Mathew stood in front of a large door. The cracked wooden surface spoke of age and power, and to his senses it still gleamed with the magic that had been imbued into the building. The Shift had done many things, but the mundane world still believed itself the masters of all creation. Having discovered magic, the mundanes were outraged that they didn't know everything, but after the initial furor was over, they believed again that they knew all they needed to know. They thought they knew all about the magical world now that it had been revealed to them. They thought they knew who the Magi were, where to find them.
They never understood that they only knew what the Magi let them know about. The old wards still stood strong around their secret places, still held the knowledge of their gatherings close about them.
"Mathew, is this the right address?" Jenkins asked, stepping out of the car.
"Yes," Mathew nodded, smiling. He turned around and looked at the group at the foot of the stairs. Lily had volunteered to pick up both of the boys, and Jenkins -- who, as it turned out, had developed a crush for the woman -- had come along for the ride. "Despite the attempts of local leaders, magic still isn't a crime in this area. Furthermore, there is no law requiring the registration of Magi. Do you know why?"
Jenkins shrugged. "Some liberal nutters threw a fit about it being like the Nazi's making the Jews register or some shit like that."
"It's because we're everywhere," Mathew guided them into the building. It was old, made of stone called up from beneath the earth. It had been carefully shaped to look like it was made of quarried stone, but from the inside it rapidly became clear that the cool, grey stone was in fact living stone, drawn up and formed by magic. The room arched upward towards infinity, giving a slightly church-like feel to the building, well suited by the still, cool, hushed air of the room. "We don't advertise, but we don't number in the hundreds. We don't number in the thousands, or the tens of thousands. We number in the millions. A secret world, living along-side the mundane one."
A single drum began to sound. Slow, regular, even. "We have few ceremonies, few rules, but we do have a few. This is something I thought all of you should be here for. Lily, Alex, Billy head on further inside. I need a word with Jenkins." The three of them filtered past Mathew, drawn by the steadily increasing drum beats. Mathew felt it in his blood, the stirring of magic as the old ritual began. A welcoming, of sorts, a birth, of sorts, a wake, of sorts. It was all this, and more. Few rituals indeed, but deep, and powerful, and joyous.
"If all this is a secret from non-Magi, why am I here?" Jenkins asked.
Mathew nodded at Jenkins side. "You haven't let the book go."
Jenkins sighed. "How long have you known?"
"I figured it out shortly after we started working together," Mathew admitted. "It was Lily that clued me in the most, though. She got me thinking in the right directions, noticing a few clues."
"You're lucky. You've been in over thirty firefights, and never once been so much as scratched. Most officers never have to pull their gun once, and they take year after year to make detective," Mathew ticked points off on his fingers. "You're good. You have an over ninety-percent close rate, and it's not just that you tend to get easy assignments. You actually tend to get hard ones, and then make them look easy."
"And then there was the fact that I did my research on magic," Jenkins sighed. "The department didn't like that, but they overlooked it and I stayed a rising star anyway."
"Your weight also clued me in. You're fat," Mathew pointed out bluntly. "So how is it that you can keep up when I need to run somewhere? How come you haven't keeled over with a heart attack yet?"
Jenkins sighed. "You knew what picking up the book would do to me."
"Oh yes," Mathew nodded. "For a true believer, such as yourself, who possesses magical talent, like you do, picking up that book is a life sentence."
Jenkins pulled the book out of the leather carrying case that it rode in. "I don't even need to open it, you know. All the spells in it, all the text, they're written upon every atom of it. I can feel them just by touching it."
"I'm sorry," Mathew sighed. "If I had any other choice, I would have taken it. But we had to stop Grayson."
"And the cost is my freedom," Jenkins complained. "I can't set the book aside. I can't leave it anywhere. The department is going to figure out what that means quickly enough. Just like you, they're going to look at Lily and start thinking about suppressed talents. They're going to realize that a rising star like me, always in the right place at the right time, probably isn't doing so naturally."
"And now you've got a genuine magic book at your side, that you simply won't leave behind," Mathew nodded. "I've already explained that it isn't your choice. That magic has grabbed you up in it's hands."
"And the pastor's aren't stupid, they're going to figure out pretty quickly that the only way that could happen is if I possess some talent for magic myself. Otherwise, you could root the spell out of me," Jenkins complained. "You had to do it. I know that. But God have mercy, because my friends, my neighbors, my family are going to blame you, and they're going to hate me for daring to be what I am."
"I'm sorry," Mathew whispered. "I can't ask for forgiveness, I can only say-"
"Mathew, shuttup," Jenkins cut him off. "For once, listen, don't talk. You had to do it. There's nothing to forgive, it had to happen. And if there is something to forgive..." Jenkins took a deep breath.
"Let he who is without sin throw the first stone," he whispered. "Mathew Trent, High Magus, High Justicar, Sword of the Light, I forgive you."
Mathew's head snapped up and he stared at Jenkins as a second drum began to sound. The ritual was gathering steam, and soon he would have to leave. "How did you know?" Mathew whispered.
Jenkins opened the book he held in his hands. "It's not written in Latin, not anymore. I speak English, so other than the spell diagrams, it's all in English. 'And unto each generation shall be born thirteen, who shall do the Work of the Lord. They shall bring justice to the land, and protect the innocent, and ye shall know them by their works. And one among them shall be the greatest, who can never quit, who can never yield. In their heart of hearts, the Swords of the Light shall always believe themselves beings of power and majesty, and ye shall know them for that because even when they are weak, still shall they be strong.' Sound familiar?"
Mathew sighed. "It's supposed to be a secret."
"Mathew," Jenkins shook his head, "there's more. Do you want me to read it?"
Mathew nodded, as a third and a fourth drum began to sound. The rhythm reached deep into flesh and blood, summoning him to dance his way into the magic that was gathering. Jenkins turned the page. "One day, the truth shall be known to the world, and the thirteen shall be laid low. Their power gone, their strength vanished, all but one shall fall to the wayside. The one can never quit, can never yield. He shall loose the love of his life because he could not save her, but he will believe in his heart of hearts that he can. For the blessing granted upon him, as it had been granted upon the Swords before him, is confidence. Never shall they believe failure possible, and thus the failure to save his love will flay him for all his days unless he heeds the words of My Shield when he speaks My Message. Trent, know that it is not your fault."
"It doesn't say that," Mathew whispered, moving to knock the book out of Jenkins' hands. "It can't!"
"Read it for yourself," Jenkins turned the book around. "And take a look at the next line."
Mathew raised a single, trembling hand to the page. It wasn't possible. It couldn't say that. He'd know. She forgives you.
Mathew ran from the building, tears streaming from his eyes. He could have disbelieved the one line, except the next one had answered his only objection. Apparently, God was willing to cheat.
And she forgave him. Judith forgave him after he let her die.