“Go on,” said Vic the Jester. “You may as well. At least this way – this way, you’ll have a chance.”
Two weeks had passed in the kingdom of Cardanea. For thirteen days out of fourteen Justin had feasted, every morning, upon Cardanean pancakes, topped with Cardanean syrup. The syrup, he was told, boosted the body’s regenerative rate, and this seemed true enough; his leg was still stiff, but the gaping wounds had stopped gaping – they had healed.
He’d spent the entire first week resting and reading borrowed books from the Cardanean public library – non-fiction, all of it. Cardanean anthropology, sociology, archaeology, geography, ecology, psychology… it was all truly fascinating. An entire new world! One with different laws and customs, a different sphere of reality, a different paradigm of existence…
The beast that had shot him, Justin read, was known as a mechanea. Far, far to the north there was a deep pit known as Mogthandamechanea - the spawning place of the strange beasts made of rust and rage. It was a sacred site to most Cardaneans. Their entire concept of ‘hell’, such as it was, was tied to the place… in less civilized times, Justin read, prisoners and dissidents were thrown into the pit to be eaten alive by the mechanea.
This was before the arrival of a prophesied sorcerer-king and master scientist known as Archival King Reed. Justin felt an electric surge run through his gut when he read the name… there was a definite link to the bookshop, to the mysterious bookseller Reed.
Reed came and unified the warring tribal clans of Cardanea through reason, justice, philosophy, religion and charisma. He ruled with reason – he taught many of the chiefs and craftsmen how to read, how to use numbers, how to write, the things typically reserved for shamans and seers… he taught them how to think clearly, and to act with such clarity in mind; he ruled with justice – there was to be no rape and no torture within his military force, or within those who served under him, and he punished such crimes with severity.
Reed ruled with philosophy and with religion – he spoke to them of honour, and of objective and subjective truth, and of the divide between materialism and spiritualism, of existentialism and pragmatism and skepticism and rationalism and many more… of mythical proto-peoples, such as the ‘Greeks’ – this philosophy caught the Cardaneans by storm, and they delighted in theorizing and refining as best they could, reveling in their glorious rationality. The animism and astrology of the clans were soon assimilated by a fast-growing religious movement - the cult of Reed – and he was claimed to be a living, immortal god.
(At this, Justin was surprised – not at the supposition, which was almost expected, but at the claim of immortality… according to the Archival City histories, Reed had been ruling for just over a thousand years, which verified the immortality claim. Justin was disquieted a little at the idea of Reed being more than ten decades in age…)
Finally, Reed ruled with charisma – there was no doubt about that. Followers flocked to him like sheep to the shepherd, like bees to pollen, and he soon amassed enough followers to crush any who opposed him, as rare as violence was needed. Soon, his followers were eager to march on to Mogthandamechanea, which Reed objected to – it was too dangerous even for them, he claimed. A few days later and he claimed that the pit was sacred ground, their ancient mechanical enemies demons sent to test their vigilance, and that they should instead engage in something more productive – the building of a proper city, perhaps.
And so Archival City was born.
The printing press came soon, under Reed’s knowing guidance, and not long after that their was a complete revolution – gunpowder, advanced agriculture, artistic and literary booms, humanism as a goal, the pursuit of physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, biology… and so it was that Archival City became a true archival city, both in purpose and name. Book-burning was an offence punishable by forced pilgrimage to Mogthandamechanea, and every citizen was required to learn how to read, write, and know numbers. Literatures abound…
Justin knew there was more, of course. He’d read enough about Cardanean psychology to realize that they held the idea that both sexual and violent release were needed for a well-adjusted individual, and that the weeping trees of the southern forests held saps of many different pseudo-mystical properties. There was much more to learn…
Justin knew that he was to see Archival King Reed on the fourteenth day, and was looking forward to the meeting. He’d read as much as his mind could handle without exploding – he had a million (or more) questions for Reed about the place and of his exact involvement in it.
On the fourteenth day, his leg almost fully healed, Justin was dressed in heavy white cloth and given a single snow flower – a gift for Archival King Reed. He was escorted by two soldiers, each heavily armed, and led through silver doors into the King’s grand chambers.
And then there was judgment; swords; a friend returned; and escape.
“Go on,” said Vic the Jester. “You may as well. At least this way – this way, you’ll have a chance.”
It took very little work, but was still considered by most of the magical underground to be one of the deadliest forms of sorcery; the hubris conjured simply in employing had staggered many a naïve magician in the past.
Still, at one point or another in their lives every fictional-sorcerer would, if they took the craft seriously, be forced to use it. Many natural-born occultists fell into the trap of abusing the magic before they even became aware of the greater delights involved in the manipulation of sorcery – a trap which very few escape.
It was, to put it very mildly, a highly addictive practice.
“Patterning, it’s called,” said Reed. “It’s nothing at all major, very little chance of anything going wrong…”
He was lying.
When it became obvious that Michael Hardaes, as unreal as he might be, had no idea how to properly use a semi-automatic weapon, Reed had to think fast. He’d already exhausted much of his inner reservoir of power while building a fictional replacement for Justin. It wouldn’t be wise to tap into a Babilu shard for something so petty…
Patterning: the science of creating fictional patterns – expressed through history, memory, experience, conditioning – and forcing them upon a persona. The typical result is that the individual feels as if they’ve truly lived out that experience, and gains all of the associated baggage that comes with such an experience. It is not easy to live a life filled with events that you know for certain did not occur.
Patterning is dangerous. Addictive, a narcotic of the mind – it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that fabricated knowledge matches the truthful equivalent – easy to spend all of one’s time assimilating information, gathering skills, learning languages, becoming a master in a dozen – more – different crafts…
The mind can only take so much strain before it is overwhelmed; the story of the soul is a precious thing, and should not be polluted casually. For every lie the magician makes real, he is enforcing another pattern upon the tapestry of his spirit.
“Very easy process,” said Reed. “Okay. Okay – close your eyes, Michael.”
Imposing a fictional pattern upon a creature made solely of fictional patterns was even riskier than attempting it on an individual that contained some truth – luckily, they were also a little more expendable.
Michael closed his eyes.
“Do you feel the gun? The rifle – in your hands?”
Reed knew that the weapon was not loaded. He still felt uneasy.
There was a wave of the hands…
… And Michael Hadriguez had spent five years serving his country in the Australian Defence Force. Training had been during summer and had occurred in the Australian Capital Territory – he was a qualified engineer, and had qualified for a higher-rung technician job, but they saw officer material… saw an officer in the way he held himself, in his reserved loyalty, in his rational eyes, in his unflinching discipline. He remembered a hot day – easily forty-five degrees Celsius – where he and his squad had dressed in heavy fatigues and practiced with the automatic weapons – the Steyr was his favourite. It was sleek, felt natural – almost sexy in his hands. He had a girlfriend at home, and…
“Enough,” said Reed.
… And two nights before that, Lieutenant Hadriguez had learnt that she’d been fucking Garry. Garry was a mechanic from Melbourne, once Michael’s best mate – Mike and Garry they were known ha ha ha – and they’d have a few beers together, maybe watch the cricket, maybe go to a car show, catch up down at the pub and he was fucking her, performing the sacred alchemical rite upon his girlfriend – his fiancée, fiancée, she’d accepted and she was his fiancée – and oh yes Michael was very good with the weapons great with an assault rifle but not so bad with a handgun and it was relatively simple to…
“Enough!” roared Reed.
… Relatively simple to get the handgun and load it six little bullets very nice yes he told them he liked to shoot targets yes they thought ceramics but no flesh targets are good to him and Gary best mates yes and he shot him shot Garry twice, thrice, four times and shot him again and again and she screamed no I love you and he laughed and shot her and then himself and…
And Michael Hardaes had the Steyr in his hand and was slamming his head against the rifle. His eyes were wild, unfocused, and drool flowed freely from his mouth, surrounded his teeth, fangs, visible and glinting as he tried to gnaw at the weapon and smash his own brains out at the same time.
Reed wasted no time – he knew the word that would not be written, and said it.
As he said the word it was if a thousand moths had flown into the room. The air shimmered with unseen flight. There was a gnawing at the place, a gathering around the lights, that snuffed all sound and plunged the room into a state of stillness and silence. Reed felt bile rise in his throat, a bitter taste on the tip of his tongue. Every time the word was spoken aloud it lost a little of its power – still, there was enough there.
A clatter broke the silence – steel on tiles. The rifle had fallen, hit the tiles. Michael Hardaes was gone, the fiction unraveled, the creature destroyed.
Reed felt sick. He needed something, needed to sate some addiction, something that him in its grip… he knew what it was, but as was usual his mind went through the motions. Caffeine? This morning – coffee. Nicotine? Not for over a decade, since he’d given them up. Sex? Too long – not since the oath of abstinence, twenty, twenty-five years ago…
He had just ruined a life.
It was insubstantial, more a semblance of a life – a photograph of a life – but he’d crushed it and it had felt good.
He’d said the word. Worked the pattern.
Reed slumped in his chair. His body went limp and his eyes rolled back as he savored the taste of black magic.