Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 11: Things Fall Apart, The Center Cannot Hold

Dearest Louis,

The taste of victory is sweet. I would have never guessed in a century that at the end of it all, Severus Hortensius would be our greatest ally. This is a new and treacherous game board, for certain, but it is certainly preferable to waiting patiently for our forebears to pass so that we may take their seat on the Council.

Even in the few short days since the Edict, alliances are being formed within the ranks of the Hogwart’s Governors. My father chuckled at the very notion. In my younger days, he used to tell me that trying to keep my in light was like trying to cage a bolt of lightning. It has been many a long year since he told me that, but he said as much with regards to the Founders: ‘They are bolts of lightning that you wish to cage, son. Take care.’

The Founders truly care about their mission. They are devoted to the school, which means they will be easy to control. They are not experienced in the games of power and intrigue, and as long as we take care to keep the best interests of the school in mind at all times, they will be in our catspaw. Although Hogwarts is young, I do suspect in the years to come that our Board of Governors will wield a power even greater than that of the Wizard’s Council.

Of the matter regarding blood, that I think we should discuss in person. You and I do not always see eye to eye on this subject, and it would hurt me greatly if you misinterpreted my words as carrying anything but the utmost respect and friendship. Our means may be different but we still strive for the same end. The blood will run cold in my veins before I allow the blood of Atlantis to fade from the world. Of that, we are of the same mind.

Until our next meeting, I wish you the best of health.

-Excerpted from the private correspondence between Richard Potter, Son of Henry, and Louis Malfoy, son of Armand.


The Keep of Mysteries
Westminster, London
1107, C.E.

“Civility, I will have civility!” Severus Hortensius shouted. He held the Line of Merlin, the symbol of his station, in his left hand, and it whispered to him ideas, suggestions, paths. “I remind all of the members of the Wizard’s Council that Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, and Salazar Slytherin are here as our guests and should be treated as such.” He stared at Godric. “And in turn, I expect that our guests will afford us the level of respect that we are due. Now, that said, Master Longbottom has a fair and valid point. You requested special dispensation to circumvent the military authority of this Council in order to fight Lord Foul yourself. We granted that, and not only did you fail, but Lord Foul’s whereabouts are currently unknown.”

Septimus Longbottom added, “And this trophy you brought back for us, this Archway, we know nothing of its nature. For all we know, Lord Foul and his army may be dwelling just on the other side of that veil.”

“Master Longbottom, I can assure you that I have thoroughly inspected and researched this artifact,” Salazar Slytherin provided. “It is no dark portal to realms unseen, it is something much more eldritch than that. You should be thanking Godric for ensuring its safety within the hallowed halls of the Keep.”

“Yes, and further to the point, Longbottom, we have our best Unspeakables working around the clock to further decipher its mysteries.” Hortensius spread his hands. “But Godric, the fact stands that our world has grown close, perhaps too close. And your past few… escapades have not ended satisfactorily.”

“You speak of Dark Evangel. The Apostle of Darkness, she is dead, is she not?” Godric replied.

“Yes, and it practically put us to war against Shafiq and his regime in the process. Look around you at the world. The Muggle pontifex has called for war against Shafiq’s people. The Muggle king sends soldiers. Our world is fragile, and you have upset the game board too many times.”

“And what would you have me do, Severus? Stand idly by and watch as Longbottom’s Aurors flail blindly?”

Longbottom scoffed at the insult. “If we are blind, Godric, it is due in no small part to the fact that you and the others horde much-needed lore in your fortress that you call a ‘school’. Severus, the time for reform is here. Hogwarts needs to be recognized as an official branch of the Wizards’ Council. There is much we can share, much good we can do each other. You would have access to resources that I know for a fact you are currently struggling with.”

“And at what price would that come?” Godric demanded. “I am unwilling to sacrifice the neutrality of our school, to trade it away for a handful of coins. In this new era, knowledge is far, far more valuable.”

“Is it knowledge you crave? Or power?” Longbottom asked, the accusation ringing clearly.

Helga stepped in. “As distasteful as the idea of administrative oversight may sound, Longbottom is correct. There is much we have struggled with in the early days of our school. We can put limits in place as to the degree with which our affairs may be interfered.” She cast a sidelong glance at Godric. “I for one am comfortable with putting limitations upon the… military wing of Hogwarts.”

Salazar Slytherin nodded in agreement, and Godric voiced his displeasure, “And what limitations did you have in mind?”

William Umbridge looked down over the top of his glasses, “Yes, and I am curious what limitations you had in mind with respect to our influence.”

“Yes, I think that it is only fair and proper to demand that we are consulted when matters of international or interspecies relationships may be significantly impacted.” Albert Dumbledore spoke loudly from the back of the room.

Longbottom spoke up again “Yes, that fiasco with your sword has given the Goblins much reason to rally against us. They, like we, were not entirely in favor of such an accord.”

Severus Hortensius stepped in, before the matter could escalate. “We shall discuss the issue of Goblin insurgency in due time. And make no mistake, it is something that absolutely must be discussed. But we must come to an accord as to how Hogwarts will operate in the future. And another matter that needs attention in this regard is the attendance of Hogwarts.

“If you are to be granted a degree of privilege above and beyond that of a private institution, you must be aware of how your policies may be interpreted as an extension of the policies of the Council. Acceptance of those of mixed lineage by Hogwarts could, for example, be seen as tacit acceptance by the Council, perhaps even a mandate, to water down the blood of Atlantis.”

“Water down?” Godric exclaimed. “I thought that we were above this sort of arrogance and hubris.”

“There is no need to preach. We have heard the lecture many times, but you seem not to have heard our rejoinder. It is not a matter of intolerance, it is simply that we wish to proceed with caution for now. It is simply the fact that, as of yet, we still do not know the impact of diluting the blood of Atlantis.” Slytherin retorted.

Helga rolled her eyes. It was the same argument, but this time they had an audience. They went through the motions of appearing to argue with each other. Helga, and for that matter, everyone else in the room, knew full well that Godric and Salazar were arguing for the benefit of the crowd, not each other. Typically, Helga and Rowena could respectively calm Godric and Salazar, but Headmistress Ravenclaw was at Hogwarts; politics or no, there was still a school to run.

“Yes, and as we discussed previously, it is observable fact that the strength of one’s blood has no impact on the power that they may wield. Some of our best students are half-blood or less, and could easily out-magic those in your own house.” Godric added.

‘Yes, and as we have also discussed, it is an observable fact that the purity–” Salazar hesitated and reworded himself. “That the strength of one’s connection to Atlantis has measurable environmental impacts. One need only compare the Slytherin common room to that of, say, Gryffindor’s, to see the difference.”

Godric paused for a moment. His voice no longer carried the self-assured fire of before, and he proceeded hesitantly. “Are you so sure that is a good thing? I agree that magic flows more freely within your halls than my own. But with that power comes… danger.”

Salazar narrowed his eyes, “You have danced around this point for weeks, ever since returning from Azkaban. It is not a concern that you have ever brought up in our long years together.” He looked Godric in the eyes, who instinctively cast them downward. Slytherin growled, emphatically. “What did you see there?”

“What I saw…” Godric faltered, but then like a climber unexpectedly finding solid purchase, continued with renewed fervor, “What I saw was the danger and devastation that one person can wield. Lord Foul has inflicted a terrible evil upon not just our people, but the entire land as well. As we have seen, he is experimenting with magics that are dangerous even to the most reckless among us. And that is coming from me,” he added with a rare tone of self-deprecating humor. It seemed to work, as several members of the Wizard’s Council were smiling.

Longbottom seized this opportunity. “You see? They cannot agree, even among themselves! Yes, we should be mindful of the danger that one man may possess, Godric. Not only did you drive a rift between the Goblin communities, but you then massacred an entire regiment of them. They are a threat to our country, now. Even those who were on your side, they did not look kindly upon that spilled blood.”

“Damn them, and damn anyone who served Lord Foul. I taught you myself when you were at Hogwarts, Longbottom. You were renowned for your bravery. Have you truly fallen so low as to cower beneath such little feet?”

A few members of the council laughed. Longbottom turned red, “I would not underestimate them, were I you. They are, more and more, becoming armed. They have lost their lore, and in response have taken up wands. Combined with their mastery of artifice, they present a a very real threat.”

Hortensius was growing exasperated with the several different directions the conversation was taking, but had given up trying to corral it. After all, they had time to cover all points, even if it were not in the original order Severus had envisioned. “Yes, and you propose a limitation on their access to Wizard-made wands?”

“At the minimum, yes. They must be regulated, monitored. To say nothing of the matter of the dwindling supply of wands since Madame Ollivander’s absence.” He offered an olive branch to Godric, “What Godric had done with Ragnuk the Rampant, was, in its own way, brilliant. I propose that we can enforce similar such limitations upon them, under the guise of such mutually beneficial relationships?”

Godric clearly did not see the olive branch as a peace offering, “Limitations such as those you wish to enforce upon Hogwarts?”

Longbottom smiled, placatingly, “Godric. You are a wizard, not a Goblin. Although we are concerned that you may upset the game board, we are quite certain that we all play with the same color pieces. I do not share that same certainty with respect to the Little.”

Godric harrumphed, but Helga stepped in, changing the subject slightly, “But there is the matter of logistics… I am unsure as to whether Madame Ollivander would take kindly to such impositions upon to whom she can and cannot sell her wares.”

“Yes, well, Madame Ollivander is not here, is she?” William Umbridge piped up.

Hortensius rapped the Line of Merlin on the stone podium to demand silence. “The matter of what we do with the Goblins is a discussion for members of the Council, not the Founders of Hogwarts. We have called you here to discuss one specific aspect of the Edict, not all the points in their entirety. I suggest that we finish that discussion so that the Wizard’s Council may deliberate on their own matters.”

The council reluctantly nodded their agreement and began discussing anew the regulations that would be placed upon Hogwarts. It was over the span of several hours that the finer points of the Edict of Hortensius were hashed out and debated. When they had finally finished discussing Hogwarts, they bade the Founders to make their exit.


“I don’t like it.” Godric said, departing the meeting chamber with Salazar and Helga, looking up at the Archway. After the battle at Azkaban, representatives of the Aurors and several members of the Council had answered his urgent calls. He stayed there until enough of them arrived, but in the meantime he made sure to clean up much of the gruesome mess that had been made as he battled his way to the lowest floor. If they had seen the true extent of it, it was unlikely that the last meeting would have been as amicable as it was.

It took the group several hours, but they had successfully removed the entire inner core of the triangular tower, leaving it with a hollow center that extended up to the top through which the Archway was levitated up, up, and away. As Godric walked through the spiral staircase back to the top of the tower, the effect was chilling. He could see into almost all the rooms in the tower from any vantage point on the staircase.

There was a small note of confusion that he had trained himself not to ignore. This layout did not make sense. Why would a tower be designed in such a way? From a rough glance, it seemed that several of the chambers were previously inaccessible prior to the removal of the inner core. It didn’t make sense. Although he was not an expert in magical architecture, he had picked up a thing or two in the many long nights spent designing and building Hogwarts castle.

The triangular shape was not optimal, architecturally. The original plan was to simply blast the hole out the side and remove the Archway through the opening. But a few cursory charms to inspect the structure of the tower revealed that any such attempt would, in all likelihood, cause the entire tower to collapse upon itself.

How was it that the tower would have such an obvious architectural weak point, but that it was further built in such a way that the entire center could be removed with no ill effect? There was only one conclusion to be drawn, and it was chilling: this was deliberately designed. Whether Lord Foul had built Azkaban himself was unknown, but whoever did, it seemed clear that what Godric saw now was its intended final shape.

He voice these concerns to the other Founders, who personally visited the tower and scrutinized the Archway. Rowena Ravenclaw concluded that the tower was built to temporarily house the Archway. Further, she deduced that the curious metal ring with which the Goblin leader had escaped, was somehow linked to the Archway.

They had done all manner of experiments. Passing inanimate objects through the veil seemed to have no effect. Similarly, mundane living creatures could pass freely. Magical creatures, however, reacted very differently. No creature seemed willing to enter the Archway of its own volition. At first they tried immobilizing Cornish Pixies, and floating them through with magic. But the creatures resisted so intensely that they managed to break the bonds of the Immobulus charm.

After a few similarly failed attempts, they used magically reinforced leather straps to tie a Pixie down to a long length of rod, which they extended through the Archway from a distance. The sprite hissed venomously as they hoisted it into the air, but as it drew closer and closer to the veil, that hiss became a shriek. It shook violently within its bonds, trying desperately to escape, and eventually the shriek gave way to a wail of terror. Salazar held the rod, and continued to dispassionately proceed despite the fact that Rowena was visibly distressed.

As it past the threshold, the struggling immediately ceased. The light left its eyes. It was dead.

Helga Hufflepuff walked to the other side of the Archway, “Same over here. Dead. And Godric, you are certain that Lord Foul walked through the archway and simply ‘disappeared’?”

“Yes. Absolutely certain.”

Further experiments showed a certain magical resonance occurring between the Archway and the ring whenever living creatures passed through the veil. No matter what variables they manipulated, the end result was always death. The one thing they had not tried, however, was a creature of true sentience. A human. However, the need to decipher the Archway’s mystery did not seem to be so great that it justified the monstrous cost.

It was Salazar that suggested experimenting on prisoners, those who were already sentenced to death for their crimes. It was a notion that none of them were particularly comfortable with, and required the explicit consent of the council. But the Council seem far less concerned with the ethical implications, and far more concerned with simply solving the mystery. And a few less criminals in the world was no skin off their backs, because after all, the members of the Council were not criminals.

In the end, the result was the same. The first three prisoners, all dead. But the  curious observation was made that there was no Death Burst of any kind. They would have been able to detect if the Burst had simply been channeled through the Archway. To be fair, not every sudden death of a wizard or witch resulted in a Death Burst; it was roughly one in two deaths. As such, Rowena pointed out that there was still a one in eight chance that this would happen by pure random chance. The Wizard’s Council helpfully pointed out that they had several more prisoners that could be experimented upon.

A brief debate ensued concerning what their limit would be. After all, you can send one hundred men through, and even if there were no Bursts, it could still be nothing more than dumb luck. How many men were they willing to sacrifice before being satisfied? On this, Godric and Salazar were of the same mind: if they were to die anyway, what was the harm? So they agreed: five more prisoners. And if the same result was observed, they would have their conclusion.

Five prisoners walked through the Archway, five more died. No Death Bursts.

Besides the most obvious sign of death, the cessation of all activity associated with life, there were none of the other telltale indicators that the victims had passed. It was almost as if it simply transported the life force of its victims to someplace else entirely. But that still didn’t explain how Lord Foul had simply disappeared, unlike the others. There was another hypothesis to be tested: being a tremendously dark wizard and the very inventor of the Horcrux ritual itself, it was overwhelmingly likely the Lord Foul was in possession of one, if not several of the phylacteries.

Sacrificing a prisoner for the sake of science was already walking the very darkest edges of the grey area of morality. But overwriting their very life force in order to create a Horcrux? Even Salazar Slytherin was unwilling to go that far. By happy coincidence, however, Dark Evangel, a witch whom Godric had personally defeated half a century prior, had left behind a Horcrux of her own. Like most dark witches and wizards, she was prone to folly, and wore the Horcrux openly around her neck: a glittering silver pendant which now rest safely within the Keep of Mysteries.

More than willing to be rid of the terrible artifact, Severus Hortensius authorized the Unspeakables to remove it from its protective chamber. A veritable army of Aurors led by Lord Longbottom himself was gathered in the chamber that contained the Archway, ready to strike in the event of some unforeseen dark magic.

Godric did the honors, and flung the pendant through the Archway. In retrospect, that particular experiment was quite foolish. For all they knew, the spell could have triggered a blast which knocked the entire room unconscious. Although they had safeguards in place, levels and levels of safeguards, Magic is unpredictable and doesn’t always follow the rules. In fact, it rarely does.

Nonetheless, nothing particularly sinister happened. Save for the prone, childlike, unconscious form of Dark Evangel hurtling through the other side of the Archway, following the flight path of the pendant, which was nowhere to be found. Immediately, a dozen or more bolts of light, concussive waves, fans of ice and pillars of stone shot from the wands of the assembled group, stunning, sapping, imprisoning, and in one unfortunate case, eviscerating her.

That was unexpected.

She was kept on the cusp of life, and all manner of detection charms and rituals were used upon her, which revealed that her spirit was anchored. There was no trace whatsoever of any Horcrux connection. Satisfied that she did not pose the threat of revival, one of the Aurors snuffed out her remaining life, and a brief pulse of energy shockwaved through the room as the veil rippled softly.

“Lock it down, now.” Rowena demanded. She immediately went to work upon sealing the portal, and prepared a charm that spread as a diffuse, barely visible mist that blanketed the room. “It goes without saying that the results of this experiment should not leave this room. I have placed a Trace upon us all, and so if it does, I shall know. And more importantly, Godric shall know, and as you all are well aware, he does not wear the crown of restraint or ethics as heavily as I do.”

The Aurors in the room looked uncomfortably at the diadem on her head and the sword in Godric’s hands. The threat was effective, although uncomfortable. Although there were several paths to reconstructing a bodily form using a Horcrux, this one was surprisingly simple. They did not relish the prospect of being under constant attack from erstwhile servants of previously fallen dark lords.

Presently, the archway now sat, unused, for several months within the Keep of Mysteries before the day that the Wizards’ Council had convened to discuss the Edict of Hortensius. As Godric walked from the room, he could hear whispers from beyond the veil, calling to him. They all could, and they all heard something different.

Godric heard the slow, sad wail of a Phoenix’s cry.


Elizabethan Tearoom

The eight men sat in the cozy room, whose exposed oak beams and soft, velvet covered furnishings provided the perfect atmosphere in which to relax before venturing out into a strange, timeless world. Presently, they were playing Dragon poker. How else would they pass the time? Although, time was perhaps a bit of a misnomer. They were on their hundred, thousand, millionth hand? They couldn’t keep track. They were on some hand of dragon poker when they heard voices from beyond the unopenable door to the north. They had tried, of course, to leave. But such a strong feeling of dread overcame them that they found themselves incapable.

Although they couldn’t leave the room through the door, there was a Judas window installed through which they could view the outside world. They rarely bothered; it was quite boring, to be frank. But now there were sounds, which was new, so one of them stood up to investigate the disturbance., and opened up the porthole to see the source of the disturbance. As soon as he did, a silvery pendant was flung unceremoniously through, hitting him square in his face.

“Oi! That was rude!” He cried.

The other men looked up. “What is it?” one asked.

“Something shiny, I reckon. Give it here.” The man closest to the pendant grabbed it, and another lumbered over trying to get a closer look, and tugged on the chain in an attempt to take it. “Oi, gerrof!”.

The other men rolled her eyes and watched the two wrestled bawdily for control. One of the men who was still playing laid his cards down on the table, “Read ’em and weep, boys. Straight flush!”

“Not so fast, Gilesbie.” Travers grinned as he laid down the Dragon card, and paired it with the deuce. “Reverse-o!”

Gilesbie groaned, and began collecting the cards to shuffle for the next hand.


The Edict of Hortensius, although remembered later in history primarily for its restriction of wand ownership, was rightfully hailed at the time as a brilliant political masterpiece. Its original intent was to settle the long-standing concern over the growing autonomy of Hogwarts by establishing an independent Board of Governors that, although did not explicitly answer to the Council, was nonetheless influenced by them.

It maintained Hogwarts’ neutrality by ensuring that no member of the Wizards’ Council could simultaneously be a member of the Hogwarts’ governing board. But it had also satisfied the Council’s desire for a degree of oversight by granting board positions solely to the heirs of the various most prominent members of the Council.

In doing so, it also addressed a growing but unstated problem: the heirs of those on the Council were well of age at this point, and many had heirs unto themselves. They were growing restless, hungry for power, but their fathers and mothers had no plans on dying anytime soon, and creating additional seats on the Council was not a desirable option.

It even managed to address the ever growing concern of wand supply. Ever since Madame Ollivander’s son had graduated from Hogwarts and taken over the family business, the production of new wands was vastly limited. Ollivander the Elder had clearly not passed her expertise down, and she rarely made appearance at the store. Each year, their vast supply of wands she had created over the centuries began to dwindle precipitously, and unless Ollivander resumed production or passed on her lore, there would be none left within the span of a few decades.

In a move would satisfy both the prudent and the purists, the Edict of Hortensius demanded that all Ollivander wands in the civilized world be returned to the Wizard’s Council within one year’s time. Those wands would be registered and then returned to their owners, provided they could demonstrate an appropriate knowledge of magical safety. For the vast majority of wizards, this meant either having attended Hogwarts themselves, or having a living heir who is attending or had attended the school.

The move drew out the few Methuselahn, heirless wizards that the Council knew existed, and had long wanted to keep tabs upon. Those who did not present themselves were greatly weakened, for in a shocking, rare public appearance, Madame Ollivander gave her support of the Edict, and pledged to enact a grand ritual at the end of the yearlong deadline, which would render her creations useless were they not subject to the registration process.

In one deft stroke, Severus Hortensius had eased the tensions between three powerful and disparate groups of interest, and had further consolidated power in the civilized world in the hands of the Council and its heirs.

But alas, every river of good intentions must eventually terminate, flowing out into a sea of unintended consequences.


The Urgod Ur
Ackle
1107 C.E.

“Do not be so hasty to deny this opportunity, Surdod.” Godrod spoke, emphatically.

“I agree. Let us not show the same ignorant intolerance as the humans and reject him out of hand simply because he is not Goblin.” Haddad agreed.

Surdod slammed his first upon the table. “It is because of him that Ulak the Unconquered has fallen. Ulak and his kin chose to follow the Archon, and paid for it with blood. I wish to see no more goblin blood on this man’s hands, or any man!”

“Yes, but let us not forget whose sword actually drew that blood. That man is the one upon whom the Archon proposes war.” Bilgurd offered amicably.

“Need we escalate this cycle of death? Say we win, what then? Do you truly think that humans, in their perpetual bloodlust and ignorance,” He nodded his head at the Archon Heraclius Hero, who sat in the guest chair at the table. “Present company excluded, of course. Do you really think they will let such a blow go unreturned? Of course not! They will wage war.” Surdod retorted.

“Then war they shall have!” Haddad roared. “They seek to take our wands, they seek to remove the ability with which we may defend ourselves from their ever encroaching advances. Somehow they have bamboozled or coerced Madame Ollivander, who was a friend to all of our kind, and I believe her when she says that our wands will turn to sticks in our hands if we do not submit to their slavery. We must strike before that happens.”

Surdod sighed. “And what good will that do? We cannot control Madame Ollivander: our wands will still be useless, war or no. What do you suggest, that we send our younglings to that human school to have their minds filled with rot and poison? Do you propose that we take over the school, and teach humankind our secrets? Or do we simply refuse entry to all but Goblins?

“At the end of all these paths lie ruin. The covenant that the Four Founders and the Board of Governors signed, bound by the Cup of Dawn itself, dictates that all parties much reach a supermajority on any matters which ‘significantly impact the course and direction of the curriculum or administration of Hogwarts’. Such an agreement cannot be coerced, it must be entered into freely. In their spite, the humans would never agree to allow us our wands.”

Godrod nodded. “Then it is they who send us into the cycle of death, not us. We cannot simply sit idly by while they trample our people. I speak to you now as a friend, Sodrod. I know that you have been hesitant to send our people to war, and with good cause. Your voice of reason has been much appreciated and greatly valued. However, we stand now at the precipice of a new era. Already, our magic wanes. Wizards wish to crush us beneath their heels. It is often more brave, more honorable, more difficult to stay one’s hand than to strike. But now is not one of those times. If we stay our hand, it will be cut off. If we put down our spears, they shall be stolen. We are stuck between the hammer and the anvil, forced into a choice not of our own making. It is a terrible choice, yes, but one that we cannot afford not to make. This is the future of our very race at stake, and sadly now we must fight for that future!”

An overwhelming majority of the goblins at the table cheered loudly at this. Bilgurd, Sodrod and a few others looked at each other, dubiously exchanging meaningful glances, and eventually nodding amongst themselves.

After a time, Sodrod spoke. “Very well. Let us decide then, on whether to ally with this man who proposes war against Wizards.”

Archon Heraclius Hero, who had been silent up until this point, raised his open hand, and the room grew quiet. “Before you decide, I would like to speak. Because I do not wish you to enter into such a decision lightly. You must understand that, although I disagree with Sodrod’s hesitance to fight, he is correct in that it is unlikely that Lady Ollivander will change her course. By allying with me, you embrace a new era, but it will be a darker era. Many magicks will be lost, and must one day be rediscovered. I can help you with this, I can help you to shine a light in the darkness, but darkness will come, make no mistake.

“Those who knew Ulak, they should know that I did not view him as a subordinate, but truly as equals. If you ally with me, you do not take on a master, but rather, an advisor, a general to fight under your banner. But make no mistake, this will be not be a battle, it will be a war over the span of centuries. Many of you in this room will die. Many of your children will die. Many of your children’s children’s children will die as a result of the seeds we sow in the coming year. If we win, it will not be a happy victory, but it will be a necessary one.

“I know that this likely will dampen your ardor, I can see that many of you are still reluctant, and my warnings will make more of you so. But I respect your people too much to try to win you over with honeyed words and clever rhetoric. I speak to you plainly, so that you may truly know the risks in which you are about to engage.”

The surrounding goblins nodded grimly, understanding. A long moment of silence passed, as they considered and weighed his words. Eventually, the vote was called, and the goblins began to raise their hands. The decision was unanimous.

Meldh smiled to himself.

All too easy…

Orders of Magnitude: Omake – Trump Card

Author’s note:
A large portion of this dialog is borrowed from HPMOR, starting with “When I had devised my great creation…” and ending with “…from where he stood by the cauldron.”


Igbo-Ukwu 
Present Day

She-Who-Calls-The-Dead and her nameless daughter fluttered through the sky, following the elder human and younger human, who walked hand-in-hand towards the Dead Place. Here and there, they pecked at holes in the ground that they thought might contain worms, or perhaps a nice, fat bug or two. After some time, the two humans stopped.

“The elder one will be greeted by Grandmother Death shortly, youngling.”

“How do you know this, mother?”

She-Who-Calls-The-Dead lifted her beak in the air, and ruffled her wings. “There is a smell about the air, a feel to the wind. You will learn it in time, dear. For now, you can simply trust me.”

“I’m scared.”

“As you should be, but you will be safe. The spirits of human-kind are big, and they are frightening, but they cannot harm you. We must do as we have always done. We will call to them, mimicking the voice of their ancestors. Their ancestors will call to them as well. And they must choose which call to follow to the Sunless Lands.”

“And if they choose to follow us?”

“Then you shall gain a Spirit, daughter. And you shall gain your name.”

“But what of them?”

“What happens to the humans when they pass into the Sunless Lands, I do not know. We birds hear much, but that is beyond even our reach.”

“How many Spirits do you have, mother?”

She-Who-Calls-The-Dead cocked her head. “You will learn in time that is not a question you should ask aloud. The truthful answer is, I do not know. I lost count around one hundred and seven.”

Her nameless daughter cawed in surprise. “What are they doing now?”

“They are telling their stories. They are people of stories, of tales, like we are. They are telling the tale of the All-Conqueror, who created his own twin in order to help him rule the world. His twin then rose up and imprisoned him. Despite this, the All-Conqueror still offered his counsel from beyond the walls of his prison. Together, they flew to the Sunless Lands and conquered Grandmother Death.

“The women of the tribe tell a different version of the story altogether. In their story, the All-Conqueror creates his own twin without intending to do so. The two are mortal enemies from the very beginning, and after many long seasons of war, the twin finally defeats the All-Conqueror, whose mind has grown frail with the rot of evil.”

There was silence for a time as She-Who-Calls-The-Dead pecked at the ground, idly. After a bit, her daughter spoke.

“Which one is the true tale?”

“Ah, my daughter. Well, we birds have our own tale as well. Come, roost. We have time to wait before we must make our calls. I shall tell you our story.”


Hogwarts Castle
June 13th, 1992
Another Time, Another Place

“My original plan this evening was to retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone from the Mirror, and then dispose of you. However, I was visited by a prophecy a few short hours ago, which has significantly altered the course of my plans. Something about the words and the images they invoked indicated that the very threads of time are tangled and looped, which makes this prophecy all the more dangerous, even moreso than the one that marks you as the destroyer of this world.

“Simply put, new information was revealed to me, and I see that there is something far greater at stake than this world: all worlds. It seemed that I have a choice. The particulars of the prophecy, I shall not share, but there is one portion that I believe is for the ears of both Tom Riddles.”

The Professor closed his eyes, and when he spoke, it was not his own voice, it was a hollow, clipped imitation, and the echoed syllables carried with them meaning far beyond the words themselves.

“YOU MUST CHOOSE TO FOLLOW THE PHOENIX OR SOLVE THE RIDDLE”

He opened his eyes. “It seems that fate has a sense of humor when it comes to wordplay. There are several levels of meaning to that, some more obvious than others, and in due time you will discover that meaning for yourself.

“The most surface level interpretation, and thus the one most generally applicable, is the choice I face tonight: do I follow the Phoenix or do I solve the Riddle? Every problem, every great catastrophe that has befell our world has a cause and an effect. Are you familiar with the tale of Estremoz?”

“No.” Harry responded flatly.

“Estremoz was once a grand and glorious city, where wizards flourished in peace. Many great magical innovations were made there, and it was a hub of culture and art. A great wizard known only to the world as Lord Foul was concerned with the fate of this world, much as I am, and was convinced that the four founders of Hogwarts were misguided in teaching such terrible, dangerous magics to young students who could barely contain their powers. And so he threatened war upon them.

“He summoned a great and terrible beast, thought by many to be indestructible, from the depths of the underworld, and he set this beast upon the city of Estremoz. And so, the four founders had a choice: they could band together and protect the city, or they could band together and fight the wizard who summoned the threat and prevent it from ever happening again.

“It is a variation on the trolley problem, which given your Muggle upbringings, I am quite sure you are familiar with.”

Harry nodded.

“And so, when presented with a problem with a clear cause and clear effect, do you address the effect immediately, saving a handful of lives in the short term? Or do you address the cause, allowing the effect to go unchecked, but hopefully saving many more in the long run?”

“Both. You always strive for both. It doesn’t have to be a choice. You cheat. You win.” Harry’s reply was more passionate than he intended.

The Professor laughed. “Are you so sure you were not a Gryffindor? That was Godric’s response as well. But he learned, as you will one day learn, that one person simply cannot do everything, that hard choices must be made, that you cannot always have your cake and eat it too. That being said: you are forced to pick between the two. Which do you pick?”

“If I had to choose, well, you do what saves the most lives in the long run. That’s what you have to do. That’s with any sane, rational, good person would do.”

At this, Quirrell smiled. It was a cruel, condescending smile. It carried no hint of mirth. “Yes, yes indeed. And that is with the founders did. And so they ended Lord Foul’s reign of terror. His great beast, the Tarrasque, it razed the city of Estremoz. Left unchecked, it rampaged through the beautiful marble buildings, and killed every man, woman, and child, before it went to hunt those who had escaped.

“How the Tarrasque was contained is unknown, and there are several legends that attempts to explain this. A popular tale that is tangentially relevant to our current situation is that one of the escapees was in possession of the true Cloak of Invisibility. With it, he was able to hide from the Tarrasque, who was bade with the task of extermination. Absent a master to call it down, it would not rest until it had completed its goal. And so it wandered the world in search of its final quarry.

“The legend says that the sons of that man laid the Cloak over him on his death bed, and that he passed me on this world of life from underneath that shroud. And thus his passing went unnoticed by the beast. So to this day the Tarrasque still wanders, searching in vain.

“The loss of Estremoz was a terrible tragedy, and the wizarding world blamed the founders. Despite doing the right thing, they were cursed for it, hated for it. It is amusing how they were cursed by virtue of their ability. No one cursed the common simpleton who had neither the strength nor will to fight such a beast. No, they cursed the only people who could possibly protect them. If Dumbledore were not intercepting your mail, refusing the petitions of countless hundreds from every corner of the globe, you would see how people curse your name, how they hate you for doing nothing to solve their mean, personal little tragedies.

That is the curse of competence, that you are forced to make those choices, between ‘right’ and ‘more right’. And so that brings us to now. When I had devised my great creation and come into the fullness of my magic, I thought the time had come for me to take political power into my hands. It would be inconvenient, certainly, and take up my time in ways that were not enjoyable. But I knew the Muggles would eventually destroy the world or make war on wizardkind or both, and something had to be done if I was not to wander a dead or dull world through my eternity. Having attained immortality I needed a new ambition to occupy my decades, and to prevent the Muggles from ruining everything seemed a goal of acceptable scope and difficulty.

“It is a source of continual amusement to me that I, of all people, am the only one really taking action towards that end. Though I suppose it would make sense for the mortal insects not to care about their world’s end; why should they, when they are just going to die regardless, and can save themselves the inconvenience of trying to do anything difficult along the way?

“But I digress. I saw how Dumbledore had risen to power from his defeat of Grindelwald, so I thought I would do the same. I had long ago taken my vengeance on David Monroe – he was an annoyance from my year in Slytherin – so I bethought to also steal his identity, and wipe out his family to make myself heir of his House. And I conceived also a great foe for David Monroe to fight, the most terrifying Dark Lord imaginable, clever beyond reckoning; more dangerous by far than Grindelwald, for his intelligence would be perfected in all the ways that Grindelwald had been flawed and self-destructive. A Dark Lord who would do his cunning utmost to disrupt the alliances who would fight him, a Dark Lord who would command the deepest loyalty from his followers through his oratical skills. The most dreadful Dark Lord who had ever threatened Britain or the world, that was who David Monroe would defeat.”

Professor Quirrell’s mallet struck a bellflower and then a different pale flower with two more thuds. “But then, while I had sometimes played the part of Dark Wizard in my wanderings, I had never adopted the identity of a full-fledged Dark Lord with underlings and a political agenda. I had no practice at the task, and I was mindful of the story of Dark Evangel and the disaster of her first public appearance. According to what she said afterward, she had meant to call herself the Walking Catastrophe and the Apostle of Darkness, but in the excitement of the moment she introduced herself as the Apostrophe of Darkness instead. After that she had to ruin two entire villages before anyone took her seriously.”

“So you decided to try a small-scale experiment first,” Harry said. A sickness rose up in him, because in that moment Harry understood, he saw himself reflected; the next step was just what Harry himself would have done, if he’d had no trace of ethics whatsoever, if he’d been that empty inside. “You created a disposable identity, to learn how the ropes worked, and get your mistakes out of the way.”

“Indeed. Before becoming a truly terrible Dark Lord for David Monroe to fight, I first created for practice the persona of a Dark Lord with glowing red eyes, pointlessly cruel to his underlings, pursuing a political agenda of naked personal ambition combined with blood purism as argued by drunks in Knockturn Alley. My first underlings were hired in a tavern, given cloaks and skull masks, and told to introduce themselves as Death Eaters.”

The sick sense of understanding deepened, in the pit of Harry’s stomach. “And you called yourself Voldemort.”

“Just so, General Chaos.” Professor Quirrell was grinning, from where he stood by the cauldron. “You, the destroyer of worlds, I could trivially end your threat. In doing so, I would save this world. But it may come at the price of losing everything. In those hours between hearing the prophecy and now, I have done a great deal of thinking, and have devised a plan. Either way, I suspect it shall end in my favor.

“Despite everything, you still see the good in people. You still trust the democracy of idiots. I plan to disavow you of that trust. I will use the Stone to revive myself to my full glory as Lord Voldemort. And, I shall further use it to revive your friend, Miss Granger. The world can ill afford another wizarding war, and so I will enter the world of mundane politics. Cornelius Fudge has six years left on his term, at which point coincidentally, according to our ancient customs, Miss Granger will be of age to oppose me in my bid to become Minister for Magic.”

Harry could already see where this is going, and interrupted, “That’s a rigged game. I will not play it. People would vote for you out of fear, they would remember the last war, they would not vote for you because they truly thought it was right.”

“Of course you are correct, Mr. Potter. That is why I would publicly take the Unbreakable Vow, I would bind myself to not extract any sort of revenge or harm upon any of those who may choose to vote against me.

“You will have six years to groom her, The Girl Who Revived, to battle for the souls of this country against He Who Must Not Be Named. Six years to employ all your tools of reason and persuasion to oppose me while I appeal to the dark heart of humanity. You know that I am not a good person, Potter, and I will not attempt to disguise that fact. I will openly display my vileness. I will call people to me with my cries of intolerance and wanton displays of ignorance. And you, Mr. Potter, will see the folly of trust.”


Igbo-Ukwu 
Present Day

“But how, mother? Why? Why did the people choose evil over good? How can this be true?”

She-Who-Calls-The-Dead cocked her head, and flapped her wings gently towards her daughter. “No one believes what they are doing is evil. When doing wicked deeds, one believes that one is choosing from the lesser of two evils. Or worse still, the greater of two goods.

“And furthermore, I did not say the story was true. We are Drongo birds. We are tricksters, for every truth we tell, we tell ten falsehoods. It is our nature.”

“But tell me mother, I must know. Is this a true tale? Or is this a falsehood?”

Her mother cawed. “That is the curse of the Drongo bird. We may never know. Now, come. They are standing, it is almost time.”

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 10: I Love The Way You Lie (pt. 2)

‘Twas down the glen, one Easter morn
To a city fair rode I
There armored lines of goblin-kind
In squadrons passed me by
No pipes did hum, no battle drum
Did sound its rare tattoo
While the Angelus bells o’er the Liffey’s swells
Rang out in the foggy dew.

‘Twas wizards bound our ancient lore
So that our nations would not be free.
Their lonely graves at Bas Cliabhan’s waves
On the fringe of the great North Sea
Those who died by Ulak’s side
They stood both tall and true
Their names we shall keep where our fathers sleep,
‘Neath the shroud of the foggy dew.

And the bravest fell while the requiem bell
Rang mournfully and clear.
For those who died that Easter-tide
In the springtime of the year.
The world did gaze with deep amaze
At those fearless ones, but few.
Who bore the fight so freedom’s light
Would shine through the foggy dew.

And back through the glen, I rode again
And my heart with grief shall soar.
For I parted then with my valiant friends
Whom I ne’er shall see no more.
And to and fro in my dreams I’ll go
And I’ll kneel and pray for you.
Though slavery’s fled, o’ glorious dead
When you fell in the foggy dew.

The Ballad of Ulak the Unconquered
Author Unknown


Bás Cliábhan
1106 C.E.

Godric stared at the blade, the Sword of Ragnuk, now the Sword of Gryffindor, forged from the form of pure war. It was every weapon ever created. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the glittering, polished silver of the blade, which seemed to whisper to him, calling from beyond eternity, crying out for blood, for vengeance.

Ragnuk the Rampant had forged the sword for Godric, in exchange for a covenant between Wizards and Goblin-kind. Godric had done this without the consent of the other Founders, and Ragnuk had done this without the consent of all Goblins. Not that Godric necessarily needed the Founders’ approval; a representative of the little would always have a place at Hogwarts, covenant or no, this just formalized that understanding.

It heralded a new era of peace between these two peoples. Ragnuk the Rampant was the first in a long line of many goblin, or half-goblin teachers at Hogwarts, and his discipline was the fine art of Transfiguration, one of the most fiercely-guarded secrets of Goblin-kind.

It was a trade of necessity, of course. Goblins were not teachers, by nature. They were creators, artists. They had written volumes upon volumes, stored within the glittering vaults of Curd, Ackle, and beyond. They were not trained in the art of passing knowledge down from one living mind to another. Their speciality was in taking their knowledge and transforming it into something concrete and tangible, but dead.

Their mastery of artifice was an advantage; in some ways, they possessed some of the most eldritch powers of this new era of Magic. But their knowledge, which previously had been passed down from generation to generation in those tomes of lore, was rapidly decaying. They needed teachers to pass their secrets on, but more importantly, they needed to learn how to teach effectively.

Many goblins did not take kindly to Ragnuk’s perceived betrayal. Goblin secrets were for Goblin minds alone, they thought. They were not coins to be peddled, to be traded for carved sticks and silly incantations. But what choice did they have? Already, their charms had grown weaker, their famed prowess in battle had dampened. They needed to grow, to adapt.

And Godric, he needed a weapon, a weapon to teach him the ways of battle, the ways of bravery. He still shuddered when he dwelled on the memory of the Sword’s creation, that precious blade being forged and imbued with the essence of Void so as to take on the power of that which may harm it.

But what he remembered most was that phoenix, that precious phoenix, who had come to Ragnuk in his hour of bravery and need. He could see the pain and tears in the goblin’s beady, black eyes, and the shock in the phoenix’s final call as Ragnuk slid the blade through the fiery heart of the bird.

A heatless inferno washed over the room in an instant. The flame and the phoenix were both taken in by the blade, which glowed momentarily with an angry, ruddy light. Ragnuk held the blade in his hands and spoke.

“The blade chooses the wizard, Godric Gryffindor, not the other way around. Remember that, always. I pass this blade to you now, not in the manner of the trade of our kind. I truly give it to you, and you are its owner. It is a part of your heart, and you are a part of it. But just as you may one day give your heart to another, the blade may one day choose another as well, if need is great.”

And with that, in a burst of flame, the sword disappeared from Ragnuk’s hands and instantiated in Godric’s. Instictively, he gripped the hilt tightly, feeling the anger, the need of battle coursing through him. He could feel the finely-gilt writing that had been inlaid into the hilt of the sword, digging into his palms.

Nihil Supernum

There would be no blade that would ever come above this one. Only those of pure intent and noble heart would be able to wield it to its true potential. But such power comes with a price; it is lonely at the top, and if you find that you stumble, you will find that the rescuer hath no rescuer.

The memories washed over Godric as he stood floating above the great North Sea, staring at the triangular obelisk that jutted out of the waters, an unnatural blight on the otherwise rugged beauty of this place. This was an evil place, and within it dwelled an evil man; a dark wizard from origins unknown who was known only to the world by a series of epithets. The Grey Slayer, the Enemy, the Corruptor. He commanded a small legion of goblins who knew him as a-Jeroth, an ancient word that could roughly be translated as either “savior” or “destroyer”.

He knew that he was likely going to his death, like so many battles before this one. He waited, and waited, and waited. He knew, like those other battles, he would be waiting in vain, but he waited nonetheless, standing there, agonizing, over the call…

That wouldn’t…

Come.

His eyes flicked once to the stars above, wishing, hoping that just a single one would flash in the night. But it did not. He sighed, and steeled himself for battle. He drew the sword across his forearms, drawing blood in an ancient ritual: blood for blood. The blade took in the precious liquid, and the wounds healed themselves, but he could still feel their sting and he allowed it to fuel his anger, a reminder that death was close at hand.

He hurtled up, to the top of the tower, where six goblin guards stood watching dutifully. It saddened him to see them corrupted so. They looked among each other. They were ready. They had been expecting him. The one who was dressed in the most ornate armor and carried the most elaborate weapons spoke to the others.

“Ef yn dod, mae’r grissa ost drauka. Yw ef yma, yr un sy’n proffwydoliaeth dweud ewyllys i ddod â’r cleddyf y ffurlfen gwir rhyfel.”

The others nodded. Godric landed across from them, several yards away. The leader of the goblins then addressed Godric, in a broken, stilted form of the common vernacular. “You have come. It was said you would come. And it was said you have the choice, that you can leave now, before you bring death upon the world.”

“The only death I will bring today is upon your master, and you, if you continue to serve him. I am a friend of your people. Lay down your weapons and I shall let you leave in peace.”

The goblin spat upon the rough-hewn stone floor of the tower. “You carry the Sword of the Betrayer, he who sold our secrets to you, who would use them to tear apart this land, our world, even the stars in the sky.”

The light drizzle of rain had grown into a full-fledged storm by this point. The remainder shifted uncomfortably. They were unsure of themselves, their mission. Godric could see it clearly, that they did not truly believe in the cause. He had their attention, it was time to use their uncertainty to his advantage.

“I give you one final chance. Your minds have been twisted by your dark master. He has fed you lies, warped your thoughts. Leave now, or you shall die!”

He held his sword menacingly in the air, and nature itself seemed to respond to his battlecry: lightning crackled above, illuminating Godric’s silhouette, striking the Sword of Gryffindor itself. The power of the sword shielded Godric and those around him, taking in the force of the bolt and using it to augment its own strength. It glowed a brilliant white against the dark backdrop of night.

The goblins eyes grew wide. Good. Press the advantage. He moved to speak, but the leader of the goblins whispered softly to the others, “Ti’n gweld? Mae ei ei farcio fan fellten…”

This was not the reaction he was expecting. They stiffened, eyes narrowed. They carried themselves with grim resolve now, as if they suddenly had been given a reason to fight, a very good reason. They shifted into battle formation, and the leader shouted at Godric, “You are Death, and we shall end you!”

They shouted war cries, and rushed forwards towards Godric. They were six, six magic-wielders against one. It should have been a death sentence, but Godric was aided by War itself.

Time is finite, and as such not every subject and discipline can be studied and mastered. The art of wielding several people’s magic against one happens to be one of those disciplines. Such circumstances simply do not come up in the normal course of combat between magic users, and if it does, the situation simply takes care of itself without the need for special planning. One wizard simply cannot stand against the force of several combined.

There are rare occasions when one wizard is of such superlative power that they may stand a chance, but who could teach and train such a wizard on such circumstances? How could such a curriculum even be devised?

The result was slightly disorienting for the attackers, like playing chess against an opponent who simply does not move his pieces. Each attacker was expecting an individual, discrete response to their attack. But that is not what they were met with: his defenses were perfectly crafted to ward all of their assaults with brutal efficiency. The sword whispered hints, suggestions, and identified openings and weaknesses to be exploited.

He did not seek to wound or disable. These were servants of Death, and they had cast their lot, so he would send them to their master. They fought with a similar ferocity, for this man was the bringer of Death, and they would not allow him to bring death to their people.

It was a fight to the end, and despite being hopelessly outnumbered, Godric had them hopelessly outmatched. One of the goblins extended his arms a few inches too far when casting a curse, and the sword saw the opening. It prompted Godric to spin to avoid the bolt of light. With his left hand, he cast his wand in a fan-shaped motion to block the incoming elemental forces that were hurled his way from the blind side, and used the momentum of the spin to slice the goblin’s wand in two with the sword.

The goblin stood dumbly for a split second, mouth open, and Godric unleashed a kick which not only collapsed the lungs of the small creature, but sent him flying backward into one of his comrades behind him, who faltered. Another opportunity. Godric leapt into the air with preternatural strength, summoning wind and fire to turn aside both the physical projectiles and the gusts of ice that were directed towards him. He flipped forward in midair to dodge a series of spell-bolts, and then drove his sword downward through the top of the Goblin’s skull, all the way down until it reached the shoulder blade.

Ruined bone and brain splattered across the floor, and without sparing a moment, Godric wrenched the blade sideways, sending through it a flow of magic which caressed the dead bone of the goblin’s shoulder blade and arms, contorting them into sharpened spikes.

These were battle-hardened warriors, but even they did not expect the gruesomeness of their fallen comrade’s bones being sharpened into weapons. That surprise was the end of two more of them, as the spikes jutted outward and found their marks. The goblin leader, and one other were the only two that remained standing. There was a break in the battle.

Godric panted heavily, “Leave this place, now. Or you will die, like them.”

Ulak was the leader of the goblins, he had a wife at home, and a trio of younglings. It was for them he fought, and his eyes grew wet with the thought of them growing up without a father, of her without a husband. He wondered if they would know how he died, what he died fighting for, and whether they would continue the fight. He wondered if this man would rewrite history, turning Ulak into some callow villain.

He continued to fight, despite the rising hopelessness of the situation, breathing hard as he saw his final comrade blasted off the side of the tower with a concentrated burst of wind. With a quick glance, he saw the light had already left the goblin’s eyes before he even reached the precipice.

Although there were many more levels to the tower, levels and levels, they were the first and truly last line of defense. For if an attacker could breach their line, he could surely deal with the warriors inside. The scale of the tower was misleading; as large as it was, an outsider might think it host to an entire army, but the truth was that much of the place was unused. Ulak could not imagine a world with so many magical creatures and beings that this place could be filled to its full potential. His master apparently did.

He was staring Death in the face. Between the crackling of lightning, the downpour of rain and the crashing of the waves, it was likely that no one in the immediate lower levels heard the melee above. They had, of course, sounded the alarm from the first moment they saw the intruder, but since no reinforcements arrived from below, Ulak was certain the man had sabotaged their systems. He was not sure how, but the facts were clear. He was fighting alone.

Goblin honor dictated that he stand and fight, even if it meant his death. But what would he be dying for? There were those in the levels beneath him that would likely be slaughtered as well. And he could not risk the Gateway being lost. It occurred to Ulak that true bravery was not blindly adhering to a code laid down by those before you, that true bravery was making your own choice, even when that choice seemed impossible. Ulak would rather die than dishonor his name and the name of Goblin.

But then, some things are worth dying for.

He would not let death extend its reach any further than it had to. He would end the fight on his own terms. In one swift movement, he tore the metal ring from his belt and hurled it into the air. Godric’s wand immediately pointed towards it, tracing its flight path, but the ring expanded to several times its own width, and with a bright flash of orange light, it encased Ulak, freezing him in time.

Godric watched, his wand still following the ring, sword ready to strike, but the deed was already done. The ring, now a hoop, clattered to the ground with a loud CLANG, and Godric was alone.

Ulak, for his part, was gone. Gone, but unconquered.


On the bottom floor of the tower, Lord Foul stood, watching, waiting. He was wearing a jet-black robe, as befitting his moniker, and his face was obscured entirely by a billowing hood. As expected, the archway on the dais in the center of the amphitheater began to glow with an intense blue light, and the tattered black veil billowed violently, as if caught by some unseen gale.

This was a triumph… he thought to himself. He made a mental note, and continued to wait. He heard the clash of battle above him, the unmistakeable ringing of steel and crashes of magic and shouts of rage and cries of death. Patiently, he stood, listening, biding his time, until he could hear the footsteps clamoring down the spiral staircase near the back of the chamber.

There were a thousand and one ways that Lord Foul could have ended Godric Gryffindor long before this point, long before this battle had begun, long before Hogwarts was even founded. But now was not the time for Godric to die. No, now was the time for Godric to learn. It was time for the theatrics.

Lord Foul slowly clapped his hands as Godric made his way into the chamber.

“Congratulations, Godric, on making it this far.”

“Lord Foul,” Godric hissed.

“Lord Gryffindor,” he replied, mockingly. “I suppose you will want to have your climactic battle to the death with me here momentarily, end my reign of terror. Yes, yes, all in good time. But for now, come, come. I would like to show you something.”

Lord Foul gestured to a meter-tall lens, embellished with a fine platinum rim, affixed by an axis to a stand that looked to be carved out of an iridescent green stone. The stand could rotate, and the angle of the lens could be adjusted. The dark wizard spun the lens around to point at Godric, who could now see within its depths. He saw fire, all-consuming fire, a thousand phoenixes emerging from the conflagration.

“Do you see the phoenixes, Godric? Each one represents a choice, the choice that to this day, you have not made. Your phoenix will one day come, when you are faced with a moment that requires true bravery.”

“What do you know about bravery?” Godric spat. “You hide in this palace, you enslave a lesser people to do your bidding, you unleash your devastation from a distance. You are a coward.”

“‘Lesser people’? My, my, how high-minded of you. Are you not, as you say, ‘a friend’ to them? And yet you think of them so lowly…”

Godric grunted. “Enough word games. It is time for you to die.”

“No, it is not. I have a message for you. It is not a request. I will bring war and death to Hogwarts, for you cannot be allowed to persist in what you do. You know why you cannot be allowed to persist. You have seen it first-hand. Through this lens, I can see into your very soul.”

“Enough!” Godric drew his sword.

“Tell me, then, and speak truly, for I shall know if you are lying. You know the risks, you have seen them, you know what will happens if you continue, do you not?” Godric did not answer, he simply advanced upon Lord Foul. “Tut, tut. And you call me a coward.”

“I do call you a coward! Now show me your face and fight me!”

“And yet, you are too afraid to look inward, to embrace what you know to be true.”

“What I know is that I am doing what I must. Prophecy demands it. We must build a foundation for magic to be restored. Merlin, in his wisdom, put us in chains, because we were not ready for true power. We are teaching that responsibility, we are passing on–”

“Do not lie to me, or to yourself. You have seen the way your young wizards abuse their powers, ignore even the most basic and sensical of precautions. You teach Transfiguration to wizards who are barely of age! Already there have been accidents, already you have flirted with–”

“And what would you have us do? Stagnate? Rot? That is the world you envision, Lord Foul, a world of ruin and a world of death. That is not the world I choose to embrace, that is a world I will do everything in my power to prevent from coming to be. Yes, there are risks, but there is no risk greater than–”

“Than what? A world without magic? A world that is safe? For all of your supposed acceptance of what you call ‘Muggles’, you seem to view them much the same as you view the Goblins. Lesser. Impotent. Have you seen the wonders that they have created? You know the prophecies, you know that one day, they will reach the very stars, and they will do so without the touch, the taint of magic.”

Godric roared in anger, “They will reach the very stars in heaven so that they may tear them apart! Look at them! How they multiply, how they spread! Magic must rise, we must first raise ourselves up so that we may then raise them. Otherwise, they shall be the end of us all.”

“You speak of the prophecy, the one that goes by a thousand names. I wonder, how much do you truly know?”

“I know enough.” Godric took another step closer. They were within arms reach of each other.

“Do you? Do you truly?” There was a pause. “You know, we are more alike than you’d like to think.”

At this, Godric laughed. “Do you think you are the first dark wizard who has tried to tempt me with that speech?”

Lord Foul smiled. “No, but I am the first wizard who will show you,” And like a flash of lightning, his arm lashed out, grasping Godric’s shoulder, and he whispered a word.


Godric stood, reeling. “Ba. Egeustimentis Ba. Ba.”

“I have done nothing to alter your mind, Godric.”

“BA! BA!” He yelled, futilely.

“Say it all you like. I merely revealed new information to you. No magic can undo that.”

“Why? Why, damnit?” Godric shook his head, angrily. “What then? Why is this,” he gestured at Lord Foul’s cloak and around at the evil chamber, “Why is this the answer? How?”

“All in good time, Godric. You have served your purpose in coming here, child, and now I will take my leave.” Lord Foul turned and began to walk towards the archway.

“No!” He shouted, passionately. Lord Foul stopped, a step from the archway, and turned around. “You must tell me. How, how are we to stop this?”

“That is the riddle, isn’t it? You’ll have a choice soon. Very soon.” And with that, he removed his hood.

Godric’s eyes grew wide, and he staggered backwards. “You.”

“Goodbye, for now, Godric.” And with that, Meldh stepped through the archway.

Godric stood alone.

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 9: The Transmigration

Igbo-Ukwu
Present Day

Chinwendu and Nnamdi strode hand in hand through the ruins, holding spears in their free hands, which doubled as walking sticks. They walked for many hours, past the ruins, through the dead place. The farther they walked, the more death surrounded them. Dead grass gave way to loose scrabble and dirt, and when they at least reached their destination, Chinwendu stopped.

“We have come to this place, Nnamdi, so you may finally become a man, and hear the story of our people, that only our men may hear.”

“Why is it that only the men may hear this story?”

“The women tell their own tale, as do the birds and beasts. Such stories are not for your ears, nor is our story for them to hear. It is a tale of our people, where we came from, and where we shall go. It is a tale of our magic, how like the little weaver-bird who once flew to close to the sun, as did our people, all people. It is why we are colored the way we are, and why we must have pity and mercy on the foreign ghosts beyond our country: despite their evils, they were not graced with the presence of Anwu as we were.”

“But, how do we know that our tale is the true one, if we cannot listen to the tale of the women, or the tale of the beasts?”

“Ah, Nnamdi, you are not old like me. You have an entire world inside your head, you and all the children, when you play in the plains while the men and women work. You see the world in front of you, rigid with its rules and laws, you see the order and structure of our village and how it is not at all like the fantasies of your imagination.

“And so you grow to ignore the world and stories inside your mind. I have seen many things. I have heard many things. And if there is one bit of wisdom I may pass to you so you may pass to your sons, it is that all tales are true in their own way.

“Now sit, and you shall hear the tale my chief told me, and his chief told him before that, and his chief before that. It is a tale that stretches back uncountable seasons…”


The Palace at Arcadia
903 C.E.

THE FOUR SIDES OF THE SQUARE HAVE ENTERED THE BOARD
THEIR CRESTS SHALL BE THE BLOCKS BY WHICH MANKIND’S CUNNING SHALL WAX
THOSE WINGS WILL BEAR MAN TO THE STARS, BUT THEY AS ALL, MUST MELT
AND THE FALLEN HERO SHALL SWING HIS BLADES
AND IN RETURN THEY TOO SHALL SWING
BY THEIR ASHES THREE OF THE THREE THREE SHALL RISE
THE ENLIGHTENED TOWERS, THE HALLOWED GODDESSES, THE STOWN-HEWN SERPENTS
TOGETHER THEY MUST CHOOSE TO FOLLOW THE PHOENIX OR SOLVE THE RIDDLE

“This is… complex, to say the least,” Meldh finally spoke.

“Yes, but is a tapestry that has been woven ages ago, long before this day.” Merlin replied.

“Are you sure it is wise to keep so many threads in play as one time? The people may be ‘ants’, as you say, but I have learned that things do not always work out–”

Merlin cut him off with a gesture. “Perhaps for you. Step on an anthill, and the aftermath may be unpredictable, thousands upon thousands of them scurrying at random, barely comprehending the cataclysm that destroyed all they have built. But as surely as the sun rises, they rebuild and go on. By the time the next hill is built, the cataclysm has passed into ancient history.

“When I step on this hill, it will matter little. As you said, they are cunning. They will find a way to rebuild, as they must, and the manners in which they may do so are limited. And more to the point, all of which are to our advantage. The most obvious choice, and thus the inevitable one, is that they circumvent my Interdict by formalizing the passage of knowledge from one living mind to another.”

Meldh nodded. “A school.”

“You will either succeed in destroying that school, and we shall rebuild it again in our own image, or you will fail, and the world will unite as it never has before, in defense of a common foe and his allies. Either way, it is a victory.

“When the interdict comes to pass, it will be felt across the world. Those who did not bear witness to the event shall be confused, scared. And once they are made aware of the fact that they were not among the few who did bear witness, they will retreat, entrench their positions, resentfully hoard their lore. After a few centuries, those in the north will sense the opportunity, and embark on a great crusade to claim that lore from the hands of those with which they have split.

“As with all wars, the descendants of Atlantis will use mortal men as their pawns, and use the carnage to further their own ends. Long has the wizard-kind of this kingdom sought revenge on the Fae and the Goblins, and you shall give them further cause to do so. I suspect they shall enslave the Fae, bind them with their magic into servitude. And they shall oppress the Goblins, which will be quite convenient for us, as we can play the two against each other for centuries to come.”

Meldh considered this in silence for a moment. “And what of they holy relics? The Seljuks are in possession of Neirkalatia’s Cross, and they will not surrender it lightly.”

“The Cross shall be taken, I will see to that personally. Such artifacts of power do not fall into the hands of the masses. Its new owners will seek to protect it, shroud it in mystery. Like so many other cults of power, they will form a secret society to protect its lore, pass down its knowledge. They will shepherd it for us until Ragnarok.”

The Arch that stood behind them whispered softly, the brilliant white veil billowing slightly in the windless room. They were surrounded by marvels of gilt and glass, and dotting the room were various tables and plush chairs, constructed of the finest quality. The floor was a stone that took in the light with a soft quality such that it was not painful to look upon in full light despite being the purest of white.

Merlin began gesturing, and spoke as he did so. “I think a change of scenery is in order before we begin.”

With but a thought, their surroundings began to transform. Their sparkling glass paradise slowly melted into brilliant grey stone, and the various seating arrangements merged together into a raised amphitheater with Merlin at its center. Meldh dutifully took his place in the audience, and observed as Merlin himself changed as well. His young, brash, and beautiful form slowly melted into that of an old, wizened leader. He raised the Cup of Midnight.

When Merlin spoke, his voice was other-worldly and echoed within his mind rather than within the chamber. “Come, come, come, those of puissance, you Lords of those of flesh and blood, of all of nature’s creatures, touched by Magic. Come, come to me. It is I, Merlin, first among you, Prince of Enchanters. Come.”

He could have summoned the entire world if he had so chosen, but that would be unnecessary and foolish. A few select leaders of a few select regions would be more than sufficient to seed the legends. The true ritual would affect the entire world, regardless of those who were in attendance to witness.

Ignorance and mystery were their allies. The rulers who were not present would surely find out, and the ensuing conflict would be to their advantage. Those who were too remote to hear the news in any sort of timely fashion would create their own explanations and tales. They would remain shrouded in ignorance, their progress stymied by their lack of understanding.

Those affected by the Calling could hear the voice as clear as day, a harsh whisper from within their own minds, beckoning them: “Come, come, come to me in the seat of my power, for my days grow short.”

Merlin’s name alone was sufficient to command the audience of the most powerful wizards of the day. But even had they wanted to resist, they found themselves compelled by the inexorable pull of Merlin’s magic. One by one, they Apparated into Merlin’s tower, and the silence was punctuated by dull pop after dull pop. When the room was full, and Merlin was satisfied with the attendance, he began.

“I am old, my friends, as are many of you. So I will speak swiftly and to the point. Atlantis is gone, claimed by a horrible tragedy beyond reckoning and comprehension. It is sealed beyond time, and with it, its secrets, but most importantly, its protection. There was a time when all men had Magic as we do, and all men knew the dangers, all men knew the precautions necessary to protect themselves and the world.

“That time is no longer. Not one man in 10,000 now is a descendent of those noble people, and of those, they have not one piece in 10,000 the knowledge those people had. The world grows large, once again. And the days of one wizard ruling 10,000 men are gone. This growth, if allowed unchecked, will surely result in disaster.

“Imagine, the combined power of all in this room, multiplied by a hundred-fold, waging a great and terrible war against an equally sized force. It seems unimaginable, but within a few short centuries, that will be the reality. The world grows, and with it knowledge, and with that, threat. Magic is a great power, yes, but it is also a great responsibility, is it not?”

This remark drew grim nods from all those in attendance.

“You are not just the rulers of your lands, you are its shepherds, its stewards. Despite the cries of tyranny, despite the ungrateful accusations from the very people you protect, you stand true and noble. You give them life, you give them love, and even though they spit on your name, you allow them to grow and thrive.”

Scattered applause, a few cries of agreement.

“No man lives forever, but in spite of this, it is no secret that we live far longer than those touched by Magic. Some of you in this room several centuries old, and you who have watched the ebbs and flows of time have seen firsthand how the world has changed.

“Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr, there was once a time when your people were prosperous, and you were free to spend your days helping them build. But I have watched you over the years, and more and more of your days have been spent preparing for war and battle. You have been defending your lands rather than growing them. You withstood the barbarian hordes–”

Glewlwyd chimed in, “Yes, but that was nothing compared to the invasion of the Greeks. Of his people.” He pointed a finger at Meldh, who stood opposite Glewlwyd in the amphitheater. “You, Mundre, from the City on the River.”

“Do not pass the sins of the father down to the son. My ancestors and those who came before me may have brought war to you, but my people have recanted, we have relented, we have left you in peace, and we have opened our doors to you in the spirit of trade and prosperity.” Meldh spoke.

Merlin intervened. “And that, precisely, is the problem, my friends. Society is a fragile powder keg. It takes but one spark to ignite, to lead to war. And with our knowledge growing day by day, not only are there more potential for sparks, but the price of war becomes more and more untenable.

“I have many subjects about which I wish to speak to you, but we must respect the traditions of our kind, and so let us first begin the Ceremony of the Gifts.”

In keeping with the spirit of Noblesse Oblige, it has long been a tradition among wizardkind for the most powerful members of the community to bestow gifts and favors upon the lesser. And in that spirit of nobility, these gifts and favors were rarely for personal gain, but rather for the benefit of their subjects.

The leaders of Britain, Europe, Rome and Greece among others came forth with their requests. Advice on magical theory, assistance with enchantments that were outside their skill and knowledge, all manner of things that to Merlin were harmless bits of hedge magic and parlor tricks. The last of them, Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr, was accompanied by a chieftain from his lands of great import but very little power.

The chieftain spoke. “My lord Enchanter, Prince among Princes, this is a matter of which it embarrasses me to speak, but I must. My wife is the treasure of my heart, she has born my children and claimed my heart and soul. The thought of life with her is… The pain of those thoughts is too much to bear, much less if such a thing actually came to pass. There is a great Seer in our village, and he has foreseen that my wife will one day become the wife of Lord Edmond of the Noble House of Black. How might this fate be prevented, how might it be stopped? I know that such a request–”

“Fool!” Merlin exclaimed. “Although there are those who would argue otherwise, you should know that all prophecy is true in its own manner. We live in treacherous times. Time has but a single thread it may span: et quod dicitur erit quod. And if you differ by so much as a grain of sand, you risk a fate far worse than your wife one day marrying a noble Lord. Prophecy is not something the untrained should dwell upon.

“You may one day pass before her, would you wish her to be lonely? Perhaps her choice of husband after you were gone would be Lord Black, and perhaps he would ease the pain of your loss. Or, perhaps, in your single minded quest to avert prophecy, you neglect her and drive her into the arms of a lecherous Lord. Prophecy forms strange loops, and it is best not to entangle yourself within them. Heed the matter no more, Sir Davies, and your world shall be better for it.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“It is now on the subject of Prophecy that I wish to speak. You have all known for some time of one of the key prophecies, the once and future King who is marked by lightning and whose arrival is marked by thunder, he who shall pluck out the very eyes of heaven. This man may be our savior, or he may be our damnation, but we must not seek to delay or forestall his coming. We must simply prepare for it, and pray that when he arrives, he does not choose the path of Death for us all.”

“And how may we stop that end, how may we preserve the world of life?” Asked Meldh.

“So that we will not suffer the same fate as our forebears from Atlantis, I shall bind the world of life, and seal away the most dangerous and troublesome secrets of Magic. Knowledge spreads like a plague, and there is some knowledge that is not meant to be passed unchecked. I will ensure that the most powerful of Magicks may only be passed in their entirety from one living mind to another, to ensure a pure path of succession of such power.

“You in this room who have lived to see dynasties rise and fall know the implications of this. The most dangerous, the most powerful bits of Magic, the ones that give their wielders the most singular advantages, they will not be shared. They will be hoarded, and because no man is immortal, one day those secrets will die along with their owners.

“It is in this manner that only magic worth sharing, worth spreading, shall persist. Magic which makes life better for all rather than concentrate power in the hands of the few, that is the magic that will proliferate, that is the world we shall craft. The dark magic and eldritch rituals that are being discovered on a daily basis shall no longer freely flow to whichever lucky adventurer happens to stumble upon the grimoire of someone far more ancient and wise than himself.

“And yes, it is certain that there will be some who wish to keep these bits of Magic alive, and they will form orders and mysteries and cults designed to protect these secrets. You, who are the stewards of this world, must seek out these demons and purge them. This is my Interdict, and that is my mandate.

“But even this spellcraft, both blessing and curse it may be, shall not be enough. Man is a cunning creature, and even without the aid of Magic, his knowledge will grow, and one day their power shall surpass even ours.”

At this, the leaders of the Wizarding world looked at each other, and they were greatly troubled. Many murmured in disbelief.

“Prophecy has foretold this, that one day mankind will touch the stars, a power which is beyond even the greatest of you. But of that Prophecy, I shall speak no further. Instead, I tell you this.

“The Greeks came to our island as invaders, joining with the Faerie and the Goblins to lay waste to our places of power, as you too well remember. But Britain is a strong land, and we resisted them, showed them the rightness of our ways, and we have joined as one, combining our lore to do great things.

“There will be invaders in the future, but of a different sort. They will seek to bring the entire world to its knees, and with them they will bring fear and ruin. This is the Apocalypse of which I spoke. What we have here will not last, for no man is immortal. New orders will rise, and with them a new order shall arise. I have seen this, and now, I ask you to bear witness.”

As he spoke these final words, he overturned the Cup of Midnight, its effulgent, inky black Void flowing forth, blanketing the entire room, the entire world, for Life and Time. For an instant, an eternal instant, the world was dark. And in that darkness, a voice cried out. Not yet a man’s voice, but not a boy either. It spoke in hollow, clipped tones:

THE FIRES OF THE SOUL ARE GREAT
AND BURN AS BRIGHT AS THE STARS


Ha’Rova Ha’Yehudi
Moments after

Anka looked up at her mother. That was odd. The torch by which she was reading must have flickered. Or something. She blinked away the momentary darkness and looked back at the scroll. Her parents were scholars, so she was one of the few children her age who could read. She was browsing her mothers writing on the Ritual of Flight. Something about it though, something didn’t make sense. She had it moments before, but now… Once her concentration had broke, she couldn’t understand it.

She grasped the cursory incantation of Levitation, and the basic principles were the same. She read the words, and the theory should have made sense, but she just couldn’t make it work. She had seen her mother fly with her own eyes, so she knew it was possible.

“Mama,” she asked. “I don’t quite understand.”

Her mother stood up from her desk and walked over, putting a warming hand on her child’s back. “It’s quite simple, Anka dear. It’s the same premise as Wingardium Leviosa, but with a few simple tweaks. Here, let me show you.”

She walked her daughter through the bits of hand gestures and the proper frame of mind. Immediately, it clicked, and Anka understood. She performed the Ritual, and rose from her chair.

How very curious, indeed.


Zaqatala
Moments after

Georgi Abashvili was disturbed by the momentary darkness. His brother had long since taken leave of this life, but Georgi had persisted like a bad cough throughout the many years. He was old, and he could feel the ache and pain the world and in his bones. He felt that ache in a new way, now. Something was different in the rustling of the leaves, the soft gusts of wind, the way the light glittered off the Caucasus mountains in the distance. He was old, and his head was already stuffed too full of useless knowledge. Although he could not put a shape to the Interdict that lay on his mind, he could feel its presence, the same way he could always feel when someone else had sat in his favorite chair.

No matter. He had experienced upheaval before, he would experience it again. He took a long drink of goat’s milk, and wrinkled his nose slightly, for it had turned. He closed his eyes, and resumed his meditation.


The Headwaters of the Misqat’nk River, Nipmuc lands
Moments after

The guardians of the Sleeper waited, for that was their role. They waited in darkness, waiting until he who was marked by lightning would emerge forth from the Voice, and bade them wake his master. When that day would come, and not a moment earlier, they would open the sacred Scrolls, laid down by the Sleeper himself. They would read the Ritual of Awakening, learn its secrets, and call forth their master from his dreamless sleep in the City of the Dead.

Although none of them could feel it, none of them could sense it, somewhere in the forgotten soft places of the world, the Sleeper shifted in his rest, for he knew this day that he would never again wake.


Glen Nevis, Scotland
Years later

Ollivander, who now called herself Helga Hufflepuff, still reeled from Meldh’s betrayal. Her dream, her heart’s deepest desire was crushed. Meldh and his companion had lied — no. Not lied. They had told her what she wanted to hear, and that is what she heard. They said she could help with with her grand design.

She wanted to elevate all of humanity, not simply Wizards, but every last man, woman, and child, to gift them with the blood of Atlantis. She was no fool. She would implement safeguards, she would limit magic, not just for the newly ascended, but everyone. The Interdict of Ollivander, it would force magic to be channeled through a wand. Wizards across the whole of civilization were already well used to her devices, and through that she exhibited no small measure of control. She envisioned a world of wandholders, doing great, magnificent things, channeling their power through her creations.

But there were so many missing pieces, and she was not patient. When Meldh and his companion showed her the means by which she might accomplish her ends, she was blinded. She willingly relinquished control of her Cup to that man, the ruler of Magic-kind in this corner of the world. He was known for his wisdom and benevolence, and she trusted Meldh’s judgment.

She trusted him because they were bound by something far more deep than even an Unbreakable Vow: they were bound by the honor of their kind. The word of an Immortal is inviolate, it simply must be. No matter how long they may live, one simply cannot enact one’s grand plans without assistance. If their word were not their bond, what other coin could they spend? Threats are too often empty, bribes too often worthless. To violate the sanctity of one’s own word even once is to render one impotent: if you cannot be trusted, you have no allies.

So although they swore to help her, swore they would accomplish her ends, she should have listened more carefully to their well-chosen words, to the promise they both made. They did not say how, or even when they would grant the gift of Magic. They did not specify the means in which they would enforce her safeguards, only that they would see to it that the Interdict was put into place.

She knew now the true meaning of the prophecy, the one concerning the four sides of the square. She knew this was how she was to spread the Gift for the time being, and she knew that as long as Meldh was alive, there was hope.

And so it was that Helga Hufflepuff, her apprentice Godric Gryffindor, the bookkeep Rowena Ravenclaw, and the scholar Salazar Slytherin had banded together, the four pillars on which a new renaissance of Magical education would begin.

It took decades for them to plan, to execute. The sheer logistics of it were seemingly intractable at times. How would they inform the parents. How would they find the teachers? How would they pay the teachers? Who would write the curriculum? Where would the students stay and who would feed them?

Together, they mulled over these questions. Long nights stretched into bleary-eyed mornings which gave way into sleepy afternoons, all spent together, discussing, arguing. Oh, the arguing. Godric had grown now, and Ollivander in her new identity as Helga Hufflepuff had allowed herself to age as well. The sting of Meldh’s betrayal was still fresh in her mind, so perhaps it was some deep-seated desire for revenge, or perhaps it was simply that proximity had given way to fondness. But Godric and Helga began to care for each other beyond the relationship of master and apprentice, and that fondness eventually grew into love.

She would watch, enchanted, as Godric and Salazar would argue about the origins of Magic, the blood of Atlantis. Long hours were spent debating whether, (as distasteful as such segregation would be to all of them), they should only allow entry to those full-blooded Witches and Wizards.

Although she did not take his side, she understood his concern. For magic to grow, it must be nurtured. Education was essential, on this they all agreed. Further, it was a well-observed fact that Magic begets Magic. Enough Wizards gather in one place, and the air becomes electric; ideas exchange more easily, Magic flows more freely. Enough wizards settles a land for enough time, and the land itself seems to change in response, with magical creatures and plants emerging, worming their way out of the collective subconscious.

They all knew and all agreed that the amount of Magic one carried was tied to their bloodline. But, they also knew and agreed that the amount of Magic one carries is not necessarily proportionate to the amount of Magic can output at any given time. Although Achilles may have a fraction of the endurance of the Tortoise, he can still sprint far faster over a short span. A school of pure-bloods would not ensure a school of powerful Magic, but it would ensure a high concentration of raw Magic.

So it came down to a simple question of quality versus quantity. Godric believed that it would be easier to find and teach 100 half-blood wizards than it would be find 50 pure-blood wizards. Salazar believed that this would present a logistical problem: how do you scale Hogwarts to handle that kind of population growth? Godric, ever the idealist, wanted to wait to solve that problem when and if it happened. Salazar, on the other hand, was known for the detail and care that went into his plans, and such an omission did not sit well to him.

The eventual compromise was to divide the school into three houses, with Salazar managing the pure-blood lines and the other founders managing the growth of the middle-bloods. They decided that the term “half-blood” was not strictly accurate, and carried pejorative connotations. Of course, they had not foreseen the linguistic corruption that would eventually shorten “Middle-Bloods” into “Mid-Bloods” and then twist that into “Mudbloods”. Nonetheless, they would compare results after a century or so, and that would dictate the course of Hogwart’s future.

Or, that was the plan, at least. This palace of education was a necessary evil, but its growth needed to be checked and stymied. Meldh still held the sting of Ollivander’s betrayal fresh in his mind. He knew he held no claim to her heart besides that which she freely gave. He still loved her, aged or no, and to see her with the newly-aged Godric Gryffindor caused him pain. Perhaps it was some deep-seated desire for revenge, or perhaps he was simply following the path laid down by Prophecy, but when the next steps were made clear, he gladly volunteered for the task.


Igbo-Ukwu
993 C.E.

Onyekachi was the leader of the Idemmli, and he had heard the legends. They were a people of conversation; their tales were passed from father to son, mother to daughter, from living mind to living mind, as it has always been. When sharing kola nuts, they would tell the tales of their past so they may live on for as long as the Idemmli lived on. But more importantly, they would grow, change, and adapt over time. The tale of Amiodoha had changed over the generations, and that was good. It diverged as well, for the women told a very different tale than the men. In one version, Chukwu formed Amadioha in his own image, and although they quarreled as father and son do, they eventually came together and defeated Ogbunabali. In yet another, Chukwu and Amadioha were destined to be rivals, and Amadioha rose up and overthrew Chukwu’s chains and went on to have a family of his own.

Onyekachi and his son, Ikenna walked hand in hand, both holding spears in their free hands that doubled as walking sticks. They did not have to walk long before they reached the place. He stared out at the small circle of Death in the plains, running his hand idly through the bare earth that stood in stark contrast to the lush grasses that were filled with creatures, plants, and tasty things to eat. It had grown slowly over his lifetime, and eventually it would take his entire village and people. But they, like Amadioha, would fight against its inexorable tyranny until they either won, or could fight no more.

But there would be time for that later. For now, it was time for his son to hear the tale, it was time for Ikenna to become a man.

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 8: The Sudden Stop

The Palace at Arcadia
903 C.E.

“Knight to C3.”

“Clever. Now, tell me more about this woman. Bishop to C5.”

“We are kindred spirits. She was chosen by one of yours: Gom’Jorbol of the Rod. She is an artificer. She… creates things. Rook to E8, check.”

“Ah yes… Little Gus. That problem has taken care of itself. King to F1. And this is why you are enamored with her, because of her, ah, creative potential?” He trailed off with a smile.

“Don’t be crude. Yes, she is beautiful. But beauty is cheap. We are all beautiful,” Meldh gestured at Merlin and the glittering palace of glass in which they currently sat. Even their Shatranj board was of such superlative quality that to disturb it seemed somehow profane. “Bishop to E6.”

“Bishop to B6. Your queen is captured. And, she has sent word to you, I hear. We had bade her to make her leave of Greece centuries before, to attempt to recover the Cup of Midnight. From my understanding, even though it was lost, she has been pining over it for ages.”

“Bishop to C4, check. Yes, she has. She has been attempting to recreate it. I suspect she has succeeded.”

A pause. Considering the moves…

“King to G1. And if she has?”

Another pause.

“Knight to E2, check.”

“King to F1.” Another pause. “And if she has?” Merlin repeated.

“She is useful.”

“I never said she was not.”

“I… I have brought this up before, as have you. We have sought to make our union a Triumverate for some time. Have you reconsidered–”

“Make your move.”

“Have you reconsidered your position?”

“Make your move.”

He sighed. “Knight to D4.”

“Thank you. She must prove herself to us, not the other way around. Until that happens, no I have not reconsidered. King to G1.”

“Knight to E2, check.”

“Testy, testy. King to F1.”

“Knight to C3, check.”

“King to G1.”

“Pawn to B6.”

“My, my. Have I struck a nerve? Queen to B4.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Rook to A4.”

The banter had slowed; Merlin was actually paying attention to the game, now. “Queen to… B6.”

An immediate response: “Knight to D1.”

A pause. “Pawn to H3.”

Meldh actually laughed. “Rook to A2.”

“King to H2.”

“Knight to F2. If she has succeeded, what are your plans?”

“Rook to E1. Just ask me if I plan to kill her.”

“My Rook to E1, thank you for that. Do you plan to kill her?”

“Queen to D8, check. No, I do not.”

A slight hint of relief. “Bishop to F8. Then what are your plans?”

Merlin studied the board for a moment. The moment stretched into a beat, and the beat stretched into a pause. “Damnit.” He swept his hand across the board and knocked the pieces to the floor. The White King shattered when it struck the floor. “Knight to E1, Bishop to D5, Knight to F3, Knight to E4, Queen to B8, Pawn to B5, Pawn to H4, Pawn to H5, Knight to E5, King to G7, King to G1, Bishop to C5, check, Knight to F1, Knight to G3, check, King to E1, Bishop to B4, check, King to D1, Bishop to B3, check, King to C1, Knight to E2, check, King to B1, Knight to C3, check, King to C1, Rook to C2, checkmate, you win. Go, and speak to your lady, find what you can, and meet me upon the Shores once you have news.”

“Yes, master.”

“And, Meldh?”

“Yes?”

“Brilliant game.”

“Thank you.”


In a world rife with possibilities, such as one containing Magic, it is no small wonder that many clever individuals have discovered the secret (or one of many secrets) to what some might call “immortality”. A clever theorist would come up with at least half a dozen means of achieving this goal, without even trying particularly hard. And yet, there are so few to ascend to the ranks of the deathless. This speaks to something; perhaps the stolid devotion of Wizardkind to their outmoded ideals of “light” and “dark”. Or, perhaps it speaks more to those who glibly remark on what should be possible in theory, without paying any heed to the world at large around them.

Regardless, there are those who have ascended. There is an upper limit to what one can accomplish by oneself before simply growing bored; this is a fact that applies to the immortal even more so. So it is only natural that like would seek like, for companionship, guidance, wisdom, a different perspective, or simply for entertainment.

Further, in a world where knowledge is tantamount to power, those who are driven by curiosity, and have the means to pursue that curiosity for as long as they wish, have an undue amount of influence on the course of events in the world. Short-sighted scholars of Magical history have suggested that Greece was once the location of “Atlantis” (whatever that might mean), and that the blood of the ancients flows most strongly there, and this must be why Greece has played such a central role in history.

The reality of the situation, (as reality often is), happens to be far more arbitrary and capricious. A handful of Ancients once made a particular mountain their home, eons ago, and over the ages they attracted more of their kind like a lightning rod. They were not always discrete with their secrets, and so their numbers and influence only multiplied.

Thomas Malthus would not be born until nearly a millennium later, so perhaps their slightly blasé attitude towards population growth may be excused. But in spite of their numerous peccadilloes with mere mortals, among them was one rule that seemed to go unspoken yet universally understood: it does not do for a God to fall in love with a God.

Trust is delicate and finite. It is the ultimate expression of entropy. Trust is a delicate menagerie of spun-glass sculptures, resting precariously upon the shelf of one’s psyche. All it takes is one careless hand, and the world comes toppling down, never to be recovered.

A life can be reconstructed, the fractured pieces of one’s soul picked back up and stitched together, placed in a new vessel to persist. One can pierce the veil of the worlds, like an arrow shot into the ether, peeling back the layers of time in order to reach back into a distant era where the mind and the being was still intact. But that arrow shoots in both directions, for what is done is done, has been done, and always will be done. If an entire life can be reconstructed from the faintest echoes of time and space, so too can a memory of one single mistake.

And unfortunately, immortality provides one with an eternal lifetime of opportunities to make mistakes.


Glen Nevis, Scotland
903 C.E.

“I know that it’s unbecoming to gush over one’s own creation, but this could change everything.” Helga Hufflepuff grinned widely at her companion, Hankerton Humble.

“The Cup of Midnight…. I know that you — Wait. How certain are you that this room is secure?”

“Quite certain. Godric has quite the talent for such charms.”

Humble winced at the name. “Yes. Godric. And where is he now?”

Helga cocked her eyebrow. Her eyes were suspicious, but her face was smiling. “Do I detect jealousy?”

He barked out a laugh, just a fraction of an instant too quickly. They had known each other for a long time, perhaps too long. She immediately knew from the clipped tone and the just-too-quick reaction that it was a forced laugh. She knew. And he knew that she knew. Attempts to dissemble would be pointless. “Yes. Obviously. He is young. He is objectively attractive; I have seen him when he bathes at the river.”

At this, Helga laughed, and this time it was genuine. “It’s not even midday, and already you put such ideas in my mind.”

Hankerton smiled at this, as well. “The lady of the house having a lascivious tryst with the virile servant boy… Well, clichés are clichés for a reason”.

She ran her hand through his hair. “Please. Yes, they are clichés because they are so blindingly obvious that one would have to be a fool to fall into their trap. Now, stop being silly. Will you be a dear and animate this for me? I don’t think the effect will be quite as spectacular if I demonstrate on something of my own creation.”

“Expecto Patronum”, he whispered. Hankerton Humble’s life force, a very small measure of it, shot from his wand and into the clay golem that Helga Hufflepuff held in her hand. It twisted back, sleepily, stretched out its arms, and looked up expectantly. He could see from its body language that it was a bit annoyed. The thin slit on its face split open and it spoke.

“Lovely. I suppose I should not get too attached to this life. It won’t be much of a loss, I can barely think properly with such a rudimentary form.”

“But you are sentient, yes?” Humble asked his alternate self.

“Yes, although that is exactly what a non-sentient golem would say, now, isn’t it? So to that end: 927 πατάτα.”

He mentally noted the code, and would not use it again. “Yes, he is sentient.”

Helga watched the proceedings with interest. “Perfect. Now, observe.” She delicately cradled her jeweled teacup. It did not look like the original Cup of Midnight, which was deliberately grandiose, meant to serve as a stark contrast to the plain wooden Cup of Dawn. But its essence was unmistakable. The thick black Nothing contained within its bonds poured out slowly, a single drop flowing through the air.

There was enough Void within the Cup to bind the entirety of life, both now and forever. Used in such a fashion, it would render the cup useless forever afterwards. But there was also enough Void within the Cup to selective bind one person at a time for as long as once cared to do so.

The Void was diffuse, almost transparent, and settled upon the golem. It looked up, quizzically. It felt different.

The man who called himself “Hankerton Humble” was, in no uncertain terms, the world’s most foremost expert in the subject of mental magic. He could see the subtle shift in behavior even in something as rudimentary as an animate clay statue. “There is… a degree of flexibility to the control you can exert, correct?”

“Yes. It is similar in function to the Unbreakable Vow.”

Yes, that made sense. The field of mind control was either achingly simple, or absurdly complex, depending on whether you were considering the ends or the means. If one is simply concerned with extracting a specific behavior from a specific subject, once scarcely needs magic at all. Criminals from all walks of life, magical or not, are quite familiar with a shockingly effective spell whose incantation sounds something like, “Do what I say or I will torture and kill your family.”

Humble had performed experiments to this effect, examining the inner workings of a person’s mind when put under duress. Like the limbs of an animal exposed to an electric current, the mind would instinctively flinch and react in response to certain stimulus. The “Lethe Touch”, as it had come to be known, operated on this basic principle, albeit on a more granular level. Further, it lent those changes a degree of permanency with its magic.

Spells such as Legilimens or concoctions such as a Love Potion, worked on a different premise entirely. They created a compulsion within the subject’s mind, as difficult to ignore as a loud bang or a bright flash of light. The greater the magic of the caster, the more intense the stimuli. The greater the will of the victim, the easier it is to ignore. But because this is an outside intrusion, the mind actively works to resist it, to eject it, and as such the magic required to sustain such a compulsion grows exponentially over time.

The Unforgivable curse, Imperio, operated in a different fashion as well: the connection between the victim’s mind and body was, to an extent, severed, and replaced by the will of the caster. Such bonds between the soul and body are not permanent, they are in fact regenerated on a moment by moment basis, so without a sustaining flow of magic from the caster, the victim’s minds would regain complete control within an hour or so. This meant that for Imperio to be truly effective, it required the conscious attention and direction of the caster, rendering it impractical in many and most cases.

The old adage, “It is easier to create than destroy”, is actually quite untrue when it comes to Magic, and especially so in the realm of mind control. The mind is quite capable, (perhaps too capable), of visualizing abstract concepts; it’s the fine details it struggles with. Tell a person to think of a loved one, and they’ll have no trouble picture their face. They’ll them to draw that same face from memory and they’ll likely fail miserably.

One of the most simplistic explanations of Magic is that it simply completes these mental images from their patterns. It’s a very neat and tidy explanation, (which is why it fell into such favor during the Muggle Dark Ages), and it conveys in simple terms one of the key limitations of Magic: Form requires Substance. Magic can take the imaginary Form of a cat, and make it real. An imaginary cat may run like a cat, purr like a cat, stalk like a cat. After all, this is what truly makes a cat a cat. And yet, it does not bleed like a cat, or digest like a cat. The chemicals in its brian do not interact like that of a cat. All of the mechanical automation that powers the rules and symbols behind a “cat” are fundamentally lacking. There is no Substance to power the Form, and as a result, such creations are rarely long for this world.

The realm of the mind, however, is one of pure Form, and so it is not subject to the same limitations. Creating an idea is trivial. Destroying one is nearly impossible. Even Oblivate does nothing more than sever the connection between a memory and the mind that created it. The memory still exists, it is merely hidden in the mind. A few years, or decades, and those connections will eventually be rediscovered, like a message in a bottle that eventually washes back ashore. But the Unbreakable Vow…

Sacrifice has always been a subject that has fascinated and stymied practitioners of Magical Theory since the dawn of Magic. Something Sacrificed simply cannot be reclaimed. The mechanics of this are hotly debated and not well understood. The end result, however, is inarguable. The Unbreakable Vow quite literally sacrifices the portion of the mind which allows for a certain course of action to even be contemplated. A person Bound in such a way is truly bound for all time. And if this Cup of Midnight operated on the same principle…

“You could destroy the world with this device. You could obliterate the minds of every living being. The Cup would be broken, afterwards, but so too would the world,” Humble said, in quiet awe.

“Yes, I suppose that’s true. But then again, there are countless devices of power of which the same could be said. Even without an artifact, I could think of half a dozen ways to cause mass death without even really trying hard… Transfigure a bit of poison into a town’s water supply… Let loose a hint of Fiendfyre in the middle of a crowded village… Use Salinos to salt the ground and destroy a region’s food supplies… Transmute–”

“Right, right, I get the point. And of course, you would not use it in such a way. But, I do not understand how it functions beyond the scope of a single victim, or perhaps a handful.”

“Ah, yes, the recursion. It took centuries to finally achieve the necessary breakthroughs, and no small Sacrifice. You see, the Cup contains itself, and within it, a piece of my being that powers the recursion.”

Hankerton’s eyes widened. “And so… Unless you were to pass on its secrets to another, you would be unable to recreate another.”

Helga Hufflepuff’s eyes narrowed, “I sense an ulterior motive to that question, but I was never one for plotting. Tell me why you ask, and be truthful.”

Hankerton replied swiftly and truthfully, “You know that I am deeply concerned with the fate of this world, and the threats that we may pose to it. Such a device in the hands of someone malevolent, or even someone foolish, could spell disaster. But you know this. And because you cannot be coerced to make another, the only two points of failure are the Cup itself, and your knowledge of its secrets.”

“Yes, dear.” She walked over to him, and stood close behind him. The back-and-forth, the assumptions and completing of each other’s thoughts, she enjoyed this. She ran her hands through his hair. “Go on.”

“You would have safeguards in place. The same safeguard for both the Cup and its secrets. Something preventing them from being taken by force, or coercion, or duress.”

“Yes,” she spoke. She was in front of him now, her hands wrapped around his waist, her lips softly brushing his ear as she whispered, “Tell me more.”

“A trap, something triggered either by a word, a thought, or a deed. Or, more likely, any of the above. You are powerful enough to resist the majority of attacks, but in the event of the unknown, anyone who accesses the Cup, or the knowledge of its creation, without your explicit consent would trigger the trap.” He thought for a moment, “It would Sacrifice both, to put them safely out of reach, but to what end..? Simply killing the intruder would not be sufficient. Ah, yes… It would Sacrifice the intruder as well. At that point, what is summoned forth by the Sacrifice is inconsequential, no?”

“I wouldn’t say that. It’s an alarm, of sorts. It would alert me,” she slid her hands down his chest as he spoke, “Me and those that I love.” At that word, Humble inhaled sharply. “Would you like to see it? Would you like to… Enter me?”

He let out a soft moan of pleasure, “Oh god, yes. Egeustimentis

Her mind was a towering castle, a picturesque landscape, a fractal pattern beautiful in its simplicity and infinite in its complexity. He was there as a guest, not as an intruder. Sometimes seeing something from the inside out was far more effective than simple words at communicating a concept. Further, in here there was no need for aliases or secrets. No need for “Helga Hufflepuff” or “Hankerton Humble”. They were simply Meldh and Ollivander.

Their physical forms were, of course, perfect. Because why would they not be? But their mental avatars were beyond perfect, they were the very Platonic ideal of Perfection itself, made real. They strode hand in hand through the glittering palace of her mind. As they walked the halls, he saw libraries, laboratories, factories, workshops, vaults.

Vaults. Hidden things.

Secrets.

Not now. They continued to what was obviously a throne room, the Crown Jewels of her being. He was looking at the Holy Grail. The complexity of it stretched even his own comprehension, a comprehension honed by centuries of study. As ancient as he was, she was older, and her mind could contain entire concepts that he still struggled to simply understand. She sensed his struggle, and obligingly condensed the concept of the Cup into something more manageable.

The Cup was endlessly pouring itself onto its victims. Not pouring its contents but actually pouring itself. Over and over, slowly making its way around the world of life.

“I don’t understand, why the limitation? If it truly contains itself why can it not duplicate? Why can it only fully Bind life once, before being rendered unusable?”

“Simply physically reproducing it is insufficient. Does your reflection have a mind of its own?”

“It depends on the mirror. “

“True.” A pause. The number Three began to pop up in the room countless times. Hundreds of times. The room began to be filled with Threes. “How many Threes are there?”

Instinctively he tried to count and then roughly estimate, but he knew that this was a riddle of words. He stared at the numbers. After time he spoke: “One. There is only one ‘Three’.”

“Correct. Writing down the number “Three” a thousand times does not change its properties, nor does it give the concept more significant or weight or meaning. Three is simply Three. And the Cup is simply the Cup. Another could create a Cup of their own, certainly, but it would be theirs and theirs alone; it would have powers unto itself. But such secrets are ones I shall not pass down.”

The Vaults of her mind were locked with the absence of chains. There were simply no doors, no latches, no surface with which to gain purchase. He could see the intricate webs of magic meant to masquerade as such, webs which would not only destroy the intruder, but further destroy the secrets they sought.

He also saw, beyond the Vaults, a number of lesser compartments, ones which contained secrets no less powerful, but far less guarded. There was one that caught his attention, a fluid room of portraits and memories. He would have been able to resist, if not for a single face he saw, reflected from deep within the folds of the room.

Godric.

She had given him permission to enter her, and so she did not at first detect his absence. It was not until she spoke and heard no response that she realized the violation.

She instantiated next to him, as he roughly pawed through the volumes of memories, all related to that one face, that haughty, insulting, proud young face. It reminded him of himself, in his youth, his true youth. Perhaps it reminded her as well, perhaps that is why–

–The concussive wave of power that forced Meldh from her mind shattered windows, rattled dishes off shelves, and forced the door to the kitchen off of its hinges. It was enough to physically knock him backward into a table, which splintered from the blow.

“You stupid, stupid bastard,” she hissed.

Meldh matched her gaze with anger. “Yes, I suppose I am. To give my heart, to make myself vulnerable to–”

“No, NO, you stupid child. THINK. Think about what you saw, tell me what you saw, you unforgivable… IDIOT!”

Silence.

“Tell me!”

Her words carried with them a palpable hint of power, magic made manifest as needle sharp shrapnel that flew across the room. Meldh instinctively raised his hand in front of his face. The impact was not severe, but it was enough to draw blood. “I saw passion, I saw feelings, I saw the undeniable loops and whorls of Love. The Touch of Truth is inviolate. What I saw I can’t be faked, you can’t tell me that – –”

“What did you see?! Did you see action? Did you see deed?” She advance on him, hotly. He briefly faltered.

“I–”

“You saw nothing. What you saw were the idle fantasies of someone who has lived twice your span, and nothing more. Do you mean to tell me you hold no unacted lust in the dark heart of your mind?”

He saw the opportunity to seize the high ground and he made his move. “Yes. Yes, that is what I mean to tell you. I open my mind to you, lay myself bare. Look. Look inside me.” He roughly grabbed her hand, and placed it forcefully on his shoulder. “Say the words. Say them! Look, and tell me what you see.”

She tried to pull her hand away, but he held it firmly. “And you think your chastity gives you the right to violate me? You think that gives you the right, you think that that justifies– Unhand me, child.” She pulled hard again, and he yanked roughly pulling her close to him. She glared at him, and the temperature in the room dropped several degrees. “I could tear you apart with the flick of my wrist.”

“Could you? Could you really?” With his free hand he shoved her backward, and then slapped her. Hard. “Go on then, do it. Tear me apart.” They stared at each other for a hot moment. The air was electric. Frost formed on the windows and the metallic silverware that lay unused on the table.

Nothing.

“Well?” He demanded. When he received no response, he raised his free hand up again, and grab the braid of her hair. He yanked it back, and pulled her body against his.

As he turned away she spit squarely in his face. He reared his hand back to slap her again, but with the flick of her finger he was hurled backward. He crashed hard into the wall, and the shelves behind him collapsed. He briefly considered a magical counterattack. But from the corner of his eye he glimpsed a copy of one of Godric’s research journals on the desk. He grabbed the book and roughly tore a few pages from them, used them to wipe the saliva from his face, and then spit the blood that had pooled in his mouth. He crumpled the ruined paper, threw it in her face, and turned on his heels to leave. “Give Godric my regards.”

As he took a step, the door slammed shut, and the icy chill that had previously washed the room now dissipated with a THUMP and waves of oppressive heat coursed across Meldh’s body. Ollivander spoke, angrily: “You enter my house as a guest. You entered my mind as a guest. You defiled my house, you defiled my mind. You insulted me, you attacked me, and you think you can just leave? With no consequences?” She grabbed him roughly by the collar of his robes. “I would have given you everything. But you couldn’t just trust me.”

“Would have? You would have given me everything? I did! I did give you everything. I left my kingdom, my country. I gave you everything I have to give. My love. My soul.” He gestured angrily and the simple leather thong around her neck that wore a small silver cross. “Why wasn’t that enough? Why was I never enough for you?”

The anger still hot in her voice, she replied, levelly. “Because you are weak. Look at you, you petulant child. I do not even need to enter your mind to see the tears forming in the corner of your eyes, you boy, you eunuch. I don’t need to violate your trust to see the way your shoulders shake at the insult, to see your fragile male ego come crashing down at the very thought of a woman having an independent desire. Look at you. You are weak. You’re disgusting.”

He angrily pulled her towards him again, “And I don’t need to enter your mind to see your heavy breathing, your dilated pupils… The slick sheen of sweat, the elevated pulse…” He gripped the back of her dress and twisted, ripping them, and then he forced his hands into the tear. “There are certain signs that are unmistakable.”

His slid his hands into the tear in the dress, and caressed her sternum, down to her stomach, down–

With a shuddering moan, she pulled his mouth to hers and they kissed, passionately.


He knew that he should turn away. He knew that if he had courage and integrity, he would turn around, walk away from the window, and go back to his chores as if he saw nothing. What was her business was her business. He had certainly seen the two argue more heatedly than this on more than one occasion. He knew the man was not good enough for her. He knew he should stop them. But he also knew he should walk away and leave her to her own business. Oftentimes, the bravest thing a person can do is to make a difficult choice, knowing that neither one may be right.

Instead, Godric Gryffindor did neither. He stayed at the windowsill, and he watched.


Knockturn Alley
903 C.E.

Rupert Scabior gazed nervously into the darkness of Knockturn Alley. “I’m here, sir, I have him,” he called to no one in particular. He thrust forward the unconscious body of the prisoner, with a sack over his head and his arms tied behind his back. Not that it would have mattered, as the prisoner was fully unconscious.

Rupert was no saint, by any stretch. But this whole arrangement made him deeply uncomfortable. Even though he had to verify, firsthand, the horrific nature of his victims’ deeds, even though he personally took no part in the enacting of their punishment, he still felt a twinge of guilt and regret.

But, the pay was good, and he had a family. The only dream he had left in his small, miserable life was that his daughters would be able to rise up beyond their station and make something of themselves and their family name. And this man, his mysterious employer, had seen to it that they had the audience of the greatest tutors in the land.

Inky black shadows writhed in the darkness, and a man in a billowing black cloak stepped into view, surveying the scene. “Good, good. And you are certain, completely certain of his crimes?”

“Yes, master.” Scabior produced the vial containing the silvery, undulating wisps of memory tainted by oily black slicks of Nightmare. “His own niece, sir. This is plucked straight from her unknowing mind.”

The man in the the cloak kneeled down and put a hand to the prisoner’s shoulders, whispering a few words. He nodded with satisfaction. “Yes, this will do. Did you heal her afterwards, erase the traces of this Nightmare?”

Scabior looked around, nervously. He never understood this part of their process, but he had done it dutifully, nonetheless. “Yes, master. She will remember nothing. She slept with a smile for the first time in many seasons.”

“Good.” The man removed the sack from the prisoner’s head and reached his hand into the prisoner’s mouth, who began to awake groggily. Reflexively, still mostly asleep, he tried to speak, but, with several fingers probing roughly inside his mouth, he of course could not. The man’s forefinger and thumb found their way to the back molar, and with preternatural strength, he yanked the tooth roughly from the prisoner’s head. The shock and pain immediately roused him from his stupor, and he began to scream as blood filled his mouth and poured onto the street. The cry was clipped short by–

“AVADA KEDAVRA!”

The green light shot out and illuminated the alleyway briefly, until the entirety of the light was drawn into the single tooth he held in his fingers. When the green glow subsided, he turned towards Scabior. “You may go.”

Scabior needed no further prompting, and quickly made his leave.

Meldh holstered his wand, and with a swift gesture, plucked one of the eyes from the socket of the murdered man. He poured the vial of the child’s nightmare onto the lump of flesh, and it continued to pour, effulgently. As it touched the ruined eye, it reacted, turning a bright flaming red, and it continued overflowing, liquid flame splashing onto the ground, flame which flickered but produced no heat. It poured and poured, grew and grew, and slowly poured itself into the form of a chariot drawn by a horse. Still clutching the tooth, Meldh stepped into the chariot and was carried away.


On the shores of the lake of teeth, where the black hills end
Tír inna n-Óc

The lake of teeth was quiet at this time of daynight. The bilious, sulphurous stench that emerged from the archway that stood on the Isle of Woe would not begin to belch forth until at least Midnight. The archway and the forgotten statue of Adrienne the Witch, a hero from a bygone era, were the only two signs that any sort of intelligent life had consciously touched this place.

The archway cast a shadow, although from what direction the void-sun shone was unknowable. Not unknown: unknowable. Within that shadow were more shadows still, and within those further more. From somewhere within the fractal reflection deep within the fractal reflection, a shift occurred, which reverberated exponentially out into this constructed world. The shadows which contained shadows swirled, accommodating their new host.

The black shadow of the first figure stood in stark contrast to the white mist that comprised the second figure. The black shadow held a tooth in his finger, turning it over, inspecting it before flicking it casually into the lake.

“I bring news.”

The second figure waited, expectantly, and gave no acknowledgment.

“The Cup of Midnight is at last recovered. She has recreated it. I’ve seen to it myself.”

The white mist nodded in satisfaction.

“But, please. See that no harm comes to her. I– ”

The white mist held up a single hand, silencing the shadow. After a few tense moments of consideration, the mist spoke: “No harm will come to her. In fact, I will give her her heart’s desire.”

The black shadow shuddered at this, as very rarely did such a promise end well. “Thank you. Please, just… Be kind. She is a good person. She is on our side, whether she realizes it or not.”

“I do not know what you take me for, but I am no monster. She will come to no harm under my hand. Where I you, I would hold yourself to the same standard.”

“I, that’s not–”

But the white mist had already dissipated, for midnight had come sooner than expected. The plumes of sulfur belched forth from the arch, casting aside the last wisps of mist, leaving the inky fractal shadow alone with its thoughts.

Tír inna n-Óc endured.


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

Orders of Magnitude, Chapter 7: Egeusly Stare

The man placed his hand on Meldh’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.”


Meldh existed as an abstraction, his mind existed as a physical structure The space that Meldh currently occupied, however, was a crude facsimile. It was fuzzy and low fidelity, like a sketch of an artist painting a portrait of a beautiful landscape. The broad strokes of his being were there, open and laid bare for manipulation. But the subtle interweaving of connections that truly made up his being were lost in the amongst the sludge, and as such the intruder did not have complete control. Meldh sensed this, and the intruder responded.

“I do not need to forcibly change your mind, Heraclius Hero.”

What manner of magic is this–

“It is the Aletheia Touch, the Touch of Truth. It lays the victim’s mind open in its entirety. Exceptionally powerful magic, yes. But trivially dismissed.”

Who are you?

“I am the one who runs this world. That is to say, I set the world in motion. All of the events that you have witnessed in your lifetime and will ever witness in millennia to come are my doing.”

Then what use do I have to you?

“You are but a mere child to me. A mewling babe. But what I have learned from watching this world spin and dance is that wisdom can be found in the most unlikely of places. People are resources, you must never forget that. Like a shepherd, one must cultivate and husband the flock, or you will see no yield. If you let your flock stagnate, they will do nothing for you. If you do not protect them, they will wither and die.

“The world grows large, Hero… or shall I say, Meldh? An old word, of questionable origin, yet an undeniable meaning. Yes, I rather like that. You asked who I am. I have gone by many names, but you may call me Merlin. Yes, this world grows large, and it is a world that will be shaped by your vision, not mine. The world will and must be ruled by man and reason, not by old gods and whispers, or shamans with their totems of power.

“I can no longer be the only shepherd of this world. Every era, the world doubles upon itself. No, the world requires an entire flock of shepherds. And someone must herd that flock, Meldh. No matter how much power I can obtain on my own, people are always necessary. Two people will always have more absolute potential than a single person. And, as it were, it appears that I am operating under a rather strange and very peculiar set of constraints. So to put it simply: I need help.”

How? And why?

“Inspiration can come from the strangest of places. There are an infinite number of possible ideas and concepts. New ideas can be refactored upon old ideas, and recombined with newer ideas in ways newer still. Those combinations can be further refactored, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. A mind can contain but itself, and as the arrow of time progresses, the possibilities in the world grows exponentially faster than any one person’s capability to understand them all.

“A simple solution to this is to limit the scope of possibilities, to move the world in the direction of one’s choosing. Which I have done. This is the world of my imagination. But that is precisely the problem: it is an echo chamber. It is time for new input to be introduced. Somewhere in the swirling miasma of possibility, something useful lurks, and I intend to find it.”

You have answered neither the How nor the Why.

“I am not proud to say this, but I simply lack the empathy to properly deal with the masses in the manner that I would prefer. They seem so… Alien to me. Imagine, trying to comprehend the mind of a mere insect, trying to empathize with a gnat, to the point where you can predict its behavior, understand what it will do next. I understand human nature, yes. Far too well, some may say. I can tell you as surely as the sun rises the direction that civilization will take, and how to shape it in the direction of my choosing.

“But ultimately, really how useful is it to point to the sky and say, ‘The sun will rise tomorrow’? That yields no wisdom or knowledge. The sun is a mighty force, it burns with the fury of a God, and so a fool may be inclined to see himself as powerful because he can shade himself from that sun. There is delicate work that must be done in the future, delicate work far more subtle than mere shade. It needs a delicate hand. Someone who… Understands the insects.

“For example, this spell, if executed with sufficient empathy, would yield a perfect, inviolate reflection of your mind. But as it were, my rendition of it merely produces… Ah, how did you put it? ‘A picture of a picture of a landscape’?”

No. ‘Like a sketch of an artist painting a portrait of a beautiful landscape.’

“You see? Executed perfectly, I would be able to pluck those thoughts from your mind before they even had a chance to form for your self to experience them. Your mind, any mind, is simply information. Patterns reflecting patterns, folding in upon themselves endlessly. And yes, you are precisely correct in assuming that this is the basic principle behind your ‘Horcrux’ ritual.”

It is called the ὅρόσταυρός.

“Forgive me for using the Latin rendition. Although I do think it’s catchier. Less of a mouthful. Regardless, you will find that there are, in fact, many ways of extending one’s life, of achieving functional immortality. Some of these means are likely as far beyond your comprehension as your Horcrux is beyond that of an ant’s. Others are so simple that it feels like cheating. Others still are simply esoteric and bizarre.

“It is enough for you to know that as long as you are allied with me, your Form shall be perfect. In exchange for this, I request, not demand, your loyalty and assistance. I expect that you will be able to make far better use of the Aletheia Touch than myself. And I further expect you to make some very strange advances in the world of herpetology. But most importantly, you must be one to fulfill a rather crucial prophecy.

Prophecy is Delphic nonsense, designed to impress nobility by telling them half what they want to hear and half what they already know.

The voice of the interloper took an abstract form as a quizzical smile. “Oh?”

If our destinies were in any way predetermined, it would be incompatible with my observations. I observe that I can make decisions, that I am a Prime Mover. If I choose to say Fire is my favorite element rather than Water, that is my choice.

“If I asked you then, to tell me the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow… Let’s say, African, for argument’s sake. Could you *choose* to tell me?”

That’s pedantic. That is information which I do not possess. That is not a decision of choice.

“You are precisely correct. You cannot simply make the decision to know something you do not know, just as you cannot simply make the decision to walk through solid stone without the use of magic or tools. Just as you cannot simply make the decision to disobey the will of prophecy.”

That is unfalsifiable.

“Is that so? Then open this box.”

A black box, darker than dark, deeper than the pitchest black, unearthed itself from beneath the flow of time and instantiated within Meldh’s mind. Its presence was the absence of presence, it’s entire form a negative, defined by the razor-sharp hole that it appeared to make in the world.

He knew that with a simple exertion of his will, he could open that box.

“I swear that no harm will come if you choose to open that box.”

As surely as he knew that he was capable of opening the box, he also knew that he would not. He knew, somewhere, somehow, that opening the box with irrevocably destroy this world, and all worlds. To open the box would bring about the End of All Things. He could not open the box; he would not open the box.

“I have told you that no harm will come to you or yours should you choose to open the box. And yet, you hesitate.”

Meldh considered opening the box simply to prove a point, but he knew this was an idle boast. He knew beyond reckoning that the box would stay closed until the end of Time.

“You see? There is nothing preventing you, in the laws of nature or physics, from opening that box. In your mind, you are bound only by your free will: you would not make that choice. In reality, you are bound by prophecy. You cannot make that choice.

“The world must be consistent with itself. And therein lies the heart of my trouble. As you have been so impatiently thinking throughout this discussion, I have still yet to tell you why I require your assistance. All prophecy is true. But there will come a day when prophecy will no longer be able to guide us. The choices we make now are 10,000 threads woven through 10,000 needles, and each one must be woven expertly in order for us to continue down the path of life.

“When that day comes, there is but a single choice that is the crux of the matter, a single decisions, the fundamental decision for all things: life or death? All worlds ultimately narrow to those two. The paths that lead to death are nearly infinite. The paths that lead to life, on the other hand, are few and precious. The irony of that is not lost to me.

“My entire life, I have been trying to shepherd this world, all worlds, down that path. There was a time, many ages ago, that I made a crucial mistake, and was fooled by own power. I gave in to the temptation to believe that because I was a good person, that my actions were in the right. I have had the rest of eternity to contemplate that mistake.

“Magic binds this world to all others. Using nothing but a small bit of your magic, you can pierce the veil of this universe and reach into another world and bring forth your Will. This provides for possibilities beyond your wildest imagination, but it comes at the expense of salvation. Magic is part of the answer, but it is not THE answer. All paths that travel solely down the road of magic end with death, and that is why you must join me. That is why you will join me.

I do not understand. I suspect you know more about the true nature of magic than any of the scholars of Greece and beyond. So you should know that Magic has been used to defeat death.

“Magic connects this world with all worlds. But the path of life, it must be inviolate. Life can tolerate no death. Life is a potion in a cauldron, and death is the poison. There can be no compromise; in any compromise, only death can win. Either must destroy all beyond a remnant of the other, for those two spirits cannot in the same world. Through the bonds of Magic, we are but a veil away from that world of death. Observe.”

The entirety of the night sky illuminated the interior of Meldh’s mind. An ethereal centaur comprised of stars drew from its back a glittering bow, and let loose an arrow across the night sky. It flew directly into the heart of a great, bejeweled scorpion, and travelled farther, farther away, beyond to the center of something.

“We walk down that path of the Scorpion and the Archer. It points us to a place Beyond Time, beyond reckoning. Every improperly used bit of magic draws us further close to that realm of death, allows it passage into our world. You are familiar with the Ritual of the Subtle Knife?”

I have heard whispers of it from the Necromancers who dwell beyond Carthage. A rope that has hanged a man and a sword that has slain a woman, among other things. It is said to be able to summon a Specter of Death. I had assumed, until now, that it was simply a myth, a legendary retelling of some old bit of lore lost to time.

“It is no myth. In a universe of endless possibilities, it is only inevitable that we encroach into a world that has death as its final endpoint. These are wounds in this world, and with each day we open more. That ritual simply provides a Form to those wounds, a Form that our minds can comprehend. The Specters, you see, they are horrifically dangerous. But in other ways, they are useful, for that which has a physical form can be defeated. Observe.”


Another Britain
Another Time
Another Place

The end had come without noise or notice. One by one, he individually visited his Death Eaters, revealing his return. He spoke of power beyond reckoning, and a new era for Wizardkind. His most loyal lieutenants, he bestowed great gifts upon. His more erstwhile followers were set to other tasks, such as serving as permanently transfigured simulacra of various political figureheads; Scrimegeour, Bones, Thicknesse and the like were as easily replaced as they were murdered.

Alastor Moody was only slightly more difficult to deal with. The following morning’s Daily Prophet read: “THE DARK LORD RETURNS:  Dumbledore, Boy who Lived Dead”  and beneath the menacing headline was a picture of Not-Amelia-Bones and Not-Alastor-Moody kneeling at the foot of Lord Voldemort who was giving the Hand of Benediction. The message was as clear to the true Moody as it was inscrutable to everyone else: No one can be trusted. You are not safe. Recant. Relent. Retreat.

Moody had long ago learned the tactical value of a complete and hasty retreat. You did not live to tangle with as many Dark witches and wizards as Moody if you made it a regular occurrence to charge headlong into almost-certain death. So with a dull pop, the true Alastor Moody disapparated to a safe house whose location was known only to him, and was never heard from again.


Tom Morfin Riddle was the master of life and death. His True Horcrux gave him mastery over life, enabling him to travel freely from vessel to vessel, body to body, soul to soul. His Deathly Hallows gave him mastery over death: The Spirit Stone, rightfully passed from heir to heir. The Elder Wand, forcefully wrested from the hand of his foe. And the True Cloak of Invisibility, bequeathed to him by his mirror self, his shadowform. He was truly king, and God, and as such had abandoned his previous moniker of Lord Voldemort, and chose the simple epithet: The God King.

The majority of the Wizarding public simply counted themselves lucky: although the God King was quick to mete out punishment, he was also quick to bestow favors, and as long as they kept their heads down and toed the party line, life was actually not so bad. In fact, it was better in many respects. Gone was the bloated, impotent Ministry of the past, whose sole purpose was to maintain the outdated hegemony, not to better the lives of its subjects. The God King did not need to resort to mean, petty politics in order to extend his reign. Any challengers were simply killed. As such, there were no challengers. But also as such, it freed the Ministry to actually do some good every now and then.

More shrewd members of the Wizarding public recognized Voldemort’s change of identity and methods as a brilliant political gambit: history has taught us that tyrants rarely rule longer than a generation or two before being replaced by an ostensibly less tyrannous tyrant. Furthermore, history has also taught us that hope is like a virus, and will take root in the most unlikely of places, breeding and growing until it can no longer be contained. A lesser tyrant will try to quash all hope, and thus allow hope to proliferate: the hope of revolution. A shrewd ruler knows that hope must be accounted for and allowed to fluorish in a controlled fashion. A brilliant ruler will be the very person who provides hope to his subjects. The God King was cruel, yes, but he also brought great wealth to Britain, and His advancements in the realms of health and medicine were staggering. His subjects could live in hope that one day the God King would bestow His blessing upon them.

No one in the Wizarding public knew the true method behind the madness. The truth was that the God King was a man obsessed. Obsessed with a small prophecy he had heard from the lips of a sherry-soaked Divination professor. A prophecy that upon further research was The Prophecy, the one prophecy upon which all others hinged. A prophecy whose fulfillment was the crux of everything. The God King spent most of his days deep within the Department of Mysteries, trying to salvage what he could from the ruined Hall of Prophecy. He sought out and met, under many disguises, with many students of deep, hidden knowledge.

After years of collecting lore, and countless days spent poring over the ancient text, The Transmygracioun, the thought of a ritual began to grow in the mind of the God King, the Ritual of the Starfire, a ritual by which prophecy could be fulfilled and the world be saved.

There has always been a Crux upon which the web of prophecy circles itself around. However it is not strictly accurate to say that there is only one Crux. In every world, the Fate of All Things hinges upon a single choice. Who makes the choice? What is the nature of the choice they must make? Only those Outside Time know for certain. But what is known is that the Choice must be made, and the mere death of one possible vehicle of prophecy would not stop things. The God King knew this much, and he knew that the mantle of the Crux had been passed to him.

What he did not know was that there was another named by prophecy, one who was Fated, in a time of great strife, when all worlds narrow to two, to bring down a great house. A Slytherin boy who had read tales of The Boy Who Lived, who combined the Muggle knowledge of science with the Wizard knowledge of magic and whose legacy was cut tragically short by the God King himself. A Slytherin boy who, emboldened by being Named by Prophecy, took it upon himself to experiment in secrecy, utmost secrecy, with the deepest laws of magic and nature, just like his idol Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres. He made great strides in the field of transfiguration, and had such a fine command that he could manipulate the Form of things on an atomic, even subatomic level. A boy who was desperate enough to overthrow the God King that we would resort to desperate, even insane means.

He was, however, alone, unlike his idol. He had his companion, but unlike his idol, he chose not to seek her counsel. She knew as little of Muggle physics as he did: that is to say, she studied a pair of purloined physics books for a few weeks. She grasped the broad strokes of quantum mechanics without any true understanding. However, she could have been what he needed: a staying hand, someone to shape his curiosity, someone to guide his intellect, someone to tell him, for the love of Merlin and all that is holy, do not try to find out what happens when you transfigure a cubic millimeter of up quarks, just the up quarks, without any down quarks to bind them!


“Lawrence, I’m not so sure about this.”

“I am. What would Harry Potter have done? He knew science. WE know science. He gave his life to fight the God King so that we don’t have to.”

“But you don’t even understand what it is you’re doing. You don’t even know what these things really are.”

“Sure I do. They’re the lightest of all elementary particles. They form the basis of neutrons and protons. They have mass, and as such can be Transfigured.”

“No, I don’t mean… Look, I can recite an encyclopedia entry, too. But I mean, you don’t really understand what these things will do.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m taking adequate precautions. How much damage could a few cubic centimeters of ANYTHING really do?”

“I still have a bad feeling about this… You really should have been sorted into Gryffindor, you know.”

He gave her a quick peck on the cheek, held her hand, and directed his wand at the Knut that lay on the table.

Annabeth and Lawrence were instantly consumed, as was the whole of Hogwarts and most of Scotland. The world itself screamed in pain as it warped beyond recognition, consumed in its entirety by the Void that was created.


In the brief instant of time before his mind was lost, Meldh recognized the Void, or more specifically, recognized the ways it was different. There was no control, no safeguards, no finesse. It was purely unfathomable. It was madness.

The notes of the universe’s song stretched interminably, seamlessly shifting from reality to a musical harmony to a single note sustained infinitely. The note slowed, lowered in pitch, lowered, lowered until the individual frequency of the periodic wave became discernible. The frequency stretched further, further. The waves were fewer and fewer between. At some point, there was nothing, no change, no fluctuation, no vibration, nothing.

And somewhere between that nothing and The Nothing, the true horror of Death crashed into Meldh’s unprotected mind like the fist of God.

If the reflection of his own mind that the interloper had generated was but a picture of a picture, what he saw now was like he was like he was given new eyes, eyes that could see beyond the veil of time with a clarity so crystalline that it was physically painful for his mind to behold.

What he saw was beyond terrifying. There were no expectations for the force to conform to in order to protect him. It was new, to him and to the majority of mankind. As such, it was unknown: there was nothing for his mind to flinch towards or away from. He was simply hit head on with the full impact of that horror beyond horrors.

It was Death, pure, glorious, powerful, terrible Death. The point at the end of all paths. He saw the universe run like some clockwork automaton, powered by a cosmic spring, tick tick, tick tock, tock tock. He saw the spring slowly wind down, and he saw the brave, the intelligent, the cunning, the diligent, all fighting with the entirety of their being to no avail, like a stone falling from a cliff. All the motion, the action, the vibrancy of life, fighting against the anticipation, hurtling towards that inexorable end.

He could live to be 10,000 years, 10,000 times over, and it would be of no use. That end could come. That end would come one day. The hopelessness of it all consumed him. His brain, in sheer reflexive self-defense, began throwing as many happy memories as possible into that void: the less happiness he clung on to, the less brutal the sting of loss would be.

It was betrayal, which made the sensation all the worse. His own mind, willingly turning against his own values, in exchange for an infinitesimal bit of respite against an elemental force that did not care to bargain. It was the dark center that dwelled at the heart of all mankind. He would commit any crime, sacrifice any virtue, defile anything holy, for no atrocity could even be a speck of dust in comparison to the darkness he was approaching.

Somewhere in Meldh’s mind, an idea lurked. It was hidden, out of sight, but it was there, waiting to be uncovered, if he only knew where to look. His mind did not want to look. His mind wanted to die. His mind begged for death. Death would be preferable to this Death.

Kill me.

Please.

Gone. Gone. The abstraction layer stripped away. Bare metaphor, unplaced structures, synaptic connections. Separate. Separate. Regroup. Fight. Fight. Fight.

A hasty retreat. The king was in check. Sacrifice the knight. Sacrifice the rook. Save the king. Retreat. Relent. Recant. Pawn to E7. Sacrifice. Regroup. Sacrifice. Reclaim control. Take your position, no matter how small. Take it.

Meldh fought his own mind, fought the instinct of sacrifice, partitioned away the truly important parts of his mind and used the rest as a buffer. It afforded him a few precious moments. His memories, his thoughts, his happiness, they were all being stripped away, burned through at an alarming rate, but Meldh was still intact, for the time being.

Fight.

He thought back to all the things he had learned, from all the people he had met, from the simpletons in the asylum all the way to the Old Gods themselves. He thought back to the hope of which they spoke. The hope. The hope. He fought for that hope.

He focused that hope, harnessed it, and looked towards Death with new eyes. He saw Death, feasting upon his very soul: a tiny ball of light that was floating towards its… Mouth?

Its gaping mouth? Surrounded… Surrounded by a black, tattered cloak. A rasping hiss. Beneath the cloak, a tall, thin, naked man, obscenely painful to behold… But alive. Tangible. Something almost human. Something that could ultimately be defeated.

ENOUGH.

He had already seen Death. He had already beaten Death. He had died before, he would die again, and he would not give up. And although this was more than just the mere death of his body, although this was the Death of All Things, he would still fight. And with his Steel and his Magic and his Will and his Life and his Time, he flung his weapons against his foe, his final adversary.

I…

The light built up within him. He directed it downward, looking upward, always upward, always to the stars, never looking back. He would not look back. He could not look back. Close the box. Ever upward.

I will…

He had wings. He was Wing. He flew to the sun, and beyond. Even as his wings melted, he flew higher, ever higher, never looking down, never looking back.

I will never…

He was a single point of light in a dead, uncaring, clockwork universe. As he hurtled past the infinite darkness of space, he saw the others stars like him, the other points of light, shining brightly, fighting ceaselessly against the void, giving meaning to an otherwise meaningless collection of symbols, rules, laws, and patterns.

I will never stop…

Some of the lights were dim, some of the lights were dimming, they were the ones in danger. To them, he gave a measure of his Life, his Light. He found that the more he gave, the more he had to give, so he gave more. He gave more, and more. He gave his fire, and that fire grew, he burned through everything he had and more.

I will never stop fighting.

He directed that inferno outward, in all directions, in a single direction: backward, downward, behind. He directed it against the stagnation and the death that chased him, that chased everyone. He directed it at the hideous, all-consuming beast that lived beneath that tattered black cloak. The beast greedily and happily consumed the fire, but Meldh would not stop fighting, would not stop burning.

It was not just his star that burned, that raged against the beast, it was every star in every universe, every star that ranged with hot, angry resolve, and burned, burned, burned to live.

You are not invincible, I have beaten you once.

You are not inevitable, so long as we have a choice.

You may one day claim me, but I will return, as I have before.

You may claim others, but I shall see to it that they too return to fight.

I fight you with the power of my mind, with all of my life.

I am Heraclius Hero, and I will fight you.

I am Alexander, Protector of Mankind, and I will fight you.

I am Meldh, descendent of the Ancient Gods, and I will fight you.

I am Man, every man, woman, child and beyond, who has ever thought to shine a candle into the darkness.

And I will never stop fighting.


Somewhere in the distant corners of a distant universe, the sound of wings: a tattered black cloak, drifting away into nothingness.

Orders of Magnitude: Chapter 6 – 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.

But, Merlin also had Ελαολογος, the master artificer. She had arrived to Albion 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 traveled to an unfamiliar continent and took a new name and made a new home, and eventually, started a new life.


The Aftermath
The Foothills Near Λείβηθρα

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.

Meldh strode through 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 Meldh’s 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. Meldh spoke: “We have won a good battle here friend. You fought well.”

The man placed his hand on Meldh’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: Chapter 5 – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

HAMLET. Why then it’s none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ. Why, then your ambition makes it one. ‘Tis too narrow for your 
mind.
HAMLET. O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a 
king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
GUILDENSTERN. Which dreams indeed are ambition; for the very substance of 
the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
HAMLET. A dream itself is but a shadow.
ROSENCRANTZ. Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that 
it is but a shadow’s shadow.
HAMLET. Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretch’d 
heroes the beggars’ shadows.


Meldh was fighting for his life. Which is to say, he was simply fighting. He had died once before, and he was quite sure that he would die again. Perhaps not today, but at some point. He thought back to that first moment; it was after he had proven himself to his old masters, having demonstrated sufficient skill, wisdom, and kindness to be appointed as the regent of Neirkalatia of the Cross. As part of that induction, he was to die and be reborn, which he assumed was a metaphor. He stood in front of the cross, surrounded by the Coalition and their inner circle.

A bolt of green light. A phrase of what seemed like Hebrew origin? And he was no more.

He had no eyes to open when he awoke. His mind simply emerged, unfolded into consciousness, like those wine-fueled excursions of his youth, when consciousness faded slowly into subconsciousness into unconsciousness, and the line between the three was blurred beyond recognition. He simply awoke, a new person. He could feel the bounds of this world. Who he was, his mind, could reach from one corner of the universe to another, but it could find to purchase, no vessel by which to enact its Will. His mind existed in but a single dimension, it was written indelibly into the world line, but it could not escape. He knew that at any moment, he could relinquish control, and he would be no longer. But he did not want to truly die, if that was even possible.

He also felt the magic of the Cross, even in his death. Once he felt it, it gave his being weight, his spirit a connection back to the universe at large. In his current state, he could see the Cross in its true structure: grandiose, perhaps even infinite. Through it, he was able to sense the traceries of energy that pervaded through this world, all worlds. Magic.

When he was a child, a child in the true sense of the word, he was riding in a chariot outside a palisade. He was fascinated by the fact that, as they moved quickly, the gaps in the palisade blurred together to form an entire coherent vision of what was behind those walls. It made him feel powerful. But when the chariot slowed to a halt, it ceased, and again he could only see the posts of the fence.

This reminded him of that; he had lived his life flitting through space and time, unable to see the fine structures that held up and bound the world. But now that he had slowed to a true halt, it was clear to him. So he picked a point on the web at random, and followed a meandering path towards it, darting through one world and another.

He happened to look back, and he saw that the webs did not extend in all directions as he had once thought. He looked back and he saw the line of the world as it was, and the point in time that was the present, and from there, the webs exploded outward. He was exploring branches of possibility, and had to skip farther and farther ahead into order to avoid the webs collapsing as they were folded into the line, into the path.

The further forward, backwards, sideways he travelled, the more fuzzy and diffuse the details. He cast his mind out farther, into the realm of possibility that lived beyond possibility. The circumstances that could only arise by the barest of coincidences layered on top of coincidences. He travelled further still. After some amount of time, he reached a deep void of nothing, like when the calm gradient of a sunset eventually gives way to the burning flame of the sun itself. Beyond there lie possibilities so impossible that his mind could not distinguish them from the truly Impossible.

He sensed, somehow, that he could travel farther beyond that still. But he sensed, rightfully so, that he should be frightened. He had no anchoring, no point of connection, and if he continued into that Nothing he may never find his was back to the Path. So he returned.

After an undefined amount of time, it could have been a year, a decade, or it could have been but a fraction of a moment, he felt it. Structure. Rules. Laws. The delicate traces of energy condensed into something more substantial, like threads of flexible glass. It contained his mind, yes. But it also gave him freedom, power. There was an object of sorts, he could not discern its nature, that represented these bounds.

At first, he had no means of truly experiencing reality, much less interacting with it, and for a few eternal moments, he was impotent, trapped in a prison with only his thoughts. But he quickly learned the subtle language of his new form: the shifts in its constituent matter in response to light and vibration, and perhaps more importantly, the resonance with other nearby minds. He had no time for it now, but he knew that he could learn to reach out, to caress those minds, to tempt them.

But after another eternal moment, he awoke, this time in a true body. His eyes snapped open. His soul was interfacing with a fleshy bowl of seething organic matter, all switches and synapses and simple reactions, which together allowed him entry into the world of life. He was on a stone altar, still surrounded by the members of the Coalition and their regents. He had literally died, and was literally reborn.

Throughout the years, he had an inkling of a hope that this was possible. How else could the Old Ones persist as they did? But at the time it seemed like a foolish hope, an opiate to dull his resolve, to calm him, to keep from the fight of his life, all lives. An empty promise of eternity if in turn, he would only just believe.

He saw now that it was no empty hope. But that knowledge, that hope, it was hoarded, stowed away for only the most elite of elites. He could already hear the arguments, the justifications, the rationalizations. Those damned deathist scholars that made up his peers had been rattling them off ever since they had a sense of their own mortality:

“What would happen to the world if everyone were to live forever?”

“Death is a natural part of life.”

“You cannot have the light without the dark.”

“You cannot spend your life forever running from death.”

And so on and so forth, all spoken with the smug superiority of someone who thinks that to sneer at Death is to defeat it, as if whispering some tired platitude would save them from that horror of horrors. But this, this was worse. They would twist these sentiments, which ultimately existed to provide some measure of solace to dying old men, and use it to enable the tyranny of that dark lord.

He could not stand by this. He understood its structure, the basic theory. He was already reverse engineering the principles of operation. Either everyone could have this gift, or no one could. His current masters were tyrants, and it fell on him to recreate this world in the image of Man, not of God.

His secret experimentation proved that the implementation was far more difficult than he had anticipated. But it was encouraging as well. It was possible, he had proven as much, and that was what mattered. His first iteration was functional, but flawed. It required an untenable, unconscionable sacrifice. He couldn’t understand the recursive aspect of the True Cross’ infinite structure, but that would come in time. But still there were those who wanted to die, there were those who deserved to die, and they could serve as fuel until he could perfect his grand creation. So for now, his ὅρόσταυρός (although it would later become more famously known by its Latinization) would have to be sufficient.

Emboldened by this, he sought to overthrow his masters. The path seemed inexplicably easy. His rousing speeches turned the right ears. His pleas for support went both noticed and unnoticed by the right sets of people. And when it came time to move openly, support for his cause swelled quickly, so quickly. Often times he had to remind himself that, although most of the time, life isn’t like a play, sometimes it is. Sometimes it is.

And so it was that he, in blissful ignorance of the fact that he had simply exchanged one set of masters that operated in the open with another who operated in the shadows, he assembled his forces, put together an army, and led them against the Coalition.

They had battled their way into the heart of the Stronghold of the Coalition, and they were very close to the chamber in which he had died. He had no delusions that they would be able to kill the Gods; his goal was simply to destroy the Third Spire of Shiggoth. Without an anchoring point to harness and multiply their power, their hold and influence would be severely weakened. They would be forced to flee to other lands, easier targets. And if they chose to stay, well, they would be vulnerable, and he could continue to fight.

Currently, Meldh was equipped with his close quarters battle armor and weapons. Unlike Magical Warfare, Magical Combat all but required the wizard to be on the front lines. Their attacks were far too widely destructive to be of any use from the rear; there was typically insufficient time or space to maneuver such long-ranged weapons of death. You could hurl Greek Fire from a distance, but only a fool would dare use the same in close quarters.

As with all things in life, the art of war could be mapped out onto a board of the Game of Kings. The Queen, in the beginning, must be protected. You must establish your position, ensure her safety. But she cannot stay in hiding forever. At some point, she most go on the offensive, she must emerge and unleash devastation. But with insufficient preparation, the Queen will quickly be cut down or sacrificed.

And as with Magical Warfare, more often than not, the wizards fought the wizards and the humans fought the humans. You could certainly focus your magic on cutting down large swathes of the enemy, but this would leave you open to swift and sure counter attacks, from both the enemy wizards and their warriors. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, you would leave your own men vulnerable to similar destruction.

Meldh was equipped with his close quarters battle armor, and he wielded two wands embedded into the hilt of twin swords, in the manner of a διμάχαιρος. Few were as skilled in such arts as Meldh, and like a well-positioned Queen, he was able to cut down a number of pawns while still posing a formidable defense.

They adopted an inverted-claw formation, with Meldh in the recessed center. His men on either side curved outward, engaging the edges of the enemy forces in the wide hallways. The enemy adopted a similar defense, and Meldh exchanged volley after volley of curses with the enemy wizard.

Their goal was penetration; the chamber of the Spire was but a few corridors away. Meldh carefully chose each spell to have a physical component that, even if countered, would force the enemy backwards. Walls of ice were a popular choice in Meldh’s day; they were easy to construct, robust, and impervious to most elemental defenses, except of course, fire. And in this case, that fire could then be transformed from a defensive play into an immediate offense, which would lose him the initiative.

Instead, he drew from the ground jagged, thick spikes of woven branches and thorns, weaving around each other and jutting out towards the enemy forces. Yes, they could be cut down by physical attacks, but that was time consuming. And they could certainly be burned, but the ensuing fire would do more damage to the enemy troops than Meldh’s own. No, the easiest defense was fairly trivial: simply fall back, yield ground. It rendered the attack moot, wasted your opponent’s magic, and took no magic of your own. So this is what the enemy did: if Meldh wanted to continue to waste his magic on such structures, they would allow him. They could continue to fall back, deep into the Stronghold, as there were many advantageous positions and potential traps they could lure him into.

But Meldh was not trying to rout the enemy forces. In fact, the fewer casualties, the better, in his mind. Of course, he was not opposed to dealing death when necessary, but he would not slaughter them simply because they held the same set of misguided ideals that he once did. So he was more than content to fire up spike after spike, forcing the enemy further and further backwards. They were closer to the chamber now, perhaps one hallway away.

The enemy soon realized Meldh’s intention, and took steps to slow the advance. The Butterball Charm that they employed had been expected; it was a fairly standard method of delaying an enemy’s assault when on rocky terrain. But Meldh had already prepared the surface, coating the stone floor with a thin layer of unyielding glass, which supported the weight of his troops even as the stone beneath turned to muck.

Because he had already prepared the floor in such a manner, he was free to devote all of his energy into his counterattack. He transfigured most of the air in the room into a single, tiny, incredibly dense stone. The vacuum and subsequent lack of air disoriented them all, friend and foe alike. An instant later, he cast the rock into the churning liquid.

With a concussive pop, air filled the vacuum in the room, and at that moment, Meldh released his hold on the transfiguration. The rock instantly reverted back to its original, true Form: a room’s worth of air. The liquid stone beneath the glass floor had nowhere to go but up and out, towards the enemy. The result was not so much deadly as it was absurdly disorienting, like being splashed in the face with a massive bucket of mud.

The enemy wizard was unfazed and was already mounting his counter-attack, a volley of diagonally-oriented blades. It would serve the dual purpose of cutting down both Meldh’s troops, and his walls of brambles and thorn.

This proved to be quite the mistake.

Wizarding Combat almost always hinges on one simple factor: who can most cleverly turn their defense into an attack? For example, an elemental attack would have to be elementally countered, dodged, or swept aside: it could not simply be Finited. Granted, Finite Incantatum was rarely an effective tool in battle, as it is a spell of pure magical brute force, and 99 times out of 100, a more efficient tool can be used to achieve the same ends. In this unique case, however, Meldh’s mass Finite was powerful enough to dissipate the incoming blade attack instantly. It had been tremendously costly, but it had the ancillary benefit of also dispelling all the charms in its path.

Including the Butterball Charm.

The enemy soldiers had been soaked with the liquid stone from Meldh’s prior counter. And that liquid stone immediately transmuted back into solid form, encasing the entire front line in prisons of rock, and severely hobbling the lines behind them. It simultaneously neutralized their offensive capacity and prevented the men behind them from engaging in any sort of effective counter-attack.

The enemy wizard was naked, bereft of protection. He tried to retreat back behind his line of men, but it was to no avail. Meldh and his men charged forward, and the enemy wizard desperately tried to hurl blasts of Ventus to repel them. There were only a small number of effective counter-attacks he count have mounted, and Meldh was prepared for them all. In this case, he simply created Void, and sent it upwards so the ensuing vacuum pulled the gust of wind harmlessly away. At that point, it was over. The enemy wizard could not defend against Meldh’s ceaseless attacks and the ensuing rush of troops. He was unceremoniously cut down, and the enemy men, now with no wizard to protect them, were done for.

Not wishing for unnecessary death, Meldh raised his hands upward, this time using wandless magic, and lifted the imprisoned men, turned them on their side, then blasted them backwards. The effect reminded him of a time when he saw a shipment of logs fall off the back of a merchant wagon and roll down a hill, knocking down an entire group of merchants that were behind it. The soldiers who weren’t physically knocked down had the good sense to beat a hasty retreat. A few mass Somnium, and the path to the Spire was cleared.

As he charged into the room, he did not know how much time he would have, so there were no dramatics; he simply launched straight into the ritual. His hand slashed to the left and he cried “Khorne!” Then his hand pointed below him, and “Slaaneth!”, above him and “Nurgolth!”, and then to his right, “TZEENTCH!”

The room started rumbling.

“Darkness beyond darkness,
deeper than pitchest black,
Buried beneath the flow of time…
From darkness to darkness,
your voice echoes in the emptiness,
Unknown to death, nor known to life.

You who knows the gate, you who are the gate,
you who is the key and guardian of the gate.
Past, present, future, all are one in you.
You who knows where the Old Ones broke through of old,
You who knows where They shall break through again.
You who knows where They have trod earth’s fields.
You who knows where They still tread them.
You who knows why no one can behold Them as They tread.

Ogthrod, ai’f
Geb’l-ee’h
Shiggoth-y’wrd
‘Ngah’ng ai’y
ZHRO!
ZHRO!
ZHRO!”

Meldh did not question the source of the scroll that contained the ritual. He had seen darker, more Eldritch incantations, found in much more sinister places. It had been given to him by one of the nine Muses, when he had found her bathing in a spring on Mount Helicon. He had discovered the location to this particular spring in a piece of parchment that was hidden within an innocuous book in an arcane library. The whispers of this hidden parchment had been reported back to him by the beasts of the woods, who heard two dark magicians speaking of it in hushed tones. Further research determined that the two magicians were agents of the Coalition, tasked to inventory and shore up their weak points.

What Meldh did not know was that he was simply a pawn masquerading as a Queen. He had been led, like a rat following a piper, to find that scroll and that ritual. Every move he had made was planned out, the product of a grand design that he was not only unaware of, he was convinced the grand design was his own. The surest path to manipulation, indeed, is to convince your victim that a brilliant idea is their own.

Merlin had wanted the Coalition toppled, and so they would be toppled.

Merlin wanted Christopher Chang and Constantine Atreides out of the picture, and so they would be gone.

And Merlin wanted the Third Spire of Shiggoth, the third “Tower of Atlantis”, to fall, so it would fall.

As Meldh continued repeating the final word of the incantation, the power of the phrase reverberated within the chamber, waxing in power until the very words themselves took on some otherworldly resonance, and the Tower began to vibrate. The very Stronghold began to vibrate.

The fall began.


ROSENCRANTZ: Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don’t go on forever. Must have been shattering, stamped into one’s memory. And yet, I can’t remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squalling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there’s only one direction, and time is its only measure.

Moments Before

Kari of the Cube, Yanotuk of the Cups, and Kri’Xiang of the Glass stood in detente. One could control the world. One could destroy the world. And one could create the world. Rock, paper, scissors. The first to act would be the first to lose, and so no one took action.

Kari and Yanotuk held each other’s hand, a hint of desperation in their posture.  As if to say, “Not like this. It’s too soon.” They did not know Kri’Xiang other from Before. They had never met, despite their many long years of life. After all, there were so, so many people. As such, they did not know the other’s hopes, each other’s dreams, each other’s wishes. They did not know that, perhaps, if they really, truly, thoughtfully considered each of the other’s information and conclusions, they might discover they were all three allies.

But they did not. They simply knew each other’s power, and they knew that this was a standstill that would never be broken. There would be no climactic fight, two Gods with the twin powers of Destruction and Control, against a God wielding the might of Creation. There would be no pithy speeches, glib comebacks, no denouements or monologues. They were simply three unimaginably powerful beings that knew on some level, that they were all about to die, and that the fate of the very world hinged, in part, on this moment.

When they felt the shudder of the Tower, they knew it was time, and they all acted at once.

The all-consuming darkness of the Cup of Midnight erupted forth, filling the room with a void whose darkness could only be matched by the true form of the Boxes of Orden. Any mere mortal would have been driven instantly insane, their minds unable to comprehend the manifold and conflicting commands that spewed forth at random.

The Boxes of Orden contained that darkness, however, and folded them in to their own all-consuming power. The three forms condensed into one: past, present, and future, for all the world’s past had led to this single point in the present that would dictate the future. The Boxes unfolded, the Box unfolded, and in that instant, infinity was in the room, infinity was the room.

The world would have been consumed in that moment. The world was consumed in that moment. There was no past, there was no present. There was only void.

Presently, the only thing reflected by the Mirror of Volition was that empty void. If one gazed into it, they would see perfect, a unyielding, golden nothing.

Presently, the only thing reflected by the Mirror of Noitilov was an empty chamber. If one gazed into it, they would see a perfect, unyielding reflection of itself and the empty room surrounding it, a room which contained only a single, plain, wooden Cup, and a single, plain, jet-black Box.


ROSENCRANTZ: How sweet! I once had a fish… Francis. He was very dear to me. One afternoon, I came downstairs and… it vanished. Poof.
GUILDENSTERN: That’s very odd, isn’t it?
ROSENCRANTZ: Yes, doesn’t it? But that’s life! I suppose, you – you go along with and suddenly… poof.
GUILDENSTERN: Poof.
HAMLET: Poof.


Moments before

A long period of silence passed.

“Long time, no see.” Constantine Atreides finally spoke.

Natalie Kyros laughed. “Long time, no see? THAT’s your line?”

Constantine smiled, sadly. He had thought, dreamed, hoped for this moment, so much so that it was written into the very fabric of its being. And here it was.

And all he could say was, “Long time, no see.”

“I don’t understand it, Gus. Why are you allied with him? You know how close we had been. We were so close. I could practically taste it. A few more centuries. Tops. But he was reckless. Impatient. And we all paid the price. Maybe the final price. You, me, everyone. And now, you’re… What? On his side?”

“Don’t be like that. Yes, we lost a terrible battle, that day. But the war isn’t over. It’s never over. And right now, he’s our only hope.”

“He’s not. You’ve seen what we’ve built. In just an eye blink of time, we’ve shepherded these people, and look what they’ve done. Just think about what they could do in a thousand years. Or ten thousand years. This here, this is the future.”

Constantine rolled his eyes. “You’ve created a society, divided. A society ruled by our Descendents. They don’t know the truth about who they are, who they were, what their birthright is, what their role is… We have to start over. We have to limit them, or else–”

“Or what? They blow themselves up with ‘Magic’? We’ve been through that already. He put us through that already. What he did was orders of magnitude worse than anything they could ever do.”

“It’s not just that. It’s… Look, as long as they’re around, as long as we’re around, we’re all bound to that dead world. All worlds are bound to that dead world.”

“So, what, we sacrifice them? Everything we built? Sacrifice this world so that he can create a new one in his own image?”

“It’s not a true Sacrifice. They’ll still exist. In memory, in hope.”

Natalie scoffed. “Hope?”

“Yes, hope. It’s powerful,” Constantine replied, indignantly.

“For God’s sake. Listen to yourself.”

“You weren’t around for the really old days. You weren’t–”

“You’re not THAT much older than me.”

“Yeah, but it was different back then. You can’t imagine what it felt like. The not knowing. We were close, sure. But, seeing people die at what, 200? 300? Being almost that old yourself and just not knowing. Hope was all we had. Hope that something would happen in our lifetime.”

“You don’t think I know how that feels? You don’t think we all know how that feels? Don’t be so self-centered. I knew what was at stake, the price if we lost, if we lose. I still know that price. But I’m not–”

“No. It’s not the same. Knowing that you can fight until the end, the real end, that’s empowering. It’s life affirming. But knowing that you have 30, maybe 40 years left, and then you’re gone? Think about it. I mean, really think about it.” He gestured angrily at the cross. “Why do you think this has persisted across worlds? I can’t even imagine what it must be like for those people. Hope is all they have. It’s all they can have. You know it’s true. There’s a reason you chose this inverted cube design rather than a tesseract. Somewhere, you know the power of hope.”

Natalie paused, and considered this. “Ok. I can see your point. But what of it?”

“They have to build their own path. We can’t help them.”

“How? And why?”

“We did.” Constantine pause, and corrected himself. “Well, not ‘we’. Those that came before us.”

“No, that doesn’t answer my question. What I’m saying, and what you’re not making sense of, is why we can’t help, why we have to be out of the picture. That’s what’s never made sense about any of this.”

Constantine didn’t have an answer. “Well?” Natalie pressed.

“I.. I don’t know! Because he says so.”

“Are you kidding me? You don’t even know?”

“You don’t… You don’t understand. You and me, we play at being Gods. All of us do. But he.. Everything we do, it’s because of him. We only exist at his forbearance. He is God, and King. He’s the thing we merely pretend to be.”

“Are you listening to yourself? You sound like, I don’t know, like you’re trying to be a character out of one of your video games. Just, stop being ‘Gom’Jorbol’ for a second, and just be Gus.”

Gus smiled at the anachronistic happy memory. After a time, he spoke. “I don’t know how, or why, but this is his world. He knows too much. It’s like he’s had an eternity to contemplate every possible move we might make, every possible path we might go down. If he wants this world to end, it will end. I’d rather shape the things that come, than pointlessly fight to try to stave off the inevitable.”

Natalie considered this. Despite the act, despite the ruse, despite the masks, this wasn’t some work of fiction. He wasn’t just some character arbitrarily representing the hopelessness of the situation, some messenger to convey to the audience just how powerful their enemy was. He was a real person, he was her Gus. And if he had come to this conclusion, it was not lightly.

She thought on this further. She wished they had reunited ages ago. She wished he would have sought her out the moment he came to this realization. She wished so many things. Above all, she wished things could have been different.

“Then let’s run. We escaped once before, we can do it again.” Natalie spoke with steely resolve.

“Don’t you think I’ve considered that? Where would I run, and how would I stay there? All worlds are bound to this one.”

“Not ‘I’. ‘We’. He plans to unbind this world. That means he plans to unbind us, too, eventually. So we’ll just do it for him.” She was clearly getting to something, and so, although she paused, Constantine did not speak. “You know, I took what you said to heart. Technically, every structure is an infinite-dimensional shape. I incorporated some of that into the design. This,” she gestured at the cross, “is just a single facet. A shell, if you will.”

New information. Interesting. It was modified. Improved. Thoughts, calculations, estimations. Yes, this did change things. “I see,” Constantine nodded.

“And with your Rod…”

“And the power of the Line…”

“Yes. We leave this world behind. We leave the world to him. He will exert his will upon the world and its people.” She looked up at him. They both paused.

‘We will be together, though?”

“Yes, we will be together. ”

“Then everything will be all right.”

“Yes, it will.”

Orders of Magnitude: Chapter 4 – Pure Imagination

Many years later
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!”


War requires planning. Careful, meticulous, well-thought out and well-executed planning. War also requires the ability to mercilessly discard those plans the second they were rendered obsolete by your opponent. Which of course, they always were. This has led many a glib commentators to suggest that the key to war is the ability to form new plans at a moment’s notice. Which in turn, has led many reactionary commentators to retort that the key to war is, in fact, the ability to create a master plan that is impervious to as many outside forces as possible.

The truth of the matter is that there is but a single winning move in the game of war, for both yourself and your opponent. As with Shatranj, being singularly focused on any one aspect of the game will ensure that you lose. You must consider everything in the context of that one, final, winning move.

The original plan was a variation on one of the classic formations. The core principle of magical warfare is that, assuming both sides execute perfectly, it is identical to non-magical warfare. A magic user is a force multiplier, and thus useless if you have no force to multiply. A single user can easily be overrun by a few hundred determined baselines.

That was one of the first hands-on lessons that Heraclius endured from his former masters, under the tutelage of the famed battle sage, Kobayashi. Hundreds of humans were given the protection of the Cross, and Heraclius was directed to defend himself by whatever means possible. Fire was worthless. It killed many, but it posed no physical barrier. Enough emerged through the wall of flame in fighting condition to force him to fight back with melee spells, and it was only a matter of time before a stray sword cut him down.

On his second attempt, he tried to construct physical walls. They were equally disastrous; the attackers simply poured over them like a river of angry ants. Nothing seemed to be effective. Widespread effects didn’t do enough damage to physically stop the onslaught. Focused, directed damage didn’t affect enough of the army to stymie the advance. It couldn’t be done.

The futility of the task couldn’t be the purpose of the lesson, otherwise they would have ended it hours ago. So he tried getting creative. At one point, he tried simply running away, but this also was not the answer that Master Kobayashi was looking for. His frustration was beginning to get the best of him as he tried increasingly outlandish gambits.

At one point, when they brought in a new regiment to serve as attackers, he decided to take a different approach. If he couldn’t overpower them with brute force, our outmaneuver them with sheer cunning, perhaps he could cow them with pure fear?

It was a new regiment; Master Kobayashi told them the instructions prior to the battle, but this was their first run-through. So Heraclius hastily assembled a crude simulacrum of Master Kobayashi, along with the Rosarius he carried. He hoped that the army was unfamiliar enough with the exercise that they would not realize that Master Kobayashi typically observed, invisibly, at a distance.

When the army began to charge, Heraclius began the show. He feigned an argument with his creation. He artificially magnified his voice so that the first line of soldiers could clearly hear him.

“I will not tolerate this indignity any further. I am one of the Descendants! I have the blood of the Gods flowing through my veins, and you subject me to this?”

The real Master Kobayashi would have said something wise, calm, and collected in response. And he certainly would not have cowered. but these soldiers did not know the real Master Kobayashi. All they knew was that they saw a tall, angry young Descendant towering over a frail, elderly teacher.

“Heraclius Hero, you shall not disrespect your masters with such talk. You will engage in the exercise.”

“I will do no such thing! Damn you, and damn your Cross! You take the gift of our Lady and you desecrate it by bestowing it upon these swine. You shall protect them no longer!”

He cast his hand out. Master Kobayashi’s Rosarius flew up in the air, in full view of the charging army. It imploded within itself, sending a shockwave out in all directions, knocking down the first several rows of the advance. Parlor tricks. Waddiwassi. Confringo. Ventus.

Continue the act.

He cast another hand up, and the frail simulacrum of Master Kobayashi was blasted forward, then engulfed into flames. He could hear the audible gasps of the men who were still standing. They were unsure of what to make of this. For a brief moment, it was silent except for the crackling fire.

Press the advantage.

He address the crowd, who had momentarily paused. “I will have no more of this. Flee now, in peace, and you shall live. Face me at your peril.”

The army shifted, uneasily. Master Kobayashi said they would be protected… But…

Avada Kedavra!

A bolt of green light, tinged with red and flecked with specks of violet shot through the air, striking one of the men on the front line. He fell, dead on the spot. His comrades were, in a way, relieved. The specific mechanics of the protection of the Cross were such that they would shortly know if their quarry was bluffing. They waited. Nothing happened. Their comrade did not move. The signs of the Cross did not come into play. Clearly, he was dead. Their protection was gone. And an insane wizard was now threatening to do the same to them if they did not flee.

So they fled.

As it were, their companion was not, in fact, dead, and as such did not invoke the protection of the Cross. The entire thing was a ruse: a falsified “Killing Curse” wrapped in a stunner, tinged with a Nexus Charm to mask the target’s vital signs. Another minute or so and the deception would have become apparent. But they did not want to wait another minute. And when the last of the army had left the battlefield, the true Master Kobayashi began clapping slowly.

Heraclius Hero breathed a sigh of relief.

The intended lesson was manifold. Firstly: a horde of sufficiently determined baselines could cut down even the most powerful of Descendants. Magic was not magic; it had its limits. But perhaps more importantly was that the will of the people could be easily broken. Even a crude and hasty deception instilled enough fear to turn them away. Fear was their greatest weapon.

“Teach them to fear us, and they shall never raise a hand against you. All that you do must be shrouded in mystery. Even your name must be something that fills them with dread. You need a True Name that inspires fear and raises questions.”

Without pause, Heraclius spoke. “Meldh. It shall be Meldh.”

Master Kobayashi considered this, and smiled. “An old word, yes. Many possible origins, and yet all of which point to the same undeniable meaning. Yes, that name shall do. You have learned your lesson well, Meldh.”

It was for this reason that, in magical warfare, the wizards were always stationed at the back. The front lines were too filled with randomness; a single stray arrow or sword could too easily turn the tide of the battle. From the rear, the wizards could manipulate the battle in relative safety.

Every attack had its disadvantages. Death from a distance was difficult to dole out, and easy to counter. Elemental forces had their fundamental opposites. Physical attacks could be turned aside. And clever gambits could be turned against their intended purpose easily. There were a few tried and true methods, but because their efficacy was so well-known, it was easy to plan against them.

It was Shatranj on a grand scale. You attacked, they countered. They counter-attacked. You countered. You enact gambits , you sacrifice material, you control your positions. And as with Shatranj, the game typically ends in a draw. Which means that the tide of battle is determined by the army, not the wizards commanding it.

The original plan was simple. The enemy was superior in size, so they would concentrate on breaking through a single weak point in the enemy line, in order to gain entrance to the Stronghold. Once achieved, the army parts, like the Red Sea, allowing the wizards and their specialized team of shock troops access to the Stronghold itself. Then the army closes back up, shifting into a defensive position. If successful, the terrain would not allow the enemy to bring the full force of their army to bear, and it would buy Meldh and his team sufficient time to complete their task.

The battle was brutal. The enemy wizards attempted to fill the sky with weapons of death. They were small, frail things, so Meldh summoned a fierce wind to blow them back towards the enemy. This counter had been expected, and the force of the wind cause the weapons to shatter. He expected those remnants had a secondary power unto themselves, and so he and his wizards cast fire into the sky, purging the air of the attack.

War wizards were well trained in turning their counters into attacks of their own, and Meldh’s team was no exception. Even before the fire had been cast into their air, one of the wizards was crafting wards the form of Amber and Lodestone. Once the fire had done its job, the wards contained and compressed the fire into a single, white hot point of nearly unimaginable heat, which was then directed downward towards the enemy army.

There were several fairly trivial counters to such an attack, but it was novel, a rarely seen combination of those three elements. As such, the enemies turned to Void, a relatively all-purpose means of containing an unknown threat. The air above the army crackled with the vacuum, as the fabric of the world itself was rent asunder. The Void was enhanced by the Boxes of one of their masters, and like the gaping maw of some creature that existed beyond space and time, it opened wide to swallow the singular point of energy.

Such a defense was not without costs, however. The Void swallowed more than the magical attack; it twisted the flow of the Ley, and all wizards both friend and foe alike needed to recalibrate. This meant that the defensive Void could not be harnessed into an attack of its own. The Void simply existed, was filled, and then existed no more.

Both sides opted for offensive, physical attacks once repositioned. Two volleys of enchanted arrows. Simple, effective, and ultimately nothing that a sizable team of archers could not accomplish on their own without the help of magic. The arrows were more effective against the defending army who had less freedom of movement. Attacker and defender alike were forced to raise their shields to ward off the projectiles, lending further advantage to the attackers who were not relying on heavy spears.

As the phalanx crashed forwards, the battle continued, a game of magical cat-and-mouse, for upwards of an hour. The enemy line was thinning against the continued onslaught, but it was beginning to compress inward once it had realized the nature of the attack. Time was now of the essence, so they began the second phase of their attack.

From the middle ranks, the men in enchanted plate mail charged forward. They held no weapons, only shields. This disoriented the individual defenders, who braced for attacks which did not come. This allowed the men, despite their limited mobility due to the armor, to slip by. They pushed farther into the ranks of the opposing army, using their shields as battering rams to continue the penetration.

The enemy quickly formed an interlocked defensive line of shields, which could not be penetrated by the handful of charging, armored soldiers, who were unceremoniously cut down. This was, however, the intended effect. The suits of armor, which had been linked together by magic, detected the moment that the last of their wearers expired.

And then they exploded.

It was not a particularly devastating attack, but it was unexpected, and it created a physical clearing which Meldh’s army immediately seized upon. Soldiers fled their individual skirmishes and flooded into the hole that was punched in the line, and pushed forward with reckless abandon. They could see light, grass, and rock. They had reached the back, the end of the line, and drove in like a wedge. The signal was called, and Meldh and his team began their charge.

What Meldh and his army did not know was that their attack would have been doomed to failure. It was filled with too many clever ideas and desperate gambits that had but a fractional chance of success. A well-placed explosion made for good drama, but a true army would quickly regroup and repel the attack with renewed vigor.

The attack was successful because The Three had decided it was time for their decisive strike against the coalition. The attack was successful because it was bolstered by the combined power of Gom’Jorbol of the Rod, and Kri’Xiang of the Glass. Masquerading as pawns, they led the charge into the Stronghold, and in the midst of the chaos, no one noticed the two lone soldiers charging inside before Meldh and the shock troops could arrive.

They were Gods, and yet, they looked like men. On the battlefield, they gave off no supernatural aura of power, nor did they make mere mortals feel compelled to bow before them through some unknown impulse. They were simply men. But once they were inside the Stronghold, it was time to put the masks on.

Gom’Jorbol stood, tall, proud, as his glittering armor instantiated around him. Massive, oversized epaulets crafted of plate were decorated with gilt and jewels. A stylized eagle adorned his chest, and a sash hung from his waist. He had seen the armor once, in a book from his youth an eternity ago, and it caught his eye. In his hand, he carried a two-meter tall spear, tipped with a sharpened diamond the size of two hands clasped together. The diamond alone was worth the riches of an entire kingdom. The combined wealth of a hundred kingdoms was not even a fraction as valuable as the staff which the diamond tipped: the Rod of Ankyras.

And yet, even that was but a paltry curio compared to the mirrored shield that Kri’Xiang carried in his hand. A massive, inviolate, golden oval that did not so much move through the world as the world moved around it. He was smaller than Gom’Jorbol, but no less intimidating when he chose to be. Together, they strode into the depths of the Stronghold.

Although they were prepared for battle, they found none. They were expected. Which was, unto itself, not entirely unexpected. When they reached the main atrium, they stopped, and Gom’Jorbol turned to Kri’Xiang.

“Do you think you can handle Janus and Kayla by yourself?”

Kri’Xiang laughed. “Do you think I’d be here if I couldn’t?”

“Good. Then let’s end this.”

They nodded towards each other, and went their separate ways.

As they walked down their respective halls, Kri’Xiang to the left and Gom’Jorbol to the right, they could hear the clashes of pitched battle begin anew at the entrance to the Stronghold: the shock troops had arrived. The distinctive roar of magic being used in melee combat echoed in the distance.

Gom’Jorbol reminded himself that if he survived this, he owed it to the mortals to help them escape. He pondered this thought, among many, as he walked down the hall. The familiarity of it all and the anticipation made it difficult to focus. What would he say? How could he do it?

He finally reached the tall wooden doors that led to the narthex. With one solid kick, they flew open, and he strode in, an avenging angel in battle armor, carrying the Spear of Destiny.

His heart swelled. At the end of the temple, stood Neirkalatia of the Cross, wearing armor of the same design with a distinctly feminine twist. She was beautiful, of course. He always found her beautiful. Physically, yes, but physical beauty was easy to come by. All of the Old Ones were stunning in their physical perfection, except the ones who deliberately chose otherwise. No, it was her mind and her Will that was beautiful. And the image he carried with him paled in comparison to the truth of her being. For the first time in eternity, Gom’Jorbol felt hope.

In her hands was a four-foot tall, stylized cross, a Masonic blade of supernatural sharpness and legendary unto its own right. Behind her was the True Cross, tall and glorious. Today, it was not wood. It was primed: the True Cross in its true form.

Today, Neirkalatia knew she was going to die.

She stood, her back facing Gom’Jorbol, staring up at the cross. She pondered the eons of time that had passed, and she thought about all the things she could say, all the things she could do. A small smile crossed her face.

“Hello, Gus.”

“Hello, Nat.”

Orders of Magnitude: Chapter 3 – The Fall

XXXXXX
XX,XXX X.X.

Merlin 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.

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, 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 knowledgeable 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.



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.