Scene 9 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Morning
It took longer than I’d have liked for Abe to get back to the Compound – he was a fast mover, but Nic had gone out on patrol for the first time today, and he was limited to normal human speed.
After fifteen minutes or so, however, my boyfriend arrived with the Journeyman in tow. His usual relaxed smile was gone, replaced by stern frown – I felt much the same.
“Have you been able to get in contact with him?” Abe asked me as soon as he walked into the room.
I rose from the console chair and nodded at it. “Take over for me?” I asked Nic, who nodded and slid into place. Abe and I stepped out, heading towards the staging area that led directly out of the Compound. “I called three times,” I told him, “but he didn’t pick up.”
“He didn’t pick up for me, either,” Abe said. “Something’s up with him.”
“This is completely out of character for Max,” I agreed. “He’s never pulled anything like this before. I mean, I guess the demand for tribute is something he might want, since he called out Arthur Peregrine in particular, but…”
“But he usually stuck to theft,” Abe finished. “This is just… megalomaniacal.” I nodded. “Did you get in contact with the other Champions?”
“Miriam is on her way, but Adam is busy. And Ben…”
“…never takes overtime, yeah. That…” He let out a sigh, clearly thinking that he was an ass but not saying it. “I think we should call Peregrine, too.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah,” Abe nodded, “I have a feeling there’s some magic bullshit going on here – not only is this kind of thing out of character for Max, it’s also well beyond his capabilities – or what I thought were his capabilities, anyway. I just hope that Peregrine answers.” He strode to the staging area’s video call screen, a large tv and camera combo that hung on the wall, and quickly navigated through a contacts list to call Peregrine.
We waited, both feeling tense, as the screen rang once… twice… three times… then sprang into life.
Arthur Peregrine was a man who could be best described as ‘tired’. He always looked as though he hadn’t slept the night before, heavy bags under his half-lidded eyes and the general demeanor of an overworked professor. He wore no costume, instead wearing a warm sweater beneath a dark blazer. The only concession to his status as a registered hero, not just a powerful magician, was the pin on one side of the blazer’s collar – a golden bird, wings spread, which I identified as a peregrine falcon. He seemed to be answering the call from a phone, as the viewpoint shifted slightly until it stabilized, presumably set down and propped against something.
“Canaveral. Zookeeper. What is it,” he said, and it didn’t sound like a question.
I had never spoken with the man before – he tended to discourage unnecessary calls – so it startled me a little that he was able to identify me on site, and his directness put me off balance as well. My boyfriend, thankfully, had no such issue.
“A local mage and super criminal, the Magnificent Maxwell, is attempting to assert control over the city,” he began.
“Really? How odd,” Arthur noted.
“We thought so as well. It’s out of character for the man, a very different means and apparent motive than he’s ever had before. It’s also a threat well above the abilities he’s ever shown to date.”
“It does indeed seem to be a level of narcissism well beyond the tendencies spotted with him when we met,” Arthur agreed. “And he’s certainly not able to threaten an entire city at once – only a few people in world can boast that, and I keep track of all of them.”
“Wait, you’ve met Max?” I cut in.
He nodded. “I interviewed him in hopes of gaining a new apprentice, some… four years ago, I believe. It was shortly after he began studying magic, and he showed a certain amount of promise, but his style of casting wasn’t very compatible with mine. Between that and the narcissistic leanings I mentioned, he didn’t make it through the interview.”
“I didn’t know he had interviewed with you,” I said. “In fact, from the way he talked about you, I got the impression you didn’t take apprentices at all. And… narcissistic leanings?”
Arthur shrugged. “Very rarely, I’m afraid. My style of casting is quite uncommon, and my standards are quite high. It’s been 20 years since I had an apprentice, and another 30 before that. And yes, narcissistic leanings – the man was very self-centered and seemed to view the world as revolving around himself. But that’s beside the point.”
“Is it?” Abe asked. “Max is demanding tribute from you in particular. I think he wants knowledge he believes that you’re keeping from the world – maybe because of the narcissism you’re accusing him of.”
“Possible, I suppose. But you seem to know Mr. Copperfield quite well already – why are you calling me?”
“Because this is out of character and beyond his abilities,” Abe reminded him, “and I have sources that tell me Max has been looking for a magical artifact. If he’s found it, could the artifact be the reason?”
I glanced at him curiously. It had been a while since I had seen Max – not since we had broken up, in fact – so I was curious how Abe had learned what he was after. As far as I knew, they had met only briefly, on Quinn’s first night heroing.
“Possibly,” Arthur said. “It depends on the artifact. Do you know what it was?”
“It was described to me as an instructional book written by Merlin,” Abe told him. “If he found it, could that explain the jump in his power?”
The magician shook his head. “Quite impossible.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Three reasons.” He lifted three fingers to count them down. “First, the book is a basic primer to a variety of subjects – it doesn’t cover them in the depth necessary to, say, threaten a city. Learning basic information about pyromancy, yes – deepening his manipulation of extradimensional spaces to the point that he could affect an entire city, no.
“Second, the book is written in Old English, and not very well written at that. It’s almost useless as a primer even if you can decipher the language, which I doubt that Mr. Copperfield could do.
“And thirdly…” Arthur reached off the edge of what the video call showed, and there was a crackle like lightning on his end, along with a flash of light from off screen. He retracted his hand holding a thick, obviously primitive book. “…the book has been in my library for nearly 20 years. There’s no possibility that he could stolen it once, let alone returned it without my notice.” He set it down.
“Then… what was Max looking for?” I asked. “If your source was mistaken…”
“More likely, he’s unaware that I have it. The book had fallen into a pocket dimension in 1999, along with a number of other artifacts from the time, and I didn’t publicize it when I recovered them…” His eyes widened. “Fuck,” he suddenly whispered.
“What’s wrong?” Abe asked.
“If he tracked the book to that pocket dimension, he might have taken what I left behind,” Arthur said, not really looking at us. “If he did…” The wizard vanished in another loud crackle and a flash of light, an effect which seemed to cause the video to be overcome by static for a few moments, slowly fading from the inside out.
Abe and I exchanged glances. “If Arthur Peregrine is worried about whatever Max found…” he began.
“…we probably should be too,” I finished, and he nodded.
There was another crackle, and when the static faded from the screen, Arthur was visible again – this time, he didn’t seem tired at all, and was instead fuming. “It’s as I feared,” he informed us. “Copperfield has drawn Excalibur back into the world.”
“The… the sword in the stone?” I asked.
“Not exactly. They both belonged to King Arthur, but the sword in the stone was broken in battle, and Excalibur a gift from -” he began, then stopped. “Not important, I suppose. The point is that Excalibur is a very powerful artifact – one of the ones I habitually check on every week – and I left it in that pocket dimension for a reason.”
“What does it do?” Abe asked. “I think I remember something about it making the wielder invincible, but…”
“Keep in mind,” Arthur warned, “that this blade has not been used in more than a millennium – it’s been locked in those stones ever since Charlemagne lost it. The information I have may not be reliable.”
“Anything you can tell us will be helpful,” I assured him.
He sighed. “In principal, Excalibur is not dissimilar to the wide variety of magical items that can only be used by those considered worthy. However, it takes a different stance on this than Mjolnir, which cannot even be lifted except by the worthy, or Corquestor, which will lead the unworthy to ruin. Instead, Excalibur declares that those who touch it without being worthy of kingship should become worthy.”
“…and what, exactly, does that mean?” Abe asked. “That’s not incredibly clear.”
“It acts as a general enhancement to whoever wields it,” Arthur explained. “My belief is that it enhances all aspects of a person, including the power of any metahuman abilities and their skill in magic, until whatever quality the blade measures to determine worthiness is fulfilled.”
“So Max wouldn’t have been worthy, but the sword enhanced him until he was,” I summed up. “And in the process, it made him powerful enough to threaten the city.”
He nodded. “And most likely enhanced his narcissistic tendencies into full-fledged megalomania, which is why he seems to think it’s a good idea to do so.”
“Can you come help us, then?” I asked. “If Excalibur is so dangerous…”
He sighed. “I wish I could, but this is the worst possible time for it. I won’t be available at all until the 23rd, at the earliest. Possible the 22nd, if things go badly for this week’s interviews, but… well, I have confidence that you’ll have dealt with the situation by then regardless of my availability.”
“What keeps you so busy?” I couldn’t help but wonder.
“Today I’m familiarizing myself with every patient in Peregrine Hospital, so that I can heal them as efficiently as possible when I make my weekly visit tomorrow. The Monday following will be spent on those administrative duties that I can’t push off to my deputy. Then Tuesday is my weekly search for an apprentice – I have a young man from California in the morning, although I don’t have much hope for him, and a more promising young lady from India in the afternoon.”
“But if she falls flat and the interview ends quickly, you’ll be able to come?”
He nodded. “But as I said, she shows a lot of promise. I hope I’ll be able to accept her – it has, as I said, been far too long since I took an apprentice. It this had happened in the last three days…”
“More free those days?”
“I’m not exactly less busy, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but they’re solitary days rather than filled with appointments. I’m more able to shuffle those projects around – Wednesday I check on the status of various magical dangers, including Excalibur, and Thursday is my day for research.”
“And Friday?” I asked, curious.
“Friday is my one day off,” Arthur told me. “I’ll come for situations like this, but I need at least some rest.” He sighed. “Honestly, I barely have time for this phone call.”
“Sorry to distract you, then,” Abe said. “We’ll leave you be, and… I suppose we’ll send you a message when the situation is over, so you don’t have to worry about it during your interviews.”
“I’d appreciate it.” The call ended with no further preamble. I suppose I understood why the man had been so curt at the beginning, now that I knew how busy he was.
“What have I missed?” Anima asked, entering.
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