"That was a waste of our time," Jenkins growled as they settled in at Mathew's tiny desk in the broom-closet.
"An unfortunate distraction, not necessarily a waste," Mathew disagreed.
Jenkins snorted. "I calls 'em as I see's 'em, and that was a waste," he disagreed. "They wasted our time cleaning up after their stupidity. Brutalizing one boy just to attack the other? Waste!"
"Perhaps," Mathew nodded. "But there is something you've overlooked."
"And what might that be?" Jenkins growled.
"Firstly, the boy who was injured should have been hurt much worse than he was," Mathew smiled gently. "A basketball blew up in his hands, and he had a few minor scrapes, bruises, and burns to show for it. Alex is powerful, if he blew up the ball he blew it up thoroughly, and the detonation should have hurt Billy much worse."
Jenkins frowned. "You sure about that?"
"Unintentional fire magic usually doesn't come small," Mathew shook his head. "And most certainly not when it's the first spell of someone who doesn't know what their doing, and are simply acting out in anger. Given Alex's power, I'd have expected the ball to explode with potentially lethal force, and for there to be more blast effect. I went out and inspected the basketball court, and I found the carbon scoring and fragmentation effect I expected. But Billy is barely scratched. Alex didn't do it; he could only place the shield between himself and harm."
"Alright," Jenkins frowned. "You said firstly, so is there a secondly?"
"Billy just moved into the area, and do you know what his last name is?" Mathew asked. "I checked, later. It's rather interesting that his father didn't show up, especially since he had to have known what happened."
"His father being..." Jenkins opened the folder and sorting through the papers in it. "Shit. Grayson? As in the doctor we talked to earlier?"
"I think so," Mathew nodded. "I'm not certain, but I think so."
Jenkins frowned. "Every time we turn around, we keep bumping back into this doctor. Now I'm starting to get suspicious."
"Just moved in from the DC area, where our perp used to strike, possess a strong magical talent in the necessary areas, and has reference material to learn the techniques involved," Mathew counted the points off on his fingers. "And now his son is showing definite signs of a suppressed magical talent."
"Suppressed?" Jenkins asked.
"Yeah," Mathew nodded. "If he's strong enough to shield himself from that ball, he should be radiating power just like Alex was. Maybe not as strong as Alex, but after a sudden shock like that there should have been something. I may have lost my strength, but not my sensitivity. His powers are being suppressed, the only question is if it's internal or external."
"You mean is someone doing it to him, or is he doing it himself?" Jenkins frowned.
"Precisely," Mathew nodded. "The only fly in the ointment is that the doctor's energy signature is pure as a priest's. A true priest, mind you, the kind that get turned into saints after they die."
"Could someone be framing him?" Jenkins asked. "Everything is circumstantial so far."
"That makes complete sense," Mathew nodded. "Whoever it is would have to have access to his books to make it work, though. His workspace, too. They'd need to make sure that the right signatures got spread over his work areas. Contaminating his personal signature would be much more difficult, but if they spread the appropriate contamination over his work spaces and materials, a little of it would leech in eventually."
"Sounds like we have something to check, then?" Jenkins stood up.
Mathew frowned at the computer. At this rate he wasn't going to finish reviewing the full tape for weeks. "Fine," he sighed.
"And while we're driving, I think we finally have enough time to talk about what Lily told us," Jenkins suggested as they walked out the door. "The guy never touched her, and he definitely didn't look anything like those sketches."
"The compulsion is on-going," Mathew sighed. "He wove an illusion around her mind to make her believe he looked different, and that he touched her. Since touch is a necessity for what he did, no one would question it."
"If the guy is trying to frame Dr. Grayson, why not make her think she saw him?" Jenkins asked. "Stupid question. He's assuming in advance that at some point someone would catch on. He's using exactly the same tactics Grayson would, if Grayson were actually responsible."
"Precisely," Mathew nodded. "It even makes sense that he'd use a neurological issue to 'prove' magic was involved from that perspective; of course Grayson would use a person's nuero tissues if he wanted to do something like that, and naturally he'd eventually be called in on any case involving neurological attacks. He's one of the nation's leading neurosurgeons, and probably the only one who is also an emergent!"
"So, why frame Grayson?" Jenkins asked as they reached the car.
"That's what I can't quite put my finger on," Mathew nodded. Their conversation faltered for a moment as they went through the ritual of opening and closing doors, sitting in seats, and clicking their seat belts into place. "If this was about the money, you'd hit a bank manager and convince him you had a gazillion dollar account at his bank. If it's about the sheer pleasure of compulsion, someone whose addicted to it and wants to keep on using it, he'd spend more time controlling them, and probably try to dispose of them afterwards, not call the police in."
"So it's about Grayson?" Jenkins asked.
"Probably," Mathew nodded. "It's also possible that we're missing a critical detail. Keep an eye out, and your mind open."
Jenkins nodded. "Not a lot of traffic today," he commented.
"I noticed," Mathew agreed. "I hope it's just coincidence."
"Coincidence?" Jenkins asked.
"Tomorrow is the autumn equinox," Mathew explained. "This all started on the summer solstice. We decided it probably wasn't a ritual because the timing didn't add up; the attack yesterday was two days early, just as we'd predicted weeks ago."
"What does the equinox have to do with anything?" Jenkins complained. "Can't you mages ever do anything simply?"
"Equinoxes and solstices are times of great meaning and significance, which almost inevitably translates to power," Mathew explained with a sigh. "Rituals are powerful spells for a variety of reasons, and the more complex and difficult a ritual is, the more powerful it becomes. In a sense, it's very complexity creates power. Combine the two in the form of requiring a specific time that, oh by the way is in and of itself meaningful and powerful, and the result is something really, really powerful."
"I see," Jenkins frowned. "But what does that have to do with the traffic today?"
"When energy like that stirs, people tend to feel it," Mathew gazed out onto the empty streets. "It's nothing you can define, nothing you can recognize, but people hunker down and play it safe. They stay home and avoid work, they don't go out to eat or to the movies; they try to avoid whatever it is that they can't quite sense, that they don't know is there, but is there, driving them."
"And you can't tell if that's happening?" Jenkins complained.
"I can tell you that no spell of that magnitude is being cast right this second," Mathew reassured him. "Trust me, I'd feel that. The only problem is the timing. This whole thing started on the summer solstice, things are coming to a boil right now, and tomorrow is the equinox. It's probably coincidence, but..."
"I hear you," Jenkins nodded. "It's probably coincidence, but if it isn't..." he trailed off, shaking his head. "Lord help us and be with us," he whispered, "stand by us in our hour of need, and by His Grace may all turn out well. Amen."
It was small, it was subtle, but Mathew stiffened as he felt the prayer echo in the aether, it's power hum in the air around him. Small, subtle, almost unnoticeable, but not by any stretch of the imagination 'weak'. Faith never is.
"Hello, we're here to speak to Doctor Grayson," Jenkins flashed his badge at the reception desk.
"Do you have an appointment?" the receptionist asked, snapping her gum to display her supreme indifference to his badge.
"I'm not a patient, I'm a police officer here to discuss-" Jenkins began.
"If you don't have an appointment, then I'm afraid you will have to come back later," the receptionist recited. "The doctor cannot be disturbed at this time."
"I'm afraid you don't quite understand the situation," Jenkins growled, and Mathew put a calming hand on his shoulder.
"Let me try," Mathew suggested. "Ma'am, we were here earlier today to talk to the doctor about a few things, and if you take the time to call him and let him know that Magi Mathew Trent is here wanting to talk to him, he'll tell you-"
"I'm sorry, but hospital policy is quite clear. The doctor is in a meeting, and cannot be disturbed unless it is an emergency," the receptionist informed him smugly.
"You haven't even checked his schedule, how do you know he's in a meeting?" Mathew asked. "Please, just ask him if he minds. He'll clear us."
"I'm sorry, but hospital policy is clear," she recited, tone so overly pleasant and helpful as to turn annoying and ring completely false. "He cannot be disturbed unless it is an emergency. If you had a preexisting appointment I could help you reschedule, but at this time he cannot be disturbed."
Illusion magic was something that Mathew had always struggled with. At it's core, it was the art of lying, and lying was something Mathew had never been skilled at. Of late, he'd been forced to reassess it's usefulness however, as illusion had one critical advantage.
I didn't take much power. It was pure skill, not power, that wove an illusion. With time and practice, even the weakest mage could weave a powerful illusion, limited only by the strength of his will, the focus of his mind, and his ability to deceive. If you wove an illusion of fire on top of untouched grass, any idiot would figure out, quickly, that it was just an illusion. If you created the appearance of scorched earth beneath, the sensation of heat pressing against their skin, the roaring sound of an inferno, the smell of smoke and flame, then a person would believe it even if they knew it was impossible. Few could disbelieve their senses even when reason and logic told them it was impossible, and most of those who could were so weak that their minds would choose to believe the illusion and never follow the train of logic to the realization that it was false.
The basic problem for Mathew had always boiled down to the fact that he hated to lie. He just wasn't very good at it. Thankfully, he'd always had the power to actually create the wall of fire to seal away his retreat, or block the escape of whoever he was chasing. All his life he'd held not just power, but Power, the ability to shape earth and stone, to call fire and air, to part water and restore life. He was a Magus, one of the wise, the powerful.
Even with his diminishment, the mental image remained. He was a Magus, one of the great wizards who commanded the elements, conjured spirits and banished the darkness. He was a High Justicar, a guardian of the Light who sheltered the world from the darker aspects of magic and brought justice to the foulest of souls. He would not be shuffled aside by a fool of a receptionist!
"Listen to me very closely," he growled, voice suddenly deeper, richer, more melodic. The air around him grew dim, or he grew brighter, and suddenly he was the focus of attention. Every eye was drawn to him, he was the center that defined the room. As it should be, because he was a great wizard and these fools were nothing compared to him!
Mathew felt the fabric of the spell weaken as the unaccustomed arrogance strained the fabric of his complete and utter belief, and hastily backed off a tad bit. He'd always been a touch arrogant, but never quite so blatant about it.
"I need to speak to Doctor Grayson on a matter of the utmost urgency," he cajoled, his wisdom shining through clearly, every word a marvel of perfectly chosen reason. He drew himself up slowly to his full height, towering over the rest of the room. His slightly silvered hair began to shine, the remaining black turning raven dark even as the silver began to fade away to the bleached, white wisdom of age. Old enough to be wise and good, but young enough still to be strong, as his suddenly well defined muscles made clear. "While it is not, perhaps, a medical emergency as traditionally defined, our need is urgent. Call the doctor, let him know we must speak to him immediately." The air itself quivered with the power and urgency in his voice, and the earth seemed to resound to the sound of his speech.
"Enough," someone barked, their sharp-edged will slicing through the illusion as if it were no more than paper.
Mathew turned to face his assailant, letting the illusion's power flow like water back into the breach. Against a lesser magi such an attack would have shattered the fragile, brittle structure of the spell, but he was a High Magus, a Lord of Battle Magic, and master wizard besides. His spell was no weak, rigidly constructed facade erected by sheer power but a subtle, multilayered weave that shifted like liquid as he turned to face the challenger.
A security guard took a step back, shaking his head. "Enough!" he barked again. "I will not be tricked by your lies," the guard spoke broadly and set himself firmly, "and you will not win through by trickery! Cease! Cease I say!"
Drama was an effective tool, even if the man was overdoing it. The additional strain on the illusion spell would have broken it if it weren't for the fact that on some level, Mathew's belief was so strong that it almost convinced the guard. Strength of will rested foremost on certainty, and it took years of study to base that certainty not in your belief of what something was or was not but rather in your absolute belief that you had to act as if it was. You could never be certain of what the truth truly was, but you could be certain of the path you had chosen, and the need to follow it. "I am a Magi, one of the wise, a wizard of great and incalculable power. It is no lie to call that truth to myself anew."
"That's not possible," the guard took a step forward, shaking his head. His will was fraying, his disbelief failing. "The strongest Magi all but lost their powers during The Shift."
"I remain a Magi, and power is not calculated in raw strength alone," Mathew reminded the man. "Power is possession of control. I control myself still, and through that my surroundings."
"Doesn't matter," the guard shifted his position, "you have no right to bully your way into this hospital."
"Do I bully? Do I speak one word of threat, bemoan the consequences of her actions to her health and well-being, or that of her family, her friends?" Mathew asked. "All I do is show her the truth. That I am a man of power, not some inconsequential fool, a drug-addict or a foolish bureaucrat or any of a hundred possibilities that she would be right to block. I must speak to Grayson."
Mathew let the illusion collapse. The most important part of any deception was knowing when to stop. "It's important. We need to talk to him, and while I certainly wouldn't want to barge in on him if he's in surgery, the receptionist hasn't even checked his schedule, just ducked us because we didn't have an appointment."
"Oh really?" an amused voice asked from behind Mathew.
"Sir!" the receptionist surged to her feet. "I didn't see you there!"
Mathew turned and faced the man behind him. "Sir," Mathew inclined his head. The receptionist's reaction to the portly, silver-haired gentleman suggested that he wasn't someone Mathew wanted to antagonize.
"Grace, did you remember to check the schedule before you denied this individual's request?" the man asked again, voice dangerously pleasant.
Grace swallowed nervously. "No Dean Timbeau, I did not. I didn't need to-"
"Didn't need to?" the Dean cut in, annoyed.
"Sir, I'd checked it five minutes ago when someone else came to talk to him," she explained. "Grayson informed me he was not to be disturbed, and to send the man right in."
"I do not appreciate being lied to," Dean Timbeau's voice was taut with anger. "I just left Doctor Grayson's office, and he most assuredly was not called while I was in there."
"But I did call him!" the receptionist complained in shock. "It's his fault!" she pointed a finger at Mathew. "He's a magus, he must have cast a spell on me!"
Mathew's head snapped towards her, and he felt Jenkin's attention sharpen. "Describe the man who was here earlier, quickly!" he ordered, reaching into a pocket to pull out the sketch of what their perp wanted people to think he looked like.
"Five foot nine, black hair, reasonably fit, maybe thirty-five years old," she frowned. "White, and I mean really white, so pale he didn't look healthy. He had a scar on his right hand, if it helps."
"Take a look at these sketches for me," Mathew put them on the desk. Jenkins was already moving past the reception desk at a quick trot. "Quickly!"
"Him," she pointed at a picture instantly.
"Dean, she isn't at fault, but we need to get to Grayson's office now!" Mathew barked. Taking off at a run, he shouted at Jenkins who was already around the corner, "Jenkins, run! Do not draw your weapon!"
The dean was right at Mathew's heels as he sprinted down the corridors, thanking his near-perfect ability to remember locations. Another person might have to hesitate to remember how to get to an office they'd visited exactly once, he didn't.
And then he screeched to halt as he saw Jenkins, hunched against the wall away from Grayson's office. The dean slammed into his back, forcing Mathew a few steps forward before he could stop himself. Hand upright, he reached out in front of him with his senses. There was something there, but it was focused on Jenkins. The doctor's office was booby-trapped, and Jenkins had run right into it.
Mathew knelt next to where Jenkins was slumped against the wall, hands clutching at his throat as if to pull away whatever was choking him. "Come on," Mathew pulled him into the center of the hallway. "Stop right there!" Mathew shouted at a nurse running their way. "No one get close! There is magic in play, and I don't want anyone getting hurt!"
Mathew scrabbled at the fanny pack he kept at his side. Salt and blood, those were his only options. The trap spell was feeding on Jenkins, leeching it's power from the very breath it was denying him. There was no time for a more subtle approach, and thankfully no need. Salt and blood were the right options here, the solution he would have reached for even at the height of his powers, albeit he would have gone about it differently. He quickly poured the salt into a rough oblong shape, leaving a large gap to work through. He reached back into his fanny pack and started digging, pulling out a folding pocket knife that he kept razor-sharp. "I hate this part," he pulled at the knife, trying to open it. In his haste, the knife slipped, and he tried to grab it before it fell to the ground.
Unfortunately, all he managed was to send the knife skittering away, directly into the doctor's office. "Fuck!" he swore angrily. "I need a knife! Something, anything sharp enough to draw blood! I don't care if it's a fucking needle, but I need it now!" He howled at the nurse. She nodded firmly and ran into a nearby office, returning with what looked like a scalpel. "Toss it!" Mathew ordered before she could get close. The underhanded lob would have missed, but he reached out with his power and pulled the instrument towards him. He didn't have a lot of strength, but he'd trained what he had well. The handle slapped into his hand firmly even as a low pounding at the back of his skull warned him that he was pushing his limits.
"This is going to hurt, but it's necessary," Mathew told Jenkins. "Watch me." Without looking, he shoved the scalpel deep into his thumb. "Oh, I was right about how much this would hurt," he complained, voice tight as he forced back the agonizing screams. "You have to draw blood yourself or this won't work," Mathew wiped the scalpel off quickly before tossing it into the circle. Using his uninjured hand, he finished the circle of salt and nodded at Jenkins. "Draw blood, then apply a drop or two to the circle, quickly!"
Jenkins shoved the scalpel just as deep into his thumb, his screams of agony choked back by the spell that continued to throttle him. His face was turning a deep, deadly red, and Mathew knew there were moments left. "Hurry, your blood on the salt!"
Jenkins reached out and pressed his thumb to the salt, careful not to actually cross the circle. Right now it didn't matter, but Mathew approved of the care on principle. Reaching out, he dripped two drops of his own freely running blood to the circle of salt, opposite of where Jenkin's had gone. "Get to your knees, stand," Mathew ordered. "You have to cross the circle without breaking the line of salt, and I can't reach in and help you. Please, Jenkins, move!"
Jenkins forced himself to his feet, face turning blue. "You only have seconds left," Mathew urged him. "Get out. It will hurt, it will hurt like nothing you've felt before, but you have to do it. It won't be your pain, it will be the pain of the spell as it is ripped from you. Please, cross, now!"
Jenkins gathered his strength and lurched out of the circle. As he crossed it his body tightened in sudden agony and he began to fall, but Mathew was expecting it. Without himself crossing the circle, he grabbed hold of Jenkins' arms and pulled, then shifted his grip to Jenkins' torso and lifted. He managed to get Jenkins completely clear of the circle without actually breaking it, and Jenkins fell limp, gasping for breath. "Thank you," was the first thing Jenkins managed to say.
"You're welcome," Mathew growled, facing the circle. Inside it, something red and angry span around and around the edges, seeking escape, half seen and half unseen, like smoke drifting through the air that got caught up in a dust devil.
"Here, I got some bandages," the dean rushed up. "Let me help you-" he broke off as he finished wiping off Jenkins' thumb. "I saw you cut yourself," he whispered, shocked.
"My hand still needs bandaging," Mathew half-turned to hold his injured hand out. "My blood only sealed the circle, Jenkins' was needed to provide the spell a place to go. When the spell ripped out through it, it took the injury as well as the blood."
"What is that?" the dean whispered as he cleaned Mathew's hand. "I don't understand, none of this was here when I left a few minutes ago."
"Blood magic," Mathew explained angrily. "Not the kind of blood freely shed, but the bad kind. The evil kind. Blood holds power, and to take that power when it is not freely given is evil. It can take a while to set up, but once properly created you can unleash it in an instant. What you're looking at is a malevolent spirit created by the power of blood, at least I pray it was created. The other option is that it's the spirit of something living, ripped away from it's body in the draining of it's blood, and this thing is intelligent. I know of only a few animals that are even close to being intelligent, and I don't think you could get a hold of any of them in this area, do you?"
"You mean..." the dean gasped, dropping the rag he was wiping Mathew's thumb down with.. "That could be a human soul?"
"Not soul," Mathew corrected him, "spirit. The two are distinct, if related. The soul cannot be touched through blood, thankfully. Please, continue bandaging. I have to maintain the cage, and bleeding is making it difficult. That thing feeds on blood, and it can sense mine."
"Sorry," the dean moved on. "So what do we do about it? Can we... heal it? Destroy it?"
Mathew sighed. "Healing it is beyond us," he said sadly. "A priest-mage, if he was near the creature's original body, might be able to restore it to it's rightful home long enough for it to die naturally. But we don't have one, and we don't even know if it has a body. It hungers for one, but it's efforts to take one would simply kill whoever it touched. As for destroying it, it's isolated away from everything. It can't feed. It's starving to death in front of our eyes."
Jenkins stood up slowly. "You sound sorry for it."
"It tried to kill you, and if I let it go it would kill, again and again, in an attempt to find what it needs," Mathew sighed. "I will do what I must to stop it. But I do feel sorry for it. It didn't choose to be created, to become a monster. It was created in pain and suffering, not too different from humans if you think about it. But where our pain and suffering is that of life entering the world, this is a thing of life leaving the world. It's in constant agony, unable to do anything but hurt and hurt others. Feel sorry for it? I will mourn it's death, and I will find and kill it's murderer. I am ending this unnatural sham of a life, and when it crosses over it will understand. It would thank us, if it could." Mathew felt his anger rising, and fed it into the containment spell. "Even as it fights to break free, I sense it weakening, and in that weakening, in that beginnings of death, I sense it beginning to understand. And as it understands, I feel it's gratitude forming."
Mathew shook his head to clear the tears from it. "It begins," he whispered. Inside the circle, the red thing began to spin slower, lower. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Mathew whispered. "Rest now, rest," he told it. "I promise, I will find the one who did this to you, and he will pay," he voice grew hard. "He will pay in blood. To this I swear, as a High Justicar."
"Be free," Mathew whispered as blood splattered to the floor, no longer animated by the will of the spirit he'd slain. After the final drops of blood fell, he reached out with his foot and broke the circle. A breeze seemed to run through the corridor, and Mathew distinctly heard the creature's unborn voice in it. It wasn't a thing of vocal cords and human thought, it didn't speak in a human language or in any language at all, but he knew that everyone there heard it.
"Now that I've dealt with that," Mathew dropped his right hand and turned his attention to the office, "I've got this to deal with."
"There, it'll need more attention later but that should hold you for now," the dean told him, stepping away. Everyone in the hall except Jenkins was looking at him with awe in their eyes. It wasn't everyday that a High Justicar invoked his position, and even more than his illusion had earlier it had sung of the truth of his power.
They were scared of him. Not because they thought he'd harm them, but because they'd sensed the truth of what he was. High Justicar. A will stronger than steel, a sense of justice -- of right and wrong -- that was completely inflexible in it's wrath, an anger that could shatter mountains, and absolutely nothing of mercy. Pitiless and unstoppable, he was juggernaut.
He reached into his fanny pack and drew out two more bags and checked their labels. Iron, pure elemental iron reduced to a fine dust, would serve for cold iron. And in the other hand he held death. Nightshade, finely ground. "Not exactly eye of newt, but it will serve," he whispered.
Latin wouldn't serve, not for this. Whoever had wrought this spell had done it in a language of pain and blood, wrapped it thrice around a spirit ripped untimely from it's body. If he'd known the language, he might have unsaid the spell, but he would never learn such a language. Once Mathew would have had the power to match the spell power for power and break it that way. With time and study, he might have tried to collapse the spell in upon itself, knocking out key supports until it folded up into a tidy package that could be swept away into a sealed container, to die in it's own time. He didn't have power. He didn't have strength. He didn't have knowledge. All he had was careful preparation, and cleverness.
Cold iron to disrupt the spell's defenses and carry his own magic into it's heart. Nightshade to bring death to that which was already dead. Mathew opened the sealed ziplock bags, careful to not so much as breath near their openings. He had three seals to break each time, each item sealed to contain it's contents, sealed again to insure against leakage, and bagged one final time to protect the first two seals.
Even elemental iron could be deadly, if it contaminated the wrong working, and he was not going to let magic-infused nightshade leak.
Into his cupped palm he carefully poured a little from each bag before carefully handing them to Jenkins. "Seal those for me, and be careful. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwords, and whatever you do don't eat or wipe your eyes until you've done so," he warned. Bringing the handful of prepared dust to his mouth, he blew out gently, like blowing out a candle. The dust quivered with the energy he'd imbued it with, both as he'd prepared the bags and as he'd poured their contents. Somehow perfectly mixed, a stream of dust flowed out towards the office, finding every crack and flaw in the door to pour through before spreading out around the surface of the spell inside. Not a killing spell, Mathew sensed, just a sleeping spell. Whoever had done this wanted Grayson alive yet.
And that was probably the most disturbing part about this entire episode.
As the last of the material left his palm, Mathew reached out and placed his palm on the wood frame to either side of the door. There were no words to this spell. The most powerful magic was always like that. Words gave magic form, defined the result. This was raw magic, the true power of creation and destruction released, harnessed only by pure will.
Intention, deliberation, preparation. Mathew reached out through the dust and felt the spell. It was a trap, designed to bring sleep upon any who were inside it when it was triggered. If someone tried to walk into it after, it had an entire array of killing spells it could unleash.
But Mathew wasn't stupid enough to walk into it. He hardened his will and attacked. The iron dust disrupted the magic of the spell even as it responded to his will, drawing the nightshade in with it. Again and again Mathew thrust the knife-edge of his will in, seeking the living heart of this spell, only to be forced out again. Will alone fought this battle, with no need to pour any more power into it's working.
Finally he sensed the slumbering heart of Doctor Grayson, and before him the angry, agonized spirit that was the spell's heart. He plunged in deeply, and the spell shifted sideways. He just barely pulled back before he hit the doctor, and shifted his attack. Instead of stabbing, he slashed. The spell bobbed and weaved, but he'd driven deep into it and his attacks forced it away from Doctor Grayson and into a corner. Finally he pinned the spell in a corner, and with a dozen blades of will, each imbued with the slightest extra trace of power to guide it, he stabbed inward. They found their target, and the spell screamed in agony as he broke it.
This spell didn't thank him. It's spirit rushed out and threw him across the hallway with enough force that he broke through the door opposite Doctor Grayson's, wood splintering beneath his weight as the spirit raged into the afterlife.
"That hurt," Mathew complained as he pulled himself upright.
"Are you alright?" the dean of the hospital rushed over. "Is everything, I mean-" he danced back a few steps, glancing nervously at Grayson's door.
"I'm fine, and I think everything is over," Mathew reassured him. "Just let me be the first one in the door."
Grayson yanked his door open and skidded into the hallway. "Which way did he go? Did you-" He stopped and blinked. "Magi Trent? You weren't here a moment ago. Why is everyone gathered here instead of running after that idiot that attacked me? He stole my books!"
"What?" Trent's head snapped up.
"My books, he stole them. Both of them!" Grayson complained. "Why aren't you chasing him?"
"He's long gone," Mathew sighed as he pulled himself to his feet. "You've been under the influence of a sleep spell."
"A sleep spell?" Grayson shook his head, then slumped against his door. "Oh. Then he's gone."
"And your books with him," Mathew nodded. "Which books did he take?"
Grayson looked away. "After what you said about the Iniuriam Magica, I didn't feel safe just leaving it out, so I warded the book-case against theft. More than that, I put a spell in place to switch the seeming of it with Clypeus Domini, so that if someone tried to steal the Iniuriam all they'd get is the Clypeus. I don't think there's a lot of evil you can do with it, right? It's spells would fight back if you tried to do ill."
"Don't tell me," Mathew closed his eyes. "In essence, you offered Clypeus up as a sacrifice."
"I didn't realize what I'd done until after he'd grabbed it without even having to fight past it's magic," Grayson moaned. "I'm sorry, I didn't think."
"It's alright, it's alright," Mathew shook his head. "I take it as soon as he picked up the book, he saw through the illusion?"
"No," Grayson shook his head. "He grabbed both of them. He didn't even look at Clypeus before he tried to grab Iniuriam. I think he wanted both of them to begin with."
"That doesn't make sense," Mathew shook his head. "Could he have known about you switching their seeming, and just grabbed- no, if he'd known about the switch, Clypeus would have been free to protect itself."
"Can I go inside the office and check for clues?" Jenkins asked.
"With the doctor's permission," Mathew nodded to Grayson. "But shouldn't you be trying to find this guy?"
Jenkins looked over at him, annoyed. "We don't even know what he really looks like, unless the doctor would care to give us a description. And I suspect his mind has been tampered with, too."
"Description? I don't-" Grayson shook his head. "It all happened so quickly. He was in and out, and I barely even had time to notice he had red hair! Rather long, too, almost like a woman's."
Both Jenkin's and Mathew's heads snapped to face Grayson. "Not black?" Mathew asked.
Grayson pressed a hand against his temple. "I want to say it was for some reason, but I remember quite clearly, it was red. It looked black when he came in, and I thought he was taller than he was for a moment, too. But it was red, and he was short. Very short."
Mathew licked his lips eagerly. "You actually saw him. You're the first eyewitness to see him who managed to resist the illusion he cloaked himself in."
"Illusion?" Grayson blinked. "Quite impossible. The hospital is warded against illusion. I saw to that myself the day I arrived, at Dean Timbeau's request," he nodded to the dean respectfully.
"Those wards are down," Mathew shook his head. "Have been from some time, if I can't even sense them."
"I assure you, they're up," Grayson waved his hand through the air lazily, then frowned and repeated the act more hastily. "What is going on?" he asked, trying again and again.
"He wrapped the wards in an illusion that maintained the appearance of their integrity?" Mathew asked, shocked. "That's... interesting."
"That's possible?" Grayson asked, shocked. "I didn't think- Wouldn't you feel them? Or at least the illusion that maintains their appearance?"
"Not necessarily, not if the illusion was aimed specifically at you, and keyed into your signature properly," Mathew shook his head. "Very difficult, very subtle. Not many people who could have done it before The Shift. After, well, I don't think anyone has picked up the skill yet. Takes a fair chunk of power, and a lot of skill. Whoever this is, he's a Lesser Magus, at the very least."
"We already knew that, he overwhelmed me and I'm a Lesser Magus!" Grayson complained.
"Oh fuck," Mathew swore. "Scratch that, he's Master Magus. Maybe even Grand Magus. Hell, for all I know he's High Magus! That's just as impossible!" Mathew kicked the wall in frustration. "Whoever this is, he's strong as hell and skilled to boot. It's not possible. If he's an emergent, he hasn't had time to pick up this much skill. If he isn't, he'd have lost his power."
Mathew spun around. "Blood magic. That's why he's using blood magic!"
Grayson blinked in confusion. "Huh?"
Jenkins looked over at him in fear. "Are you telling me that he's using blood magic to regain his prior strength?"
"I know the temptation," Mathew paced up and down the hallway. "Magic, flowing through your blood, it's a rush like no drug ever invented. One of the cruelest parts of being denied my power is being denied the feel of it, the sheer life of it in my veins, the participation in the rituals of the magical community because I just don't have the strength to take on my old roles in them. But blood magic... if you're willing to use it, it would let you tap into more power than you could otherwise hold, enough maybe to feel like you used to."
"Please tell me this Iniuriam Magica doesn't teach him how to do even more blood magic?" Jenkins begged.
"Oooh," Mathew rubbing his face with his hand in realization. "That is so not something I want to think about. If he can combine the principles of Iniuriam Magica with the principles behind blood magic, we're going to have a disaster on our hands."
"How bad of a disaster?" Grayson asked. "It's my fault he got a hold of the books, I guess I should start pitching in to clean up."
"How bad?" Mathew asked. "How bad?!" he shrieked. "You've read Iniuriam. You tell me how bad it could get! We're talking about combining the magic in that book with a magic that can reach out past touching distance! A drop of blood can be forged into a spell that will kill a man miles away from the caster, the spell feeding on the target until his blood boils in his veins. Imagine combining that with the Iniuriam so that the man's body actually fights for the invader, or turning the invader into something like a disease that can split, grow, spread."
Everyone around looked at Mathew in shock. "How bad?" he repeated. "I'm calling in the FBI. I'm calling the DPCR. I'm calling in the national guard and the Army! I'm going to spend tonight calling in every military and paramilitary force I can think of, right down to yanking the rest of the Justicars out of retirement! And you know what?" Mathew swallowed as he began to cry. "I don't think it's going to be enough. I'm going to call everyone right down to the boy scouts in, and it won't be enough. Combine blood magic and compulsion, and sooner or later this guy is going to think of starting into necromancy, and we can't stop him. We don't even know who he is! Which means sooner or later, he's going to think about the First Law. The Third Law has been so much fun to break, and the Second is just going to keep feeding into the dark powers that are driving him. The fact that it's suicide won't even occur to him at that point. Once you're deep enough into the darkness, the Dark Itself drives you, the compulsions you throw onto others mirrored in your own soul, the perversions you wreak in the world calling to the perversions you start sensing outside of it."
"He's going to break the gates of reality, and all hell is going to break loose, quite possibly in the literal sense of Hell, with a capital H, invading Earth."