Castle Roland

Sword of Light

by Rilbur


Chapter 4

Published: 8 Apr 14

"Hello Ms. Borges," Jenkins nodded affably. "We're here to talk about yesterday."

She smiled, and ushered them into her apartment. "Thank you, Mr. Magi," she told Mathew. "The Pastor can go shove himself, if it weren't for you I'd be dead."

"Just doing my job," Mathew smiled back. "Nothing to get too excited over. And please, my name isn't 'Magi'. I'm Mathew Trent, and if you don't think it's too forward, you may address me by my name."

"Then please, call me Lily, Mathew," she gestured to a couch. "Please, sit."

Mathew took the offered seat, and after a moment Jenkins sat down beside him. The couch was long enough for them to sit down together without being in excessively close proximity, but it still felt more intimate than the far closer confines of the car, or even Mathew's office, did. "Lily, I'm sure you gave statements to the officers yesterday," Mathew started, "but I wanted to go over everything personally with you. As a magi, I may catch details that the officers would have missed."

Lily nodded affably. "You want me to tell you everything from the beginning?"

"Please," Mathew nodded.

"I probably saw him come in the door, and wait in line, but the first I really noticed him was when he started ordering," her eyes grew a little distant as she struggled to remember everything possibly useful. "He didn't do anything unusual while he was ordering his food, he just ordered it like everyone else did. He ordered right off the menu, without any changes, and we ran through the transaction really quickly."

"Did he order as if he knew what he wanted, or as if he didn't really care?" Mathew asked. "Did he hesitate any?"

"Nope," she shook her head. "He asked for a number two combo, with a coke. Just asked for a number two, nothing more or less."

"Alright," Mathew nodded. "Please, continue."

"It's after I hit the 'total' button that I realized something was wrong," she frowned. I gave him his total, but suddenly I found myself pushing in a cash transaction for twenty dollars. The drawer opened up, and my hands just reached into it. I collected up all the cash, and then handed it over. He took it, looked at me and told me that to prove that I was being forced to do this he'd given me a gift. He told me that he'd worn away one of the blood vessels in my brain, creating an injury that wouldn't show anything on the outside but that would prove that something was going on when someone went and looked."

"I think it was another five minutes or so before the spell broke," she shrugged. "There weren't any more customers for a few minutes, and the first two or three were debit transactions. I'm not entirely sure how many, I was too busy trying to scream, to do something, anything, on my own."

"The compulsion lasted after he left the restaurant?" Mathew asked.

"Yes," she nodded sharply. "Is that important?"

"I'm not sure," Mathew shrugged. "Tell me, at any point in this process did he touch you?"

"Yes," she nodded, absolutely confident. "He almost caressed my hand when I handed the money over, running his hand over it. I still feel like I should try and wash that slimy touch away."

Jenkins froze, surprised, but Mathew nodded affably. "I see. Tell me, could you describe the man?"

"Certainly," she nodded. "About five eight, with black hair, not exactly fit but he didn't need to loose any pounds. Thirty, maybe thirty-five, not much older than that. White, without the tan you'd normally expect to see in this area."

"Interesting," Mathew nodded, then pulled a printout out of his jacket pocket. "Could you please take a look at these sketches?" He handed over the paper, and she glanced over the six sketches. The sketch-artists back in DC had done a wonderful job according to the eyewitnesses, and she quickly zoomed in on one specific sketch.

"That's him! That's exactly him!" she pointed to one of the pictures, then pushed the paper back. Jenkins looked at it, frowning, then pulled a photo out of one of his pockets. Picking up the printout, he compared it against the still extracted from the video camera feed.

Similar, yes, but the two were clearly different men. Clearly different.

"That explains why he's been melting the cameras down," he whispered.

"Shh," Mathew shushed him out of the corner of his mouth. "Not now," he added in a whisper.

"What is it?" Lily asked.

"My partner just lost a little bet," Mathew shook his head. "Don't worry about it," he said, imbuing his words with just a slight trace of magic. Lily smiled, and leaned back in her chair while Jenkins looked at him, clearly annoyed. "We'll talk it over later, Jenkins," Mathew reassured him, still weaving his deception for Lily.

"That said, I'd like to thank you for your time," Mathew inclined his head to her. "I don't think I really need to hear much more from you at this time. Your recollections were spot-on with what I got from the police who interviewed you. No slipped details that I can find. I may drop back by later, depending on how the investigation goes. It's always possible that some detail we missed will come up later, and prompt new questions for you."

"Thank you for trying to get this guy," she told him. "The mere thought of what he did gives me nightmares," she shuddered.

"Oh damn," Mathew slumped back into his chair. "No one talked to you about the aftereffects of Compulsion, I take it?"

"After effects?" she asked.

"Yeah," Mathew nodded. "Jenkins, you may want to be elsewhere for this conversation."

Jenkins glanced at Mathew, then over at Lily. "Why?"

"Let me rephrase, Lily probably wants you elsewhere," Mathews frowned. "We're going to discuss things that she probably won't want spread around."

Lily shrank back in her chair. "I shouldn't have mentioned the nightmares, should I?"

"No, no no no no no," Mathew reassured her. "This isn't anything bad. It's just that someone should have talked to you about it already."

Jenkins got up and walked over to the door. "I'll be right outside if you two need anything," he told them before slipping out.

Mathew sighed, wishing for the days when he could have used his powers to simply smooth away the jagged edges of the psychic wound she'd undergone. Alas, such strength was no longer his to command, and it was probably illegal to do so now, however much easier she would have found that approach.

"There is a specific name for the magic used on you yesterday," Mathew began. "It's called Compulsion, and it is completely and absolutely illegal. Use of it was punished by death, with no other sentence even possible."

"Death?" Lily asked, surprised.

"Compulsion is dangerous," Mathew told her. "It warps, bends, and damages the mind of the person you use it on, but what makes it dangerous is the fact that it damages the user, as well. The Three Greater Laws were written, with death the only punishment, because some things are just too dangerous."

"Three Greater Laws?" she asked.

Mathew shook his head. "The Three Greater Laws are simply a set of three laws that have existed for a very long time, and are utterly immutable. The rest of the laws we might debate over; the three laws we never argue over. They are absolute. Conjuring upon that which lies outside reality, conjuring past the gates of death, and compelling another to do your will are all punishable by death, without any possibility of lighter sentences, and no excuses accepted. There is no leeway with the first, even research into the matter is absolutely forbidden upon pain of death. There is some gray area in the second one, ways to apparently violate it without actually violate it. The third is why we're here."

"It's been broken often enough that I know what is happening to you. Nightmares, and night-terrors, are going to plague you for years. There is nothing I can do to help you. You feel dirty, stained, less than you were. Broken inside," Mathew shook his head. Reaching into his pockets, he pulled out a crystal with a leather thing wrapped around it. With a quick twist of his wrist he undid most of the wrapping until the crystal hung free, swinging at the end of the thong. "This doesn't cost much to make, here," he handed it over. Lily looked at the strange necklace, confused. "It'll help," he told her, reluctantly adding, "some."

"How?" she asked.

"The Native Americans gave me the idea originally, with their dream catchers," Mathew smiled. "As you wear it, it's magic will bond with your own. The wounds in your psyche exist, at least in part, because part of the Compulsion is still there, waiting, hurting you because you're still fighting it. Think of it as asymmetrical warfare, the traces left are like terrorists, running around in the suburbs of your mind, using car bombs and sniper rifles and RPGs to harass the security forces charged with driving them out."

"And this thing will help stop them?" she asked.

Mathew sighed. "To follow the analogy, think of the pendant as a security system installed in every house on every block of every street of your mind. If they try and break in, the police will be called in instantly. It won't stop them, it won't kill them, it'll just hinder them."

She licked her lips, hesitating. "I want to heal."

Mathew shook his head. "It won't interfere with the healing process. If anything, it'll help. The terrorists... they won't be able to interfere with the construction crews rebuilding the things they've blown up."

She nodded, and then flipped the thong over her neck. "What if he comes after me again?"

Mathew shrugged. Oh please, Mr. Fox! "It won't stop him. Can't stop him. Only a strong, disciplined, and trained mind can manage to fight a Compulsion once it's in place. If anything, the fact that you've been compelled before makes you more vulnerable, weaker to any followup attacks."

"How long does it take to train?" she asked timidly. "Years?"

Mathew sighed, careful not to make it theatrical Please, please don't throw me in that briar patch!. "You really want to learn?" She nodded, eagerly.

"I can teach, if you want," Mathew told her. "I probably can't teach you to fight him off if he comes for you, but at least you can make him work for it. And if he's distracted, if something comes up and his concentration slips, you might be able to break loose."

"Please," she begged. "My pastor won't like it, but..." she started crying. "I can't take it again. I need to be able to fight. Please." Well, you sure seem scared of that briar patch, so I'll just toss you in! Mathew hid a smile.

"Certainly," he nodded. "First, close your eyes, Take a deep breath, and then reach out with your mind. Feel everything that is you, and establish a firm barrier between what is you and what isn't. You won't be able to reach past that barrier unless you're a magi, but you can find that point, the point where your mind ends, if you try."

"I... I think I've got it," she said hesitantly.

"I'm going to touch you with my mind,," Mathew told her. "I'll try and touch all over your barrier, looking for weak spots. I won't press hard, for now."

Closing his own eyes, he reached out for her mentally. In a way he could never have described to a non-magi, he ignored the physical and reached instead for her mind. It was as disordered as he'd expected, but her barrier was unusually firm for a first-timer. "I'm in your mind," he whispered. "Here, feel me?" he made some noise just to make sure she knew where he was.

Suddenly her barrier expanded, charging forward in an effort to knock him out. He sidestepped it, still making noise, and it expanded again. Frighteningly, he was running out of room. Even as she charged forward, claiming more and more of her mind under her defenses, she didn't pull back in the slightest from the rest. Soon there was just the barest 'lip' of land for him to stand on, and he erected a wall of his own will. "That's actually pretty good," he told her. "It's not unusual for someone to miss large parts of their own minds when they first put up their defenses. Your defense is strong, and aggressive about reclaiming missing lands. I've put up a shield over the last bit of unclaimed land, try and take it back from me."

Mathew had to fight harder than he'd expected to maintain his hold. She threw attack after attack at him, sharp spikes of will that tried to chisel at his shield, and longer waves of power that tried to wear away at him. Hammer blows of raw strength to shatter, and then back to the beginning. Quickly she began adapting and using the techniques he used to fight her. He made his wall hot to the touch, and suddenly she was trying to freeze it out from under him. He almost laughed, until she tried to use that freeze to make it brittle. "Clever! Using mental associations against me is a good, strong way of fighting. Remember, it is your own mind here, so it's your associations that matter. If you think something should be brittle because it's frozen, then I'm going to have to put twice as much energy into preventing that as I would otherwise. If I think it, and you don't, then I simply can't use it, not inside your mind."

She was stubborn, refusing to give an inch as he probed back at her defenses. He felt the mindscape shape itself around them, an island floating in a black void, with him perched on the very edge of a cliff, fighting desperately to keep from being pushed over. And then, suddenly, the floor fell out from under Mathew and he fell away into the void. He managed to grab hold of the slightest lip left, right under his suddenly faltering defenses, but then she was there, pushing him away. "Nice trick," he opened his eyes, and she smiled at him. "Smart of you, making the cliff collapse out from under me."

She smiled. "I thought you said it was hard," she commented.

Mathew wiped all trace of expression from his face, and raised an eyebrow. "I let you win," he told her. "You're good, don't get me wrong. With time, you'll be able to laugh at most mental attacks. But you aren't there yet."

"Oh really," she laughed. "What exactly could you have done?"

"May I enter your mind again?" Mathew looked her firmly in the eyes, and she nodded.

This time he didn't bother being gentle. He didn't slip into her mindscape with an almost invisible delicacy of touch. He rushed in, substituting sheer willpower for subtlety. He claimed a large portion of her outer mind for his own, and forged a great castle there. He felt her reeling, her mind suddenly rebounding to remember yesterday.

And the skies blackened around him, a thunderstorm in an instant. Lightning flashed and hail flew, and the very earth beneath his feet fought to break his fortress. Pure, unthinking rage flashed down from the skies, again and again, as her will marshaled it's armies on the plains outside. Full of sound and fury, it signified nothing as he raised his fortress higher and higher. He pulled the land up, the very earth groaning in defiance against his violation, but the strength to resist him was not there. Upward his castle flew, until it broke through the eye of the storm, rising above the fury and the storm.

"Use your rage," he suggested. "Don't just let it dash itself against me, grab hold of it and use it to fuel your efforts."

Suddenly the storm disappeared, leaving only the void of nothingness outside her mind. Without it, the plateau was meaningless and swiftly faded away, leaving his fortress once again on the plain of her mind.

But this time the earth rippled under his feet with new found force. Fissured cracked under his feet, trying to swallow, and the very fabric of his fortress tried to split. He was in her mind, and this was her world, and she wasn't prepared to let him have this much control over the very fabric of her mind.

She was strong. Unimaginably strong. Mathew wasn't prepared for the sheer strength she was beginning to call to her side. Against a normal human being, he could probably have continued to enforce his own mindscape, but she wasn't a normal human being. Everything twisted, and suddenly they were fighting with swords, his fragile rapier just barely holding off the blazing fury of her enormous, two-handed blade. Skill as much as anything else let him hold his overmatched own as he backed away. Unfortunately, she sensed that she had him right where she wanted him, and wasn't letting him go. There was no edge, no exit, simply the vast, endless expanse of her mind, and he didn't have the time or attention to spare to try and change that. One mistake, one slip, and he was a dead man. Her blade would destroy him with the merest touch.

"Stop, wait, hold!" he begged. She hesitated, then backed away slowly. The dreamscape dissolved around them as Mathew finally managed to disengage his mind from hers. "Lady, why didn't you tell me you were an emergent!" he snapped. "Keeping that kind of secret is dangerous!"

Lily blinked at him in surprise. "Me, an emergent? Don't be absurd! I'm a good Christian woman!"

Mathew bit back his response. It wasn't what he wanted to hear, but maybe it was the truth. And if she hadn't known she was an emergent, she could hardly have been expected to tell him.

Odd, though, that the first Compulsion in the area centered around an emergent. It wasn't exactly impossible, but it wasn't the kind of thing he'd expect to have happened by chance. Even before the Shift they'd tended to stand out. They had a bit of luck, a bit of charisma, just a bit 'more' than the common mundanes around them. For Lily to be flipping burgers at a fast food joint just didn't seem likely, and even if she were completely unaware of her powers they should have helped shift something like this away from her.

Unless she'd been specifically, deliberately targeted.

Mathew frowned at the unhappy realization. It didn't seem likely, but at the same time it was the single most likely reason he could construct out of the chain of events. Of course, it also changed the meaning of a dozen other details. Suggesting a magi was always a tricky, dangerous business, but at least two powerful Suggestions had clearly been implanted, and his relatively weak one had slipped in without notice. "You are an emergent," he told her after a moment, making his voice as firm as he could manage. "A powerful emergent, I'd say, which worries me."

"It worries you?" she shook her head. "I'm a good Christian woman! I can't be an emergent! It's just not possible!"

"Whether you like the truth or not, you are," Mathew frowned. "Odds are you've never noticed because you've successfully repressed your powers in the past. That would explain why you never noticed them." What Mathew very deliberately didn't mention was that it didn't explain why she hadn't shown the side-effects of the magi's powers. Having suppressed all active use of her powers should have driven them down deep, enhancing her life in various subtle but very effective ways. Her health should have been better, she should have breezed through life with a vivacity that would keep all eyes on her, and luck should have smiled on her every decision. She should have a college degree, and a real job, or a husband if that's what she was looking for.

Unless, of course, there was something important he was missing.

"Could you tell me about you life?" he asked. "Any unusual hardships, traumas, or what not?"

She glanced at him, then looked away. "Why?"

"Your powers are breaking loose, possibly as a result of the attack yesterday," Mathew explained glibly. This was one case where he absolutely had to lie. "The more I know about any events which may have played a role in suppressing your powers the better we can handle their emergence, the more likely we can control what happens from here and shape it to a desirable outcome." He didn't want to lie any further than that, sooner or later she'd have to face the fact that her powers couldn't be suppressed again, but by giving out the carrot of hope maybe he'd learn some of what he needed to know.

She swallowed. "You're asking about my... my rape, aren't you?"

"Oh no," Mathew groaned. "Oh I am so sorry, I had no idea," he shook his head. Suddenly, the well kept but small apartment made sense, as did the lack of perfect health and college degree. She was a 'bad girl', and didn't deserve anything nice, 'obviously'. She felt that she deserved a job at a burger flipping joint, and to be attacked in a horrible, heinous way, and so she was. "How old were you? Six?"

"Five," she whispered. "When it started. How did you know?"

Mathew closed his eyes in pain. 'When it started', not what he wanted to hear. "I made a few guesses, came to a few conclusions. How long?"

"My mother walked in on him when I was eight, so about three years. Three and a half," she whispered, pained.

"I'd take the pain from you, if I could," Mathew told her. "I cannot." He shook his head. "This is going to take more time than I can spend, at least right at the moment," he growled. "Not your fault, but Jenkins isn't going to wait outside that door for several days while we work this out."

"I know, I'm not worth it," she nodded.

Swift as a snake, Mathew's hand snapped out and took her by the jaw, forcing her to look at him. "You are worth it, every single moment of the time I'll spend helping you. Believe it. It is simply that now is not the right time. I need to catch the man who attacked you before he can attack others, or come after you again. I will return."

"I will," he swore.

She pulled her chin loose and looked away, refusing to meet his eyes, disbelief written in every line of her body. She'd learn, eventually. He kept his promises.

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