Scene 6 – December 19th
Interior Higgins Museum, Early Morning
It was easy enough to slip into the Higgins Museum – while its main doors were opaque and it had no windows on the ground floor, the second level of the old building had windows. I simply stepped into a dimensional pocket and out of it within the museum.
There was no need for stage haze today – my careful expeditions into the museum over the last week to determine its security system told me that there were no laser wires – at least, not in the areas I was going to. Instead, I had to take slow, careful steps – the museum was protected mainly by sound detectors. They were mostly meant to pick up the shattering of glass cases, but if they were sensitive enough… I wasn’t sure how sensitive they were – probably not very, since there would be a night guard around somewhere and another in the security office, and whoever was on duty tonight was unlikely to have a light step. Just in case, however, I had vanished my shoes for the moment and replaced the thin socks which usually went with my suit with thick woolen ones to further muffle the soft sound of my footsteps.
I had remembered about the security cameras, this time, and had bought a device from Motael which the gadgeteer had assured me would leave me invisible to the cameras, but I hadn’t been able to afford the extra for it to work on the noise sensors. I had no idea how it worked, but I trusted him not to backstab me – he was smart enough not to ruin his reputation as the city’s best provider of tech to villains. Not over something so apparently small, anyway.
It was ridiculous how long it had taken me to find this damn book, I mused as I began moving towards the Camelot exhibit, which was the current centerpiece of the museum. After the discovery that Merlin’s book had fallen into a dimensional pocket bound to one of 14 foundational stones of Camelot, I had spent three months steadily tracking where each of the stones had ended up. I had only found 11 of them when I had figured out the key, just a week or two ago – the storage enchantment that Merlin had laid down, and that his book had fallen afoul of, was on all of Camelot’s stones – as a collection, not each stone individually. As such, any of the stones should be able to act as my key into the dimension that contained the manual.
The manual and a number of other magical relics, which I would also be taking. But those were just bonuses.
I had to pause on my way through the dinosaur exhibit, hearing the night guard approach. As I had guessed, he was a heavyset man, although he was younger than I would have thought. He wouldn’t be any trouble to slip into a pocket until the end of the night, but instead I hid – I wanted this theft to go unnoticed. No one should have any reason to know or care that the stone doubled as magical storage, so I was confident it was possible – all I had to do was continue dodge the security as I had been.
Despite my attempts at stealth, however, the guard seemed to have picked up on something. Even though his rounds shouldn’t take him actually through the dinosaur exhibit until closer to sunrise, he had paused to shine his flashlight into the darkness. I huddled behind the podium that held the T. Rex and hoped he would move on his own.
No such luck. “Who’s there?” the guard called. How to make him think that he had imagined whatever had drawn his attention…
Well, it had begun storming an hour or two ago. Perhaps I could…
I released a large sheet of aluminum into my arms – not big enough to be seen around the edge of the podium, but still sizable. I shook it once or twice, and the wobbling metal made a sound like thunder – a classic foley trick that I had used in a show a few years ago.
The sound of the thunder, as I had hoped, triggered the alarm system. The guard cursed and spoke. “Hey, shut off that alarm,” he said, and I heard him turn and begin to walk away. “No, it was the thunder. Loud as shit, you hear that?”
I leaned around the edge of the podium and saw that the guard was speaking into a walkie talkie, presumably to his partner in the security office. His voice began to fade as he continued his rounds, saying, “you really didn’t hear that? I thought I was gonna go deaf for a moment, damn thing nearly…”
The alarms faded and shut off, and I breathed out. I was glad I hadn’t had to resort to my next idea – starting a fire behind him. I had finally cracked adding kinetic energy to what I released from my dimensional pockets a month or so ago – at a very basic level, at least. I still couldn’t add in much more than the equivalent of a gentle shove. I still remembered the lesson I had learned along the way, though – the twisting of my mind that would ignite whatever I pulled out. My extradimensional storage now held a box of matches to be dropped anywhere that might need to catch fire, as well as a few bags of flour in case I needed explosions and a huge stack of flash paper, for more harmless flames. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, after all.
But I digress.
I didn’t run into any other trouble as I headed towards the Camelot exhibit, thankfully, so the museum remained unburnt. Its centerpiece was the stone itself, which was the only genuine artifact in the exhibit – everything else was a reproduction of something that actually lived in a different museum, or at least in storage.
The stone was pretty large as such things went, according to the placard left by the museum. It had been set up as something like a table – only six inches or so thick, but five feet long and three feet wide. It was sitting atop four supports, just like table legs. Apparently, it and other stones like it had been used to make a flat, sturdy foundation for the castle to be built on.
But I digress. Its exact history didn’t matter – what mattered was what lay inside it.
Looking at the slab of rock, I could easily see the magical energies that oozed out of it like sap from a tree. It was a slow but steady emission of a power that was invisible to the naked eye, but stood out to a magician looking for it like a sore thumb. I used that leaking energy as a guide, reaching out a hand and my mind to follow the flow of the power back to the dimension it was leaking from.
It wasn’t meant to leak, I could tell, but the extradimensional space was damaged – if it ought to have had a massive vault door, impossible to breach but opening easily to those with the proper key, that door had been bent and broken by the magical battle that had resulted in the book falling into it. The metaphorical vault door was wedged firmly into its frame and wouldn’t come out even to someone with a key – it was sealed shut to the point that I couldn’t really blame the hero who had accidentally done it for failing to retrieve the lost artifacts.
But I wasn’t Murphy Fox, and the seal of the vault was less perfect than it ought to have been, even if it could no longer open properly – the leaking energy was proof of that. I could get in, I was certain of it.
It was something like picking a lock and something like crawling through a tunnel and something like navigating a rope maze, but mostly it wasn’t like any of those. Working magic on the world could be understood with a metaphor, perhaps, but there was no metaphor up to the task of explaining what it was like to work magic on another piece of magic. Trying wasn’t like trying to explain sight to a blind man – it was like a blind man trying to explain sight.
Despite the incomprehensibility of the task, however, I was making progress.
Scene 7 – December 19th
Interior Higgins Museum, Continuous
“Look, Terry,” I said to my partner, “that security office is underground and clear on the other side of the building to boot! It’s not that weird that you didn’t hear the thunder!”
“I’m telling you, it’s weird,” she insisted. “I have good hearing, I would have heard something if it was really as loud as you said. Besides, it’s not storming – just raining. I mean, have you even heard any other thunder?”
“No,” I had to admit. “But even so -”
“And it’s not like the sensors go off for thunder normally. This shit is high tech, Mike, it can tell the difference between thunder outside and a sound from inside. I’m telling you, something’s up.”
“You think someone snuck in here to set off the alarms with a fake thunder noise?” I skeptically asked.
“I think someone used a fake thunder noise to cover up a more suspicious sound,” she said. “And they did it right in front of you so that you would have me mark it as a false alarm.”
I sighed. “Alright, alright. I’ll go back and double check the dinosaur exhibit. Lemme just look in on the Camelot thing first, aright? It’s right here, I might as well.”
“Fine. Just make it quick.”
I stepped into the central room of the museum to see the current rotating exhibit – a bunch of shit from the early middle ages, plus a rock that was supposed to be from Camelot. I didn’t know the details, just what it was supposed to look like under the light of my flashlight.
It didn’t look like it should.
The hunk of rock that was the exhibit’s centerpiece was glowing,the upper face of it rippling like water and emitting an eerie light that illuminated the figure of a man in red leaning over it, his hands extended in the air above the freaky thing.
“Hey!” I shouted, grabbing for my walkie talkie to tell Terry. I missed in my surprise – in all the years I had worked as night guard, I had never bumped into anyone stealing on my watch. Or… doing whatever the hell this guy was going. “Hey, step away from the… the thing!”
He glanced up at me and sighed. A click of his fingers and my walkie talkie was in his hand, not on my belt. “I don’t suppose,” he asked in a remarkably smooth voice, “that I could convince you to forget you saw this?”
“Um…” I stared at him, confused.
“I can give you money,” he added, apparently trying to clarify the bribery attempt. “I promise, I’m not stealing anything the museum knows about.”
“…what the hell does that mean?”
He gestured to the stone, and its surface wavered. “This stone is a magical container of a sort. It contains a number of artifacts thought lost forever.”
“The hell you mean by artifacts?” I demanded.
“Allow me to demonstrate,” he said, flashing me a grin. He plunged his arm – not the one holding my walkie talkie – into the surface of the stone like it was a pool of water, and began rooting around within it. The smile on his face quickly faded into a frown. “…the hell?”
“Is it empty, or some shit?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“No,” the red-suited man said, sounding irritated, “but the book I was expecting to find isn’t here. Neither is anything else I thought was in there. All there is, is…”
He pulled, and a gleaming sword came out of the stone.
It was a ornate longsword, a golden crossguard protecting the hand from a long silver blade. It didn’t stay that way long, though – the shape of the blade began to morph and shift, shrinking to only two feet long or so and the crossguard changing shape as well, until it was something almost like a long wand.
The intruder’s eyes flashed as he stared at the sword, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose. A moment later flame began to lick around him, sprouting from nothingness in a ghostly aura that didn’t seem to harm him at all, only give him an eerie, backlit aura.
A smile spread across his face, and while he was undeniably handsome, that smile in that light made him ugly. The man had done barely anything, and I was more terrified of him than I had ever been in my life.
I was almost grateful when he flicked the wand towards me, and everything went dark.
Scene 8 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Morning
I shifted in the large seat, trying to settle into the console chair better, and once again cursed the rule that those manning the console had to be in costume, and wished that my powers were a little different. I understood why, yes – the hero on console was also on call, ready to pass it to an unpowered agent or to a Journeyman if their presence was necessary, but my costume just wasn’t comfortable to sit in.
It didn’t usually bother me that my costume left me naked beneath the covering coat – it was a simple necessity, given that my shapeshifting power didn’t change my clothes with me. I could either wear something that was easy to slip into and out of as I shifted, or I could destroy clothes every time I had to change. The choice was easy – it’s not as though I had ever been body-shy – despite the slut-shaming it drew from the conservative segments of the media and, just as bad if not worse, the lustful comments from many men. And some women.
But whenever I had console duty and found myself sitting my bare ass on a leather coat on a leather-covered seat, I went through this same train of thought.
A name caught my eye in one of the scrolling newsfeeds that the console displayed on one of its many screens, ‘…to be local supervillain the Magnificent Maxwell…” and I switched a screen over to the relevant channel. What had Max done this time?
I found myself watching in horror as a pair of all-too-nonchalant newscasters discussed what my ex-boyfriend was doing, and whether or not he could actually match up to his demands. Apparently, he had declared himself to be the new king of New Venice, and as his first act had demanded tribute from all those who wished to continue operating within the city.
Even now, one of the news anchors said, and the channel switched to a video demonstrating, Max appeared to be constructing a castle from which to rule. The Higgins Museum was being reshaped, pieces of it vanishing and reappearing in different places, and just as they claimed it was bearing an increasing resemblance to a castle.
“Oh, Max,” I whispered, leaning forward to call Abe in from patrol so he could make a plan, “what in god’s name are you thinking?”
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