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Chapter 95 - Magic is not as fun when it's indoors.
Father Dominoes' magic was fairly straightforward when you got down to it. Really, it was all about talking.
If you wanted to be a priest back in Medieval Europe, the first thing you did was pick a god or a team of gods (this decision would be narrowed down a lot by where you lived – gods are fiercely territorial – and what kind of thing your parents were into – eg. Farming, fishing, parties, war,) and then you spent years and years just reading. You had to learn all the languages your god would listen to, or at least an old-fashioned version of your own language. You also had to learn all the rituals, magic words and costumes that would get your god's attention - though, to be honest, most gods are interested in anything that is shiny, expensive or which moves quickly – and then you have to practice at talking to your god. This part is the hardest, because gods are difficult and never really in the mood and tend to kill people to prove a point. Eventually, you got a relationship going, though it usually took at least a year for the god to remember your name. If you battled through and you and your god got to be on good terms and you could rely on him or her or them, you could get them to lay down the magic on a nicely regular basis, or have them advise you on the best way to use any spellbooks or ancient weapons they've left lying around.
With wizards, however, things were different. Wizards didn't bother with gods. They sucked the magic they used directly from the same source as the gods did – the land itself. Every land had a different flavour. Europe was the tastiest and most fulfilling kind of magic, of course. Romanian magic tastes of ash and blood, the Kingdom Of Sharing's magic tastes of thin gruel and steel, United Statesian magic tastes like smoke and feathers and chilli peppers, and so on. Gods are better at this trick, naturally, because they are creatures of magic the same way we are creatures of flesh, but a wizard beats a god nine times out of ten when it comes to reliability, empathy, timekeeping, natty conversation and good company. Most of them can cook, too. All of their reading and academic training was really only there to slow down their progression in magic to make it equal to their levels of politeness and use around the the house.
The trouble that Colonel Glowfist was having with David was that David had learned a huge amount of applied magic while on their travels but had only had a few rudimentary classes in magic theory, which had been conducted from Colonel Glowfist's memory in less-than-ideal environments. Colonel Glowfist only kept a few grimores of wisdom in his inventory and they were very advanced stuff. All the best books and scrolls and talking skulls for David's level were kept in the Bibliotheque Royale back in Brussels, of which Colonel Glowfist was the non-executive custodian when he wasn't off having adventures.
And so, immediately upon their return to Europe (at least, when all the business with the whole attempted invasion was done with), Colonel Glowfist had cleared out his grand old room in the clock tower of the library, summoned up a demon cot for David to sleep on, and immediately tried to cram five years of magical study into six weeks. David was to learn, Aramaic, Greek, German and Sanskrit – the magical languages, as well as the proper arrangement of cutlery for a fish meal, the meanings of animals, the what-to-do-list for when one is challenged to a duel by a Bedouin, good story structure, seven kinds of highly archaic verse, the King's father's extensive deconstruction of the Viking sagas and eight different ways to prepare a scrumptious meal using mostly termites and twigs.
Glowfist got into his new role as a holistic and well-rounded educator by hitting the finest boutiques in Brussels. No longer would he be a half-wild, bedraggled, one-footed hermit with cracked skin and scaly brown talons. He had his enormous body washed, scrubbed, manicured, combed, styled, drained, dusted, tucked and scented. He made a great show of riding a pair of Awesome Horses right through the town centre and the party that was happening there, straight up to the office of Tailorsaurus, the stitch-wizard who had studied under Mechanicus and who famously made the King's natty threads. He demanded that he stop partying and attend to his custom, and threw a hefty sack of gold down to make him obey. Only Tailorsaurus had the skill and the equipment to make a set of clothes that were both stylish as all get-out, and expansive enough to contain the swollen archmage.
The Colonel hired a research assistant to find and gather the most relevant and soberly-written volumes that would further David's learning. Anticipating a return to life on the road, he auctioned off a load of magical staffs and murky potions he'd accumulated on his travels and registered for patents on the higher levels of the Explodo spell, Extended Haste and Summon Awesome Horse that he'd discovered. The demand for them was instantaneous and enthusiastic. Wizards across Europe had been mucking about with basically ineffective Explodos and Awesome Horses that really weren't very Awesome and disappeared after only a few hours. He invested this windfall into additional inventory space and powerfully enchanted strips of leather that, when worn, would increase his base carry weight, which he had woven into his spiffy new clothes. Finally, he bought an upgrade for his staff that would enable it to be converted, at a word, to be converted into a small but quiet classroom, which he promptly filled with a desk and shelves and lots of writing paper and some books from his own collection, so that David would have a good working environment even if the Adventure Team happened to be stuck in Hell or Sicily or Ethiopia, of all places. He could not wait until Roxy Tripfoot got to see how diligent and resourceful he was. It was undoubtedly a much better tactic that appearing pitiful and helpless – and more demonstrably expensive, too. He hoped she'd appreciate that part most of all.
David, however, was not taking to these new habits as enthusiastically as Colonel Glowfist was. It is very difficult to learn Aramaic in a week while the biggest party Europe has ever seen is happening right outside the window, with the screams of cats piercing every hour of the day and night. Princess Princess was another heap of distractions too. She had taken to hanging around David whenever she got suspended or expelled from high school, which was once every three days or so. She would wander into the library, spend a few minutes dancing around the aisles or building a bed out of books that would support her while she lounged, then would roll around on the floor at David's feet or stand on the table upon which he was working and start her routine of berating him while also updating him on her thoughts and movements. It would go like this:
“You're such a little snot. You're a swot and you spend all day in here reading this gobblydegook. It's such rubbish.”
“Could you get off the table please, Princess?”
“No. There's a party going on outside and it's so much better than in here. There are so many people, there's music and delicious foods, there's nothing of the sort in here. It's cold.”
“Then why are you in here?”
“To annoy you, stupid. And to play with little Scruff, who must be so bored in this cold, old, stupid place. Where is Scruff anyway? Scruff!”
“He's out,” said David simply.
“I've had the most awful day – they told me to leave that beastly school again, the nuns there all hate me in any case and I hate them, so good riddance. School's boring. I'm so much older than all the other children and all we do talk about sewing and choosing which baby is the best one to kill. It's always the girl, of course. It's so dull.””
“I'm trying to work -”
“Oh, you're always doing that. You're just like the stupid girls at school. They don't know any good games, just boring ones, and when I try to teach them one of mine, they go and tell me that I have to leave.” At this point in the conversation, she'd pick a small, gold object out of one of her petticoats, peel the gold off to reveal a dark brown dome or mesa or pyramid and pop the strange shape into her mouth with a grin. When the wrapped came off, David would catch a whiff of the thing and his head would shoot up as if it were on a string.
“What's that you're eating,” he'd politely say up at her.
“You can't have any, I've got none left,” she'd say.
“Yes you do, I saw them in your pocket when you put your hand in.”
“I think -I'd- know if -I- had any left,” she'd say, grinning with a mouth full of brown-coated teeth. “Anyway, this is special, United Statesian magic food and it's just for me.”
“Fine then,” David would say at that point, leaning back in his chair. He'd reach into his own pocket, pull out his own piece of United Statesian magic, light it with a LVL.1 Flame spell and take a long puff. Princess would watch him for a while, then -
“Give me one, David!”
“No,” said David, inhaling deeply. He was good at it.
“I'm older than you now give it!” came the cry, and then a small struggle would break out. Princess would leap down off the table or from the book-bed she'd made and would make a grab for David's mouth. But David had spent most of his life getting away from enemies and he had once messed up Terrorthaw with his father's sword while hopped up on jump juice. He could duck and weave better than most people you've met. Princess had grappled plenty of times with her eunuchs, sure, but they were fat and kinda old and they tended to just lie there and take it. After about ten seconds of wasted effort, she would sense that she would most certainly lose The Struggle For The Cigarette and would resort to Mutually Assured Destruction.
“Colonel Glowfist! Colonel Glowfist!” she'd scream, and you have to remember that she was the King's daughter. “David's using magic indoors! He's a little twerp and he won't give it and come quick!”
Colonel Glowfist would appear then, leaning heavily on his staff, at the entrance to the library. He'd have been out shopping for some additional foppery and the Haste spell would be steaming off of his clothes.
“Here comes Mr. Fatty,” Princess would say. Once, when Colonel Glowfist had returned from selecting a dignified powdered hairpiece, she remarked, “How rare! A pig in a wig!” Needless to say, there would at this point be a short chase wherein Colonel Glowfist would run Princess out of the library at a low speed. He'd spend the evening trying to cajole the headmaster of some school or another into admitting Princess into their hallowed halls. On more than one occasion, he had to remind a headmaster that he was, don't forget, - Colonel Glowfist, - the only man in Europe who could throw a LVL. 8 Explodo Spell while both looking cool -and- not Explodoing himself.
And so the days went by and the summer wore on. The routines became a performance and everyone filled their roles wonderfully. One day, however, the whole thing was different. Princess was up on the table, eating her chocolates and pretending that she'd just eaten the last one in the world, David was lighting up his cigarette in retaliation and the minor scuffle was just about to break out when the King, their father, burst through the truly immense doors of the library and used his lowest, most genial scream to summon Colonel Glowfist. Then he saw his lovely children – sweet, gentle David and once-beautiful, fleshy Princess.
“My children!” he cried as he fell to his knees and flung out his arms for a giant hug. David and Princess peered at the kneeling King through their smoke and their mastications for an instant before consulting each other's faces and running into his hug. The King growled joyously as he embraced them. “For the sake of my children, for all the children – I must hold back the tide of darkness that threatens to drown us all.”
“Hi dad,” said David.
“Where have you been, Daddy?” said Princess. They hadn't seen him at all since the party had started.
“I've been thinking most hardly, my pudgy Princess,” said the King. He broke the hug and inspected them both. “You were fighting, just then, the two of you? Brother against sister. Kin on kin.” David looked guilty and Princess heaved herself into defence mode.
“I wasn't fighting, David was trying to get my chocolates, he wanted them all to himself – he's selfish and he's not in control of himself, he said he hated you, Daddy,” she began, but the King hushed her by laying a heavy palm upon her head.
“Princess, you would fight your own brother, but were it to come right down to it – would you fight me?” Princess roughly grabbed his wooden hand and removed it from her head.
“Of course not, Daddy. You're the King.”
“And you, little David. Your sister would turn on you and generally be mean, but do you hunger, in the most secret of your hearts, to overthrow me, your father, and claim my divine throne for your own, twisted, parliamentarian ways?”
“No,” said David. “I never want to hurt you, dad.”
“Hmm,” said the King. He said it a few more times as he passes the matter around his brain. As he did that, Colonel Glowfist arrived. He'd been out buying the finest pair of decorative eyeglasses the Kingdom had to offer. He was expecting to find David and Princess bickering over cigarettes and was preparing to slowly chase Princess around the library before he ran out of breath and she escaped, possibly taunting him as she went. Instead he found the King humming under his breath, clutching a visibly frightened David and an irritated Princess. This looked like a very distracting situation indeed for the poor boy.
“My King, it is very pleasing to me to see you up and about,” said Colonel Glowfist. “How goes your recovery?” The King whirled, released his children and stalked towards the archmage, smiling.
“Colonel Glowfist! My, you are a sight and a smell and a wonder to behold! I see you've put your share of the plunder to good use and maxed out your fanciness!” Colonel Glowfist blushed, but you couldn't tell under all the powder he had clinging to his cheeks. “Colonel, we must discuss things, you and I. My children are relieved.” He whirled back to them. “Go! Play, play with all your might!” Princess' eyes lit up while David's did a groan. She grabbed her brother by the arm and dragged him into the sunlight outside. The King put an arm around as much of Colonel Glowfist as he could and whispered as loudly as possible. “The war approaches, treasured Glowfist. I fear it is beyond even my power to halt it on my own. Half of our land is all pissed off with the other half. Brother has turned on sister, as you have seen, but the same is writ large in the Politics Forum. Once this party clears and the goodwill it brings shrinks into the working day, no doubt we'll find that the same is true across all of Europe. This is no simple matter or Politics that can be solved with talk. This is magic and nobody does magic better than Colonel Glowfist.”
“I've been studying the problem since our return here,” lied Colonel Glowfist. To be fair, he had meant to get to work on figuring out how the effect of the King's law-breaking could be negated, but he had diverted so many of his energies into shopping, grooming and David that he just hadn't found the time. “My theory is that when you hit on petite Astrid - while under the influence of those many poisoned Viking hearts, of course - you blew the metaphysical mind of Europe so hard that you caused a stack overflow and crashed Europe's main magic server,” this was a guess, but it was an educated guess. Europe's servers had crashed before – it was well documented in the magical histories – and such an event was always followed by a sudden stemming in the flow of European magic from the land into the various outlets that existed across the land – gods, central heating, wizards, the King himself, cool weapons, borders, laws, that sort of thing. While the effects were geologically sudden, it would take the last pump of magic a few years to gurgle its way through every outlet in the system and so they would gradually falter and fade over a few years before stopping altogether. “It could be that your difficulties of late are not entirely to blame on Oranje's theft of your Super-Chastity flower. Your magical birthright that names you King might simply be running low on vital fluids, just as blessed Europe is running low on the magic that makes it the singular, harmonious nation that birthed us.” That sounded pretty good to Colonel Glowfist when he played it back in his head. He'd check it out later, of course, but for now it all seemed to follow logically. The King got as close to Colonel Glowfist as a man could without disappointing the ghost of his parents. He grabbed the back of his wig, pulled him in and whispered this:
“What must we do, Colonel? How can we save Europe?” Colonel Glowfist's wigged head swam with colours. Every colour was there and each one represented a thought and each thought represented a possibility. Only one combination would lead to salvation. Colonel Glowfist carefully chose the one he felt was the best match.
“We have to reset the server,” he said. “Manually. We'll have to travel there, unplug it, then plug it back in, then check the lights.”
“Magical jargon,” smiled the King. “But where there's a will, there's a way – and my will counts for one hundred.” The King then peered into the archmage's eyes to check if he thought he was joking or not. “Prepare yourself to leave within a few days, Colonel. We might not have much time.” He squeezed his grip momentarily on the Colonel's wig, signalling an agreement between them, then he released, disengaged and turned to leave. Before he reached the library doors he paused and shouted to the room at large. “Where do we go to find this server of Europe, honoured Colonel?” At this, Colonel Glowfist released the air he'd been holding inside of his body. He hadn't realised he'd been holding his breath for some time.
“Ireland, Your Highness,” he gasped. The King nodded his head. Ireland. Of course. How fine. Then he continued leaving until he was gone.
Later that day, when Axe Axewound was awakened for supper and sheet-changing, Father Dominoes was astonished to find that his patient was not only quite chatty – not a common state for the Celtlander even before his Presidential molestation – but was suddenly very interested in the day's hag-races. He was adamant that someone should tell him which hags had run that day and he would not move out of bed or swallow a spoonful of nourishing broth until someone told him. Father Dominoes didn't know and neither did any of the attendants on duty, so one was sent out to ask one of the garden slaves. They -always- knew what was going on with the hags. It wasn't long before an old garden slave with stumps for fingers and gravel for teeth was found and gently interrogated until a list was introduced, which was then read to Axe:
Old Mrs. Jansen
Ms. Van Stappen
The Hairy Cackler
Mrs. F. Redback
“That's her,” said Axe Axewound before Father Dominoes could read any more hag-names from the list. “That's the hag that won.” Then he tried to get up and spilled his bedpan. There was a flurry of assistants and somewhere in the middle of it, Axe was quickly fed, medicated and sort of cleaned. By the time things had quietened down and Father Dominoes could even get close to him, Axe had fallen asleep. Father Dominoes re-summoned the garden slave and learned that Axe's pick had indeed won the race that day. The garden slave was sent back with a Tupperware full of broth and a spare blessing that Father Dominoes had found on the dresser.
It was such a little thing in the scheme of things but there was no choice but to wonder about it. One of the assistants could have told Axe at some point, o course. Or they might have discussed the races among themselves while Axe slept. The assistants had been slipping out to the party and the hag races were big news in any weather, but Father Dominoes wasn't sure that any of his staff were big fans. It was possible that Yahweh could have told Axe something, since he was hanging around the mission in his Spirit Form listening in on all the prayers that were flying around, and Yahweh was prone to prophecies, although they weren't usually very accurate. You never pointed this out to him though, or else he'd get angry and stop talking to you and probably smite you with leprosy. Yahweh was basically obsessed with leprosy.
So I guess we've got a mystery on our hands, guys! Let's put it on the pile and sally on.
End of Chapter 95