Scene 38 – December 23rd
Interior Cell Block, Late Morning
I felt empty.
When I had taken up the sword – Excalibur, according to Abe – I had been filled with power, filled with understanding. The world had seemed so simple, magic had seemed so simple. My thoughts had raced, I had built great towers of logic with perfect clarity. Spells far beyond my reach had been simple. It seemed as though I had no limits. And now…
In only a few moments, Anima had claimed it for herself, and those towers of thought had come crashing down. I had collapsed as well, drained of both my energy and my mind, or so it had felt. I could barely remember those heights, now – even the events themselves were dim and hard to recollect, so colored had they been by my lofty thoughts.
I wasn’t sure how long it had been, since then. A few days, perhaps, since I had been deposited in the magic-suppressing cells beneath the MLED Compound. No doubt I would eventually be transferred to Steel Island, where I would remain until I escaped. If I escaped.
I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like, to be in prison. I had never been caught before. Unpleasant, no doubt, but they probably couldn’t hold me. Steel Island couldn’t hold villains as weak as Voltage, Motael, or Ridealong – how could they possibly hold me, even without Excalibur?
I was jostled into full awareness by the sound of my name from a familiar voice. My head rose and swiveled and I saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen – Abraham Armstrong and Emilia Alvarez, the couple that I had loved and lost and regretted losing. I was overcome by an intense feeling of relief – thank god, I thought, because Abe and Emilia were here.
Just as quickly, I was set upon by an equally intense guilt. I had hurt them, I knew it. I had neglected them both until I lost them, obsessed with finding a book that might, it seemed, have been lost forever – had then attacked them, while in possession of a sword that, according to Abe, at least, had been affecting my mind.
And here they were, looking at me with pity and rage and tenderness and love in such quantities that I could hardly bear it. Looking at me like that now, while I was a failure and locked into an appearance that I hated and dressed in rags and…
“Don’t-” I said, my voice rough with disuse – I hadn’t spoken since the moment Excalibur left my hand. “…don’t look at me.”
“Max,” Emilia said, sitting in the chair on the other side of the glass from me, resting her hands on the table that crossed it. “Why don’t you want us to look at you?”
That was a complicated question. I tried to marshal my thoughts to explain that I had done something horrible by even pretending to take over the city – especially since my thoughts had been leaning farther towards truly attempting to do so that than I had let on to Abe and Emilia when they had confronted me. I tried to figure out how to explain that my natural face was disgusting to me, and that wearing the glamour of my true face allowed me to feel comfortable with the world and myself. I tried to think of how to explain that the sight of them was painful to me, and shouldn’t my own face be equally painful to them?
All I could say was, “I’m hideous.”
She exchanged a look with Abe, one which I, with my mind still staggered by the loss of Excalibur, was unable to decipher. He squeezed her shoulders from where he stood behind her, then said, “Max. Are you feeling okay?”
“…no,” I admitted. “I feel like… like a puzzle with half its pieces scattered. And I… I’ve always felt like that, a little bit, but…” I sighed. “I had a glimpse of the box, just for a moment. I saw where I was going and how to get there. And now even that’s gone. Now I’m just broken, and I barely remember what being complete would look like.”
Another one of those looks. “Are these withdrawal symptoms, do you think?” Emilia asked. “Miriam is struggling with them as well.”
I waved a hand dismissively. “No, that’s not it. There’s no lingering magic, I would notice that,” I said. “It’s just the effect of having had power and then lost it. I was so much more, and now…”
“Max, I said it before and I’ll say it again,” Emilia told me. “You don’t need Excalibur to be amazing. You’re incredible just as yourself – as you are now.”
“And…” Abe added, “we do mean as you are now. You don’t need magic or a glamour or a suit or a sword. You, Maxwell Copperfield, can be enough.”
I turned away from them, unable to handle their pity and pride and concern any longer. “Nothing will ever be enough, for some people,” I muttered. “I have to be more. I can’t – I don’t -” I buried my face in my hands, unable to express it any better.
“…Max, it seems likely that you’re going to be sent to a mental care hospital,” Abe said from behind me.
“Not Steel Island?” I asked, speaking up a little to be heard through my hands.
“Not Steel Island,” Emilia confirmed. “You’re not in your right mind, we can tell, and we’ll testify to that. And Arthur Peregrine-” I felt a flash of rage. “-is likely to testify that the sword was affecting you mentally as well. You’ll be there until the doctors clear you.”
I said nothing. I wasn’t sure what they wanted me to say.
“If you go to care,” Abe said, begged, “please, Max, please do your best. Put in an effort. For us. If you can recover, if you can get past what this sword did to you, then…” He paused, sounding uncertain. “If you can get better,” he finished after a moment, “It will make me – us – very happy.”
“…I’ll try,” I promised. “For you.” I turned to face them again and saw that Abe was blinking back tears – Emilia wasn’t even trying to prevent them. I blinked, feeling wetness on my face, and realized that I was crying as well. “This… this shouldn’t be so hard,” I whispered.
“Healing is never easy,” Emilia said. “But it’s worth it.” I nodded.
“One more thing,” Abe warned me. “Arthur Peregrine will also be visiting you, after lunch.” I tensed. “He’s here to clear you of any lingering influence from Excalibur-”
“I told you, I would have noticed that,” I hissed, whirling back to face them again. “I don’t need help from Arthur Peregrine!”
“Then he’ll confirm that,” Abe said in a calming voice. “And you need to let him.”
I growled. “I don’t need to let Peregrine do anything!” I raged. “He’s the whole reason for this mess! It’s all his fault!”
Another incomprehensible look between them. “Max,” Emilia said. “You don’t need to forgive him. All you need to do is not fight against his medical expertise.”
“…Arthur Peregrine is the antithesis of everything a magician should be,” I informed her. “He hoards information and spends his time giving nothing back, doing little but expanding his own powers, never using them on behalf of the world – the man is a mockery of every value I hold dear!”
“Stop looking like that!” I shouted.
Abe sighed. “We can’t help you, Max, as much as we want to – we don’t have the necessary skills.” he admitted. “All we can do is ask you to let those who do have those help you. And if you don’t, you’ll never get better.”
“…I don’t need help,” I hissed. “Least of all from Arthur Peregrine.”
One more look, and then they stood to go. “…goodbye, Max,” Abe said.
Emilia put a hand to the glass, clearly hoping for me to do the same, but I didn’t. A moment later, she bowed her head and left, Abe following behind.
I sank into the chair and rested my head in my arms, struggling not to cry.
Scene 39 – December 23rd
Interior Cell Block, Early Afternoon
That afternoon, as I had been warned, he came. Arthur Peregrine. Wearing a smug look and a jacket, with that fucking bird logo as a golden pin, standing outside my cell.
“Mr. Copperfield,” he said with a nod. “How are you feeling this afternoon?”
“Peregrine,” I spat. “Come to gloat?”
He tilted his head as though he didn’t know exactly what I was talking about. “Come again?”
“This all turned out exactly as you planned, didn’t it,” I hissed. “You completely ruined me. Leaving that sword in there…”
“Mr. Copperfield, I’m afraid that I don’t-”
“Don’t pretend you don’t remember,” I growled. “I applied for an apprenticeship with you. You interviewed me, and turned me down.”
“Yes, I recall.”
“All I wanted was to learn!” I yelled at him. “That’s all I wanted! I just wanted that book, all I wanted was to learn magic! That’s all I ever wanted! But you – you!”
“Excalibur really did a number on you, didn’t it,” Peregrine murmured.
“Excalibur hasn’t affected me for shit,” I denied. “I’m as sane as I’ve ever been. All it did was open my eyes.”
“If this is as sane as you’ve ever been,” Peregrine observed sarcastically, “then I fear what you were like before. No, Mr. Copperfield, I’m afraid that you are in fact still touched by the lingering effects of that blade.” He stepped forward, passing through the glass that had separated us as thought it were nothing but a mirage. “If you’ll allow me to briefly touch your mind, I can restore your rationality.”
I pressed myself back against the wall, trying to stay as far away from him as I could. “Get back,” I hissed.
“Mr. Copperfield, I’m trying to help you,” he said, the irritation and anger that I was certain always lurked beneath those faux-tired eyes finally beginning to show.
“I don’t want help – not from you,” I spat.
He sighed. “Very well then. I cannot help you if you are not willing to be helped.” The man turned and strode out of my cell again.
I collapsed onto the bed, staring up at the blank ceiling and retreating into my thoughts once more.
Scene 40 – December 23rd
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
It was disappointing but not, on the whole, surprising. The lingering effects of the sword magnified Copperfield’s preexisting paranoia and narcissism, making him fear some sort of conspiracy on my part to humiliate him and destroy him. I wished I could help, I really did, but the arts of mental healing required cooperation from the afflicted, just as non-magical therapy did.
There were, of course, more unethical magics of the mind, which had no need of consent to function. They could tear apart Copperfield’s psyche and rebuild it into a better, more rational person. But those dark magics were far beyond what I was willing to use.
After all, I was a healer at heart. I wanted to help people become the best versions of themselves, not to turn them into different people entirely.
After leaving the cell blocks where Copperfield was contained, I had made my way up to the common room of the New Champions, where Wright was waiting for me. She, I hoped, would be more willing to be helped – the message I had received from Armstrong certainly implied so.
When I arrived, I saw Wright sitting in an armchair, reading a book titled Nemesis. She glanced up at me and slid a bookmark into its pages setting the book aside. The room was otherwise empty.
“Arthur,” she said, giving me a faint smile. “Nice to see you again – it’s been a few years.”
I nodded to her. She was a fellow healer and worthy of respect for that alone, even if she hadn’t been a skilled hero as well – and she was. “Miriam. A pleasure as always.” I took a seat on the couch beside her chair and added, “and it’s nice to actually be welcomed. Mr. Copperfield wasn’t nearly so pleased to see me.”
“I imagine not, from how he’s talked about you,” Wright said. “He speaks of you as a miser of knowledge, like a magical hoarder, who never bothers to actually use it. But I’ve never gotten that impression from you.”
I shrugged. “He’s not entirely wrong, I suppose. I do tend to keep the most dangerous – and powerful – texts and artifacts locked away from the world at large. And certainly, there is a tendency for mages to grow more reclusive and take less action as they grow more powerful – those who truly focus on the study of magic, that is. Those such as yourself or Mr. Armstrong, who focus on the application, seem somewhat exempt from such. But it may surprise you to know that I am, relatively speaking, an interventionist.”
She sighed. “Why is that, anyway?”
“Why is what? The tendency towards reclusion?”
“I believe it is simply a natural consequence of the personality type required to succeed at the deepest reaches of magic,” I told her. “A certain level of obsession and tunnel vision, the ability to shut out distractions and focus on your studies. Perhaps those who would not grow as reclusive are simply not able to succeed at the higher levels, either.”
“Perhaps.” She glanced at one wall – the Journeymen’s quarters and common room lay in that direction, if I remembered the standard layout for MLED compounds right. “Do you have the time to meet people? I know that Loki is here at present, and probably our newest member as well -”
“Yes. I think they’d enjoy meeting you.”
I shook my head. “I’m afraid not. I have some free time today – I allocated several hours for both your session and Mr. Copperfield’s. As he was unwilling to cooperate, that time is open, thus my ability to chat instead of getting right to the healing – but I hope to use that time to reconnect with an old friend who lives in New Venice. It’s been far too long since I spoke with her.”
“I see. Well,” Wright said, “don’t let me keep you. What do I need to do?”
A smile tugged at my lips. “All you need do is close your eyes and relax,” I promised my fellow healer, setting a hand on her forehead as she did so and extending my senses into her mind and soul, “and I will do the rest.”
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