispered under his breath, “Nell…”

‘Child. Now.”

Nell did not move.

Baba Yaga rolled her eyes. She sighed, annoyed, and with a single thought, Nell flew up out of her desk. In an instant, she was carried by some unknown force to the front of the room, and came to stop in mid-air, feet away from Baba Yaga, her arms and legs splayed like a grotesque Vitruvian Man. As soon as she stopped, Baba Yaga drew her wand. “AVADAKEDAVRA“.

A bolt of green light shot into Nell’s chest. The class screamed again. Three-fourths of the Gryffindors had drawn their wands. Festivus and Ollie had both fired defensive spells which were obviously neither fast enough or powerful enough to stop the curse. Several Hufflepuffs had ducked behind chairs. Slytherins watched, amused, and considered how to play the situation to their advantage. Only a few of the Ravenclaws had enough presence of mind to notice that Nell was still alive and breathing.

“The terms laid down by the Cup of Dawn, which you have all agreed to, prevent me quite forcibly from harming any of you. Even the Killing Curse has no effect. Even if my first Killing Curse had hit, no harm would have come to her.” As Baba Yaga was speaking, she idly gestured towards Nell who floated back to her desk. Once she was positioned over her chair, the spell’s effects ended and Nell collapsed unceremoniously to the floor.

Damnit, she told herself, Damnit, Nell. That was costly.

“But, the spell would not have hit. The most important lesson of Battle Magic is not to simply indiscriminately cast Avada Kedavra. Avada Kedavra is slow. Avada Kedavra is obvious. Avada Kedavra takes entire moments to cast. Everyone knows Avada Kedavra and its distinctive incantation and green light. Every knows to dodge, and only the slow, the infirm, or the stupid are unable to dodge. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least half a dozen curses that would easily cause instantaneous death, all of which could be cast in half the time, with half the wand motion, and move at twice the speed. So now, we shall have a brief side lesson. What then, is the purpose of Avada Kedavra?”

A random Gryffindor chimed in, “Because it can’t be blocked?”


The class would quickly learn that silence meant your answer was so stupid as to not merit a response.

“It’s a tool. A means to an end,” Nell had resituated herself by this point. A bit humiliated, for sure, but she still held her head high.

“Correct, Ms. du Marais–”

“–you can just call me Nell, all my friends do.”

“But I am not your friend. I am your teacher. You are correct, It is a tool. Now, how did you come to this conclusion?”

“Avada Kedavra terminates the life of the victim. But it also has the unique effect of reliably creating a Death Burst, which suggests that this effect is intentional. Thus, given the sheer redundancy of a spell solely designed to kill people, this suggests that the creation of the Death Burst is its primary purpose.”

“Correct, more or less. Avada Kedavra, stemming from the Hebrew ‘אברא כדברא’, which roughly translates as ‘What I say shall be’. Which in turn is a derivation of the ancient Latin phrase of power, ‘Et quod dicitur erit quod’. It is a Transfiguration spell, of sorts. It transmutes the victim’s Life into a different Form, free of any earthly binding. Pure Life is powerful stuff, and can be made to do powerful things, if harnessed correctly. However it is very unstable without a physical binding and typically lasts no longer than the span of a few moments before dissipating, lost to the Beyond.

“This is why only fools use Avada Kedavra in combat. It is akin to bringing a butcher knife to a sword fight. Crude, and effective in a pinch, but ultimately lacking. Yet, it was the first thing that came to mind, simply by virtue of the fact that it is called the ‘Killing Curse’. Now, class, knowing this, can you tell the most important lesson of Battle Magic?”


“Know that which which you deal. I was able to subdue and manipulate one of the more powerful witches of this year, and I expended no more than a thought. I would ask if anyone knows the nature of the spell I used for this purpose, but I do not make it a habit to ask questions of which I already know the answer. And that, children, is the point. You do not know what I am capable of. If any of you were to attempt any sort of attack on me, you would be eviscerated before you even had a chance to blink.

“I say this not to brag. I say this because all spells have their counter. In fact, there is ample evidence in Magical Theory to suggest that the more powerful and complex the spell, the more trivial the counter. The Touch of Truth, the most perfect means of mind control that Wizardkind has devised, is dismissed by a mere syllable. You can see now why those with great power rarely deign to share their secrets. The world would be a very different place if ‘Egeustimentis Ba’ were not common knowledge.

“If you do not know the weapons in your opponents’ arsenals, you cannot hope to win. If you do not know the proper counters to the weapons in your opponents’ arsenals, you cannot hope to win. I am not the greatest Dark Lady of a thousand generations because of my reflexes or my aim. No, it is because I know spells and rituals whose very names, let alone their counters, have been lost centuries before this castle was ever built.

“Now. Based on this, what is the most important question you should be asking me right now?”

Nell spoke, immediately. “Why are you teaching us?”

“Why indeed? If you know enough to ask the question, you should know enough to divine the answer. And if you know enough to divine the correct answer, you should know that you will not need me to confirm that it is correct. Now, let us begin our lesson in the practical application of specialized spells and their counters.”

Near midnight.

Nell knocked on the door, tenatively at first. “Enter.” Baba Yaga’s voice rang from the other side, and the door swung open of its own accord. The Cup of Dawn flickered ceaselessly on the table, casting undulating shadows across the room. Nell did not even have to touch the Goblet to know that it would be impossible for her to remove it, much less steal it.

“So late in the evening, Ms. du Marais? I assume students need a chaperone at this hour to be wandering the halls.”

“I can go a lot of places, Professor. Look. I’m pretty sure, no, I’m certain that I know the answer. But I can’t stand unsolved puzzles. Can I just tell you the answer, and you can tell me if I’m right?”

Baba Yaga stared at her, amused.

Nell took a few steps closer. “Look, I know we got off on the wrong foot, but it’s not often someone gets a chance to pick the brain of a Dark Lady who’s a hundred thousand years old.”

An unspoken conversation, one filled with assumptions upon assumptions upon assumptions, had already taken place.

That was a clumsy attempt at fishing for information, child. Don’t you know never to ask a woman her age?
I know. But you should know that I knew that.
And conversely, you would know that I would know that you knew that.
And you would know that I would not confirm nor deny my age.
And you should know why I asked.
Indeed I do.
So where does that leave us?
It leaves us with a silly girl that cannot stand an unsolved riddle.

“Well then, what is your guess?”

“You’re bored.”

“That is a facile answer. You’ll need to elaborate further.”

“You’re playing solitaire. You’re obviously powerful enough to have and do anything you want. And I’m guessing, for as old as you are, however old it may be, that you have. So clearly there’s a reason why you aren’t living some hedonistic dream and instead are teaching impudent sixth years like myself.

“Frankly, I feel the same way. I own this castle. I can do more than just walk around the halls at night without a teacher. I could have you fired. In an instant. That’s not a threat, I have no intention of doing so. It’s simply the truth. And I didn’t even have to try hard. I look at these ridiculous Slytherins, with their convoluted plots, vying for power, trying to jockey their way into a better position on the game board. Frankly, it’s just depressing. I own the game. I am the game board.

“I know what it’s like to amuse yourself with tittles and jots. I know what it’s like to challenge oneself with ridiculous constraints just to prove to yourself that you can do it. I have friends my own age, sure, but it’s not really accurate to say they’re ‘friends’. They’re my wards. I protect them. I protect everyone. That’s why power has always come natural to me. But I have no peers here.

“If I could ask you any question, it would simply be this. Why haven’t you killed yourself? Because I can’t imagine dealing with this, for thousands upon thousands of years. I would ask you, what have you done to give your eternal life meaning?”

A long silence followed.

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“You amuse me. But you’re lying.”

Ice water, running down her spine. Shit.

“And yet, you truly believe much of what you said. You genuinely think you could outmaneuver me, and it is not the idle, overconfident boast of a bully. I confess, this, I would very much like to see.”

The chill withdrew. In its place, well, Nell wasn’t sure what to think. Her mother had always taught her that the best way to bluff was to make sure that everything you say is true, from a certain point of view. She didn’t actually feel all superior and bored like that, but she’d certainly considered the notion before. So it wasn’t too hard to just continue that line of thinking, and apparently it was convincing.

“OK… So?”

Baba Yaga stood. “I propose a wager. One enforced by no magic, other than our own honor. You have me terminated from my position before the end of the year, and I will grant you one wish, anything that is within my considerable power to grant. Should you fail, I will take something from you, anything that I may ask, anything that is within your power to get.”

“And what is it that you would take?”

“I believe that I have all year to decide.”

“Very well.” She stepped closer and extended her hand across the desk.

Baba Yaga clasped Nell’s hand. They were both beautiful. Baba Yaga, unearthly so. A vision of manufactured perfection, almost cruel in her beauty. She was the result of eons of calculated creation, a marble statue. Nell, by contrast, was a majestic landscape. Organic, natural, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring. The random emergent byproduct of a thousand generations of patterns mixing, combining, persisting, mutating, evolving. Beautiful not by conscious design, but simply by virtue of what it is: a reminder, that even from the crudest conditions of disorder, beauty can and will emerge. On the most fundamental, statistical level, if patterns can emerge, they will. And if patterns can persist, they will. Life will always prevail over death because that is simply how things are, and Perenelle du Marais was the living embodiment of the noble spirit of Life.

They were two visions of perfection, touching flesh, staring into each others eyes, each trying to size up the other’s soul. Baba Yaga had gone by a thousand names. Koschei the Deathless. Ma’krt of the Rock. And in a time before Time, an even more ancient name: Max Koschey. He was an electrical engineer, of sorts. He specialized in matter, energy, and the manipulation and conversion thereof. He designed, created, and maintained the System’s power crystals. And although many of his colleagues had had developed rudimentary sentient structures, that was hardly Max’s area of interest, much less his expertise. He had no interest in stewardship. Lesser beings were boring to him.

So it was that after the disaster, when all that remained of Max Koschey was a single power crystal, Bound with his life force, he was forced to use a brain as his template for consciousness. Specifically, a human brain. The human brain has flaws. The human brain can be physically manipulated. The human brain can be swayed by something as simple as an influx of testosterone and oxytocin in response to physical stimulus.

Unconsciously, Baba Yaga’s pulse quickened, ever so slightly. Her pupils dilated, imperceptibly. Nell was not consciously aware of this reaction. But she did know enough about unscrupulous old people to know that most of the time, there was always a certain… something in the back of their mind. So she let their handshake linger ever so slightly longer than most would consider appropriate.

“You’ve got a deal.”


Orders of Magnitude, Arc 2: Gods. Chapter 2.71828182845…

Diagon Alley
903 C.E.

He was running in circles. He was bound by a rope, stretched beyond its limits. Or, was it a Line? The rope, or the Line, it was staked into the ground. He was a dog, chained. The Line was staked into something important, terribly important, the most important thing. And yet. It eluded him. It was always eluding him.

Maybe. Maybe if you run fast enough. So he ran. He ran faster. He ran fast, so fast, so fast. Around, and around, and around. He ran so fast that he ceased to simply be a point attached to a Line. He was a blurred circle, jagged around the edges but if you screwed up your eyes it looked like one solid shape. A circle, an endless, strange loop of frustration and exasperation. Twice per go-around, he would cross that… that thing, that the Line was staked it. A Path? A Path that stretched backwards into eternity and forward into eternity. But the Line. The Line took the path to a dark place. A dark eternity.

When he crossed the path the first time, he could see them. Her flowing hair. His strong jaw, a family of his own. He saw happiness. And behind the happiness, only a slight fear, the fear of some great Death that was eons away. But that fear was bolstered by hope. Not the empty wish of a dreamer, but the assured hope of an entire civilization fighting together, gladiators. Fighting the Titan, with hope as their weapon, made sharp by the knowledge that from now until the End, if that End came, they would fight, they would fight, they would fight with all of their soul and all of their being and everything they had and would ever have.

But then they were gone. They were so close. But he only saw them for a brief instant as he ran by them. He could reach out and touch them. He did. But they disappeared as he ran, and he kept running, desperately, to see them again, the feel that hope. But each time, he would cross the Path again. And in that world, it was a desolate, empty place. Stagnant. It didn’t smell like Death because there was nothing to smell. An empty, horrifying Nothing. And he wanted nothing than to run away from that Nothing, horrified.

So he did.

He ran and ran and ran until he reached the Path again, until he could feel that brief instant of hope. He kept running. He had to. He was Bound by that Line. The Line. It was always the Line. He knew, somehow he knew. There was no intuition, it was pure reason, but that reason worked from a premise that was lost to Time. Nonetheless, it was true. True but impossible to prove. As true as this is a lie is false. If he could break free of the Line, he could make everything whole, make everything right. The Line took something precious, something valuable, something of the utmost important, something that was lost. He knew that if he just ran faster, the line would diminish, would eventually disappear.

So he ran faster. Faster. And faster. He poured his entire being into running. He sacrificed everything, everyone, just so he could run, faster and faster. He ran until the Line grew smaller. He ran until the line diminished. He ran, and ran, and ran in circles and circles and loops and loops and circles and loops, and ran until all that was left was a fragment of silver, a fraction of a Line.

(black robes, falling)

…blood spills out in litres, and someone screams a word.

Suddenly, without warning or notice, the line began to lengthen. It grew, and grew, and he ran, and ran, but still, it grew, strengthened, bolstered. It could not stop. It wouldn’t stop. It was out of control.

This couldn’t happen. How could it happen? The equation was too perfect. He had seen to it, he had controlled the inputs to thousands of degrees of precision, had guided the thread through every possible eye of every possible needle, but it went wrong, it all went wrong, how could it go wrong? Input, output, functions, decision trees, logic maps and neural nets flicked through his mind, streaming an infinity of possibilities into the span of a single instant. How?

But, the one inexorable truth of the universe, something deeper than any law of “magic”, held him back, stymied his efforts. There is no infinity. If permitted, a pattern will persist, and persist, and persist. If allowed, the digits will keep repeating. The irrational pattern of the numbers will continue and continue as long as you care to generate them. At some point, there has to be a point where you take action, where you decide the the map matches the territory enough to where you can start your great adventure. At some arbitrary point, you have to decide that you have enough significant digits.

It wasn’t enough.

Those forgotten numbers, that endless stream of numbers forever lost, stuck on the wrong side of that arbitrary termination point. They add up. And after millions upon millions of inputs and outputs and combinations and permutations, they all added up, added up to one choice, one crux. Like a fist with a limitless number of fingers, closing one at a time, until all that remained were the two choices, a finger and a thumb, poised to snap. If they did, all would be lost. The Path would never be made whole. From outside, a woman screamed, long and loud. The scream of a dying woman.Within a moment, another cry joined with the first: the sound of a hundred phoenixes, their call like the birth of a new world.

He turned.

And heard the snap.

Merlin awoke, screaming