Phew! Video editing completed! I can go to bed now that I’ve uploaded it to our store’s YouTube channel; Grandma outdid herself with this week’s tarot predictions. She must have been an actress in another life, so much so that she embodies the cliché of the fortune-teller: she does tons, but it works, as we have almost 100,000 subscribers following Pythia’s Oracle. I turn off the computer when a loud scream from the kitchen sends me scurrying out of my room.
“Grandma! Are you all right?”
Not only is she not answering me, but she’s talking to herself again… My grandmother Sarah is so into her role as an “esoteric mystic” that she has a habit of talking aloud to her guide named Dick Malone, a so-called gangster from 1950s Chicago who has been communicating with her for as long as I can remember… But right now, all pale and stiff, she’s chatting with Shujin and Bokhor? Where is Dick?
“Grandma, what’s happened to you?”
“Hurry up, Sybil! Come with me! We don’t have much time!”
“But… Where are you going at one in the morning?”
“In the courtyard of our house; he’s injured and we have to hide him!”
Confused, I hurry to follow Grandma, who has just run out of the apartment and down the stairs, much faster than her canonical age of seventy-eight would suggest. And there, half hidden by the garbage cans, lies a stranger. He’s unconscious and seems to be in bad shape.
“Ah, don’t start, Dick. Help us find a way to get him home!”
And there’s Dick again…
“Sybil, go and get the cart for the deliveries. We’ll put him on it and put him in the storeroom. It’s not great, but it’s the best we can do. Then go upstairs to the bathroom and get the first-aid kit, pronto!”
As I sprint back to the store, I wonder what Grandma, who admittedly has a knack for this, has gotten us into again. But she doesn’t really give me time to think, given the urgency with which she wants us to get moving.
Man, he’s as heavy as a dead donkey!
We manage to tuck him in as best we can and put him on a cardboard mattress. It’s a good thing I hadn’t already thrown out the disassembled packaging from our last shipment this afternoon. His torn clothes show that he’s got a nasty gash on his torso and back, like a second-degree burn that’s not pretty at all, not to mention the bruises that cover his body from head to toe.
“I remember, Dick, it’s okay,” Grandma says. “I’ve got it. I’ll get the balms and the healing stones.”
Well, I’ll bring back some disinfectant and bandages; otherwise the bastard will die before dawn, and I can’t imagine myself explaining to the police how we ended up with a stiff “But I assure you, Officer, my grandmother’s guide told us where to find this man so we could treat him with stones.” I can just imagine the policeman’s face when he takes us straight to the Sainte-Anne Psychiatric Hospital—but that would be better than a prison cell, wouldn’t it?
“Honestly, Dick, did you want me to leave him out in the yard to die?”
“And what’s the point of being stuck? You’re going to get yourself in trouble: a guy doesn’t get into this state because he has a little problem! Why did you listen to those spirits in the first place? Usually, they give you messages, and sometimes you don’t even pass them on, but you never intervene. I’m the only ghost you need to listen to!”
And now Dick is up to his old underworld tricks…
“This is an emergency, I tell you. This boy plays an important role in the Magi’s history. Without him, their society will implode!”
“By the Almighty Godfather, stop believing whatever nonsense some crazy spirits tell you. Magi—wizard? What’s next? Besides, if he can die, he’s not so magical after all, is he?”
I’ve been summoned to the atrium—our headquarters in a beautiful Haussmann building in the 6th arrondissement of Paris—for the annual meeting of the leaders of our magical community, our three Magisters from Europe, Africa, and Asia. And I’m late…
My mission took longer than expected, but I should have known better with those damned Magi from America. It’s the only continent that doesn’t have its own leader anymore. It fell under the tutelage of Europe twenty years ago, but that doesn’t stop some ambitious people from wanting to proclaim themselves Magisters on a regular basis. As the First Electi of my squadron, I’m the guarantor of our laws and often have to keep others in line.
Okay, I nuked that one because he was so stubborn. But let’s not argue about syntax… Tykala, our Magister from Europe, will be happy to know that order and serenity have returned to the other side of the Atlantic, and that this umpteenth coup attempt will not have lasted more than a week.
Absorbed in my unflattering reflections on these “Iznogoud” wizards who want to become Magister in place of the Magisters, as they’re called in my squadron, it takes me a few seconds, as I open the doors, to understand what’s happening in front of me.
Erick, my commander, is standing with the bodies of Shujin, Magister of Asia, and Bokhor, Magister of Africa, slumped on the floor at his feet. I rush over and kneel down beside Shujin. Given the depth of the wound on his throat, he didn’t have time to realize what was happening or to cast a healing spell. He was dead before he even hit the ground…
“Erick? What happened to you? Are you all right? Where’s Tykala?”
I don’t have a chance to get up before my commander attacks me with a fireball that explodes my chest—or so it seems. Relying on my years of training, I ignore the pain and quickly roll to the side, taking temporary refuge behind one of the large marble columns that adorn our ceremonial hall.
“Erick? What happened to you?”
His answer, in a jubilant voice that’s completely inappropriate for the situation, makes my blood freeze.
“Well, Dimitri, I’m glad you’ve finally arrived! All these years of training you and the one time you’re really indispensable, you’re late. You came so close to missing the party! Tsss… And yet, you’re the special guest at this gathering. You killed Shujin and Bokhor. And glory be to me for taking you down before you could do the same to Tykala.”
“No one would believe such a thing! I wasn’t even at the meeting. Who would believe I’d do such a thing?”
“Come on, Dimitri, no one will have any doubts when I tell them how you waited until the Magisters were alone after their official meeting and then finally showed your true face… It has to be said that perfidy runs in your family, doesn’t it?”
In spite of myself, the leaden weight that has been on my shoulders for twenty years is only growing heavier. My father Julius, the former Magister of Europe, treacherously murdered the Magister of America, Mattheus, two decades ago. But he was stopped by his best friend Kyrios, who managed to wound him enough to hold him back until the Electi could intervene. He never explained his actions and was executed, bringing shame to our name.
Four years old at the time, I didn’t want to believe the story, but Kyrios himself told it to me over and over again. Remembering his relationship with my father “before he went mad,” he took me in and raised me at a time when everyone else was calling for me to be eliminated so as not to risk blood contamination, since no one ever found out why he’d done it.
For the past twenty years, I’ve been redeeming my name by putting myself in the service of the wizard community: I’ve become the best of the Electi, and yet that won’t be enough to give me the slightest benefit of the doubt. They’re all out there waiting for me to make the wrong move, and Kyrios has been warned time and again that he’ll regret his charitable gesture one day.
My heart bleeds more at that thought than at Erick’s attack. The one person who has been kind to me and to whom I owe my life will be destroyed by this lie. His “lack of discernment” may cost him his place in our fellowship. He may even be disowned as Tykala’s advisor. She only tolerates me because of Kyrios’s influence, for it was thanks to him that she succeeded in taking over the leadership of the wizards of Europe and America as Mattheus’s heir. Kyrios maneuvered well to make up for my father’s mistakes, and he implemented this solution to avoid open war between our two continents. But I understand Tykala, because if I had to see the son of my father’s murderer on a regular basis, I would probably take revenge on the slightest excuse. I don’t really blame her, but I do suffer for Kyrios, who shouldn’t have to pay for this plot after all he’s done for me. All these thoughts collide in my head, and I come to the conclusion that my only chance to prevent such a thing is to escape so that I can try to prove my innocence. I gather my strength and prepare an isolation spell. I know I’ll only have one chance. I calculate in my head; it’s twenty-two steps to the door, and Erick will surely attack again as soon as I show him even one square centimeter of his target. It’s going to hurt…
One, two, three!
I jump up and run toward the large doors of the atrium. As expected, Erick throws another fearsome fireball, knocking me flat and destroying my back! But in my fall, I manage to reach the atrium doors, which I slam shut, releasing the spell that traps Erick in the room.
His arrogance is his weakness. Because he’s the commander, he thinks he’s the strongest, but even though he’s very powerful, I learned long ago to hide my potential. With my “tainted heritage,” I would have been too dangerous in the eyes of those petty and suspicious Magi. Even becoming the First of the Electi was a calculated risk on my part. I’m constantly on precarious balance, so that in the eyes of my community I’m a force to be reckoned with rather than a threat to be eliminated.
Erick threw a powerful attack on me, but he didn’t see fit to put all his energy into it at once. It’s no doubt this mistake that allows me to stumble to my feet and slip out of the building, protected by an invisibility spell I cast in a hurry. I dodge the wizard who comes running, alerted by the banging on the doors and Erick’s screams of rage that fill the floor. But expending so much energy at once while my body is also struggling with injuries finally gets the better of me. On the verge of passing out, I’m forced to hide behind some containers in the small courtyard I entered during my escape. With the last of my strength, I cast a healing spell against the torment of the burns before everything goes black.
I regain consciousness without moving, barely opening my eyes, hearing voices… women’s voices. I’m lying on my side, half-naked and covered with some kind of pasty ointment that smells terrible and strong. Where am I? Have they found me already?
Footsteps approach and I’m ready to intervene, although my body protests at the slightest movement.