Materia Magica: The Adventures of Al Majius

This document is intended as a "cheat sheet" for the Al Majius stories. Events in each story in the series tend to have repercussions in later stories; although the series is not (in its present form) intended to be a single coherent narrative, some objects, characters, and events may seem rather mysterious to anyone who has not read the earlier stories recently. Accordingly, the major events in Alís life and career are summarized here, under headings corresponding to the titles of the stories in which they appeared. Each title links directly to the story in Aphelion (or should, if I've been keeping up), either in the current-issues server or in the archives server. NOTE: if a link doesn't work, the story may have been moved to the archives. Try changing the "www." in the URL to "www2." ...

Al's World

Al's world is somewhat similar to ours, except that magic is a part of everyday life. Although technology (TV, phones, computers, airplanes, cars, guns, etc.) exists, magical equivalents are also commonplace (crystal balls from golf ball size up to "big screen" models, substituting for phones, cell phones, and TVs; various types of pre-charged wands that can be used as weapons or tools even by people who lack Talent (as the ability to work magic is called); "apportation" services for instantaneous travel over long distances). Ghosts, demons, vampires, and werewolves exist. Al's business as the series begins is communicating with the dead, and he has a demon (Githros) as a familiar to provide advice and other services in exchange for a little of Al's blood. Vampires and humans co-exist under a Covenant under which vampires never kill or convert humans and only feed on them with consent (usually in exchange for money); werewolves are considered to be sufferers of a contagious curse (like an unfortunate disease) ...

Dramatis Personae (our cast of characters)

Albert Majius (our hero) -- low-rent wizard-for-hire when we first meet him (see A Matter of Life and Undeath, below), but destined for greater things (including Chairmanship and Presidency of Majius Magical Services).

Githros -- minor demon, summoned by Al and bound to serve him, later Vice President Security and Research and Development for Majius Magical Services. Until recently, Githros was the size of a flea, and lived in Alís left ear, where he provided advice and the occasional critique of Alís skills. But Al's increasing power has allowed Githros to control his own size, and he now spends most of his time at two meters in height and about one hundred and fifty kilograms in mass.

Janine Taylor Majius -- Alís wife, later Vice President Finance and Purchasing for Majius Magical Services.

Billy Taylor -- Janineís cousin, recently infected with the Fast Anthropo-Canine Transformation curse (heís a werewolf), later legal counsel to Majius Magical Services (see A Matter of F.A.C.T. and later stories).

Magister Sciavone -- Master in charge of testing and certification at the Conlegium Magistris (College of Masters), the governing body and school of higher learning for the magical profession in North America (see A Matter of Degrees and later stories).

Magister Blackstone -- Master of Combat Magic at the Conlegium Magistris (see A Matter of Faith).

Countess Lamia -- "descendant" of Vlad Dracul (a.k.a. Dracula), the Prince of Walachia, and current head of the Walachian aristocracy in Eastern Europe. She is an old and very powerful vampire, but also extraordinarily beautiful (see A Matter of Taste and Dark Matters).

"The Baldies" -- Al and company use this term to refer to a robe-wearing cult that persecutes (and worse) werewolves -- because they believe that werewolves use up more than their share of the Universeís finite supply of hair follicles (the Law of Conservation of Hair). We learn later that the cult members are pawns in a larger scheme to exterminate both werewolves and vampires to liberate the pool of raw magical energy known as The Wild.

Jenica Comaneanu -- the spirit of a 9-year-old Rumanian girl, murdered as part of a plot to start a war of extermination against the Walachians (vampires). Al Summons her spirit to learn about her killer (see A Matter of Taste), and calls on her again to help with another problem (Matters of State).

Aaron Morgenstern, a.k.a. The Morningstar -- a powerful wizard who granted wealth and power to 49 subordinates in return for their souls after their deaths, Morgenstern died before he could collect on his investment. Al inadvertently triggered the intended transfer of souls (and magical potential) when he performed a routine Summoning in the cemetery where the 49 were interred, resurrecting Morgenstern in the process. Morgenstern is now the most powerful wizard in the world. Suffering from delusions of godhood (understandable given his power level), Morgenstern resents attempts by the Conlegium Magistris to rein in his profligate use of power, and has chosen Al as the target for his wrath ...

In the Beginning (NOTE: This section covers events BEFORE the first story in the series)

Albert Majius was a complete non-entity through most of his early years. Even the discovery that he had the ability to channel mana, the magical energy of the universe, didnít change much. Still, it was his untutored and frequently disastrous attempts at magic that caught the eye of his future bride, Janine Taylor.

Like many extremely attractive women, Janine Taylor had been downright funny-looking as a child, and had endured endless teasing from her schoolmates. Her life might have been even worse if not for the frequent intervention of her cousin and best friend, Billy Taylor. All that changed one summer, when Janine "became a woman". In a matter of months, she grew taller and developed a still-slender but curvacious figure, and her previously-oddball facial features shifted the few millimeters required to transform her face from comical to comely. Still, in spite of a spectacular increase in popularity (from wallflower to perpetual Homecoming Queen), Janine always remembered how things had been Before ...

Al had been smitten with Janine the first time he saw her, well before her transformation from loser to goddess. Many of his magical screw-ups occurred while he was trying to impress her, which she found rather endearing even after she became the hottest girl in school.

Thus it was that Janine and Al became An Item, much to the shock and dismay of the jocks, cheerleaders, more skillful magic users, and the Young Republicans.

After high school, Janine went to college where she obtained a degree in Business. She had ambitions of running her own company ...

Al also started college, but changed majors several times; nothing seemed right for him. However, the college library had a number of books that allowed him to improve and expand his magical skills to the point where they were at least somewhat reliable and more useful than not.

Alís money (or rather his parentsí money and patience) ran out, and he was forced to drop out of school. He had no marketable skills except his magical abilities, but without at least a Level Four certification from the Conlegium Magistris (the College of Masters, the governing body for legitimate magic users), he couldnít use those skills to make a living.

Fortunately for Al, his self-directed studies had been noticed by Magister Sciavone, a respected Master in charge of testing and certification. Sciavone allowed Al to take the wizardís version of an equivalency exam, and Al passed -- more or less.

As part of the exam, Al conjured up his first demon, and bound the creature to his serve as his familiar by invoking its True Name. Given his lack of confidence, Al ended up with a somewhat smaller-than-usual familiar -- about the size of a flea, in fact. The creature, Githros na Eídran (the rest of the Name must remain secret, of course), took up residence in Alís left ear, where he would provide advice and other services in exchange for occasional meals of Alís mana-charged blood.

Meanwhile, Janine found work with Avalon On-Line, a major provider of crystal-ball information and communication services. She worked in their marketing division, and was credited (or blamed) for campaigns in which charms were distributed free to allow crystals to connect to Avalonís services for short-term trial periods. She moved on to a company which dealt in magical artifacts, trading with adjacent Realms to obtain useful wands, talismans, and potions in return for human-made items (mainly foods, liquor, and electronics).

Al and Janine decided that they could afford to get married, and they did so, to the mutual disapproval of both sets of parents. As good Catholics, Janineís family was already upset about her career choices; for her to marry a wizard was almost more than they could stand. Alís family, on the other hand, wanted him to marry a nice Eastern Rite girl (and werenít thrilled with the magic business either).

Al continued to work on his magical skills, and made some progress, although his lack of confidence still tended to make a mess of things on occasion ...

A Matter of Life and Undeath

The Hardcastle job was a case in point. After an attempt to conjure a nice dinner resulted in ruined carpets and floors, Al had to bring in some extra money fast. Githros found him a client who was willing to pay a premium (compared to Alís usual rates) if he could physically resurrect her husband to provide answers to some inheritance issues before witnesses. This was beyond Alís usual skill level, but with some in-depth study and practice, and help from Githros to clean up his mistakes, he managed to bring Stuart Hardcastle back from the grave.

Hardcastle, who had arranged for his body to be magically preserved rather than undergoing embalming, severely disappointed his wife by confirming that he had intended for most of his money to go to charity, with only the minimum prescribed by law and their prenuptial agreement going to her. She responded by trying to decapitate him with a shovel, which only served to illustrate the fact that Alís resurrection spell, combined with the existing preservation spell, had rendered Stuart indestructible. Even worse, from Alís standpoint, the combined spells prevented Stuart from returning to his grave long after the resurrection spell should have faded.

Thus, Al wound up with The Houseguest Who Would Not Die (again). This might not have been so bad, but Stuart was handsome, charming, and handy around the house, and Al soon found himself wondering if Janine might prefer it if Al would leave while Stuart stayed in his place. After some failed attempts, Al managed to eliminate Stuart -- and found that Janine didnít mind losing the undead stud at all.

Grave Matters

Edna Finkelstein hired Al to Summon the spirit of her recently-deceased husband, Harry. She needed to find the key to their safety deposit box (and maybe to talk to Harry, just for a minute). Al Summoned Harry with no apparent problems, and headed home with (postdated) payment in hand. But then something strange happened: almost fifty graves near Harry Finkelsteinís plot were disturbed, apparently from within. As side effects from a routine Summoning go, this seemed rather unlikely, but the cemeteryís representative ordered Al to return to investigate.

It quickly became apparent that Al had accidentally triggered a spell cast many years earlier, when the last of the Morgenstern family had granted power to forty-nine underlings in return for their souls. Because Morgenstern had died before the last of the forty-nine passed away, he had been unable to reap the benefits of his Faustian bargain. But Alís Summoning awakened the forty-nine, and their spirits had in turn resurrected Morgenstern as the most powerful magical entity in history.

In recognition of Alís part in his much-delayed ascension to great power, Morgenstern bequeathed to Al a chest hidden in the rubble of his mausoleum, containing a substantial amount of gold, and a collection of rare magical texts, before levitating away and vanishing. Al was overjoyed to see the gold -- until the cemeteryís representative confiscated most of it to pay for the damages. Still, the remaining gold and the books represented a rare gain for Al ...

A Matter of Degrees

Using the Morgenstern texts, Al gained considerable knowledge and skill. His ability to channel mana increased with practice and his growing confidence, making him more powerful as well. Magister Sciavone, after observing a demonstration of Alís abilities, then granted Al an unprecedented immediate upgrade in his rating from Level Four to Level Six (provisional Level Seven), his Baccalaureate, and accepted him as a candidate for First-Level Magister. Sciavone also mentioned that Morgenstern, now calling himself the Morningstar, had become a nuisance, if not an outright threat to the world. Morgensternís power and his refusal to accept any limits on his actions might soon force the College to intervene -- and Al, as a contributing factor in Morgensternís resurrection, might have to play a part.

Despite this ominous warning, Al was happy. His promotion in rank represented a huge leap: as a Level Six, he could command much higher fees and serve a much broader client base. But he made the mistake of thinking about Morgenstern as he used an apportation spell to travel back to his car, and wound up in Morgensternís hidden lair instead of the parking lot.

Morgenstern, feeling his debt to Al had been settled by his gift of gold and knowledge, decided to use Al to send a message to the College. He paralyzed Al, and was about to incinerate him with the sheer power of his intense magical aura, when Githros made a sudden appearance, growing to three meters in height to shield Al from Morgensternís power.

Al somehow shook off Morgensternís paralysis spell and apported himself and Githros away before Githros was destroyed. Githros, though badly injured, indicated that he would recover with rest and some of Alís blood for fuel. He also explained that Alís increased power meant that Githros, feeding on Alís blood, had also grown in strength (hence his ability to change size on his own).

Thus, Alís future looked brighter in terms of money -- but he also had a terrible enemy that he might have to face at any time ...

A Matter of F.A.C.T.

In the middle of practicing new combat spells gleaned from Morgensternís books and the advice of the College Masters, Al accidentally injured Githros and Githros had attempted to retaliate, something that should have been impossible due to the binding spell placed upon him when Al first conjured him. But before they could think about this mystery, Al and Githros learned that Janineís cousin and childhood best friend, Billy Taylor, had been infected with the Fast Anthropo-Canine Transformation curse: he had become a werewolf. Worse, something had trapped Billy in wolf form and driven him into a mindless rage. Janine asked Al and Githros to help Billy: if he was left on the loose, Hunters would track him down and kill him. Al and Githros sought Billy out and managed to trap him without harming him, using Alís combat spells and Githrosís size, strength, and immunity to the F.A.C.T. curse.

Back in Alís garage, where Al had prepared a cage to hold Billy, Al learned that Billy had been shot with a dart carrying a hex which both overrode the "normal" F.A.C.T. cycle (changing him to wolf form without a full moon and trapping him there) and also induced the insane fury that would likely have gotten him killed. With the removal of the dart, Billy returned to human form.

Although this seemed like a happy enough ending, Al and company were left with two mysteries: who had made the dart and shot Billy with it? And why had they done it? And why was Githros free to harm Al?

A Matter of Time

The officers of the newly-incorporated Majius Magical Services -- Al, Githros (who had broken Alís binding spell when he risked his life to shield him from Morgenstern of his own volition), Janine, and Billy (now their attorney) met and discussed the possible use of time travel as a defense against Morgenstern, who had recently carved a threat to Al and his family in letters three meters tall into the side of a mountain. Githros managed to convince Al that trying to use time travel to make a major change (preventing Morgensternís resurrection) would be a mistake, but more limited, tactical use might be worth pursuing.

Later, Janine and Billy worked on some paperwork, reviewing drafts of contracts, while Al and Githros exorcised a demon infesting the computers of a local business.

Al and Githros learned that the demon had been sent by a group of bald wizards whose emblem was a crossed-out wolfís head. A quick peek under the shirt collar of their client revealed that he was a F.A.C.T. sufferer, albeit one with a very mild version of the curse. But while they were inspecting the building for any further demonic activity, something terrible was happening at home.

A robed man appeared out of nowhere and shot Billy with a dart like the one that had driven him mad only weeks before. Billy Changed to wolf form, but thanks to an amulet given to him by Al, retained his human intelligence and did not succumb to the berserker rage. He did, however, yield to his lupine instincts to the extent that he tore out the throat of his attacker.

A second robed man pinned Billy to the floor with a silver-tipped spear. After a moment to recover from the initial shock, Janine used a wand prepared by Al to destroy the man before he can kill her.

Al and Githros arrived, alerted by Janineís use of the wand. Githros used his healing saliva to close Billyís wounds, but it was apparent that this would not be enough to save him.

Al decided to try desperate measures. Using the short-hop time travel spell he had discussed with Githros, he jumped back in time to the point just before Billy was struck by the dart. He disarmed (literally) the man with the dart gun, and wounded the second man and cut the tip from his spear. Then Janine killed the man with her wand (again -- but for the first time in this context).

The time-jumping Al then vanished -- with Billy uninjured, the reason for his jump no longer existed -- and Al and Githros appeared again to investigate Janineís use of the wand.

Al was confused -- Janine and Billy were applauding a heroic act that he knew nothing about. This convinced him that trying even limited time jumps could be fatally confusing against an opponent as powerful as Morgenstern.

They had gained knowledge about the group responsible for Billyís problems -- and the problems of other F.A.C.T. sufferers. And they had more physical evidence for the police and the College to examine. But both Morgenstern and the robed men were still out there ...

A Matter of Taste

The reputation of Majius Magical Services had grown rapidly, partly thanks to the Morningstarís spectacular form of threatening graffiti, partly due to the effective combination of Alís growing skill and power with Billy and Janineís expertise in the realms of law and business. Al and Githros were summoned to Rumania by the reigning head of the vampire aristocracy, Countess Lamia to investigate a series of murders. (The vampires preferred to be called "Walachians", after their great-to-the-nth grandsire, the Prince of Walachia himself -- Vlad Dracul, or Dracula.) The murder victims -- all children -- bore marks that seemed to indicate that a Walachian was responsible, but this would violate a centuries old Covenant between the Walachians and the human population. If the perpetrator could not be stopped immediately, a destructive war between humans and vampires would be inevitable.

Al and Githros quickly determined that the wounds on the victimsí necks were made using some kind of weapon, not a vampireís fangs. Al sent Githros to fetch Billy and Janine to help with the investigation, as Billyís werewolf senses and Janineís experience in inter-dimensional trade seemed likely to be useful.

While Githros was away, Al Summoned the spirit of one victim, Jenica Comaneanu, to learn what she remembered of her death. He was forced to Merge with her to relive the last moments of her life when she proved to be unaware of her condition. In her memories, Al caught a glimpse of a robed man emerging from unnatural shadows -- but failing to cancel the Merge spell in time, he was almost killed as he experienced Jenicaís death "first hand".

Githros, Janine, and Billy arrived in time to revive Al. They separated again almost immediately, with Janine traveling on her own to trace the origin of the weapon, while Al, Githros, and Billy went to the site of Jenicaís murder to try to track the killer.

Billyís werewolf nose quickly revealed that the killer had literally vanished, using the same kind of magical shadow gate as the "Baldies" who had attacked Janine and Billy. They had no way to determine where the gate might have led, so they were stymied.

Janine, however, had obtained a tip from one of her suppliers, and had traveled to the Realm where the demon who might have made the fang-weapon did business. When she confronted him, the demon attempted to flee, and Janine used a blasting wand to disable him. She was about to question the demon when she was ambushed by a robed man wielding a paralysis wand.

Gloating, the robed man revealed that he had committed the murders to precipitate the extermination of the Walachians as part of a scheme to capture and control the special magical energy known as The Wild. Both vampires and werewolves derived their powers from The Wild; destroying them would make that power available to him. The attacks on werewolves were being carried out by a group who had been duped into believing that the lycanthropes caused baldness in others by taking an excessive share of the Universeís finite supply of hair ...

The robed man was about to kill Janine when Al, Billy, and Githros arrived in response to Janineís use of her blasting wand. A super-sized Githros easily pinned the man to the floor, refraining from "squishing him" only when Al insisted that they needed to question him.

Countess Lamia rewarded Al with a handsome fee, supplemented with a collection of books on Walachian magic. She advised Al that to face the Morningstar, as he seemed fated to do, he must arm himself with spells unfamiliar to the crazed revenant.

Matters of State

(NOTE: Some of the events below do not appear in the version of this story published in the September, 2003 Aphelion.)

Although the "Baldies" continued to attack on occasion, the members of Majius Magical Services tended to regard them now as a nuisance rather than a threat. Janine, in particular, rather enjoyed the target practice they provided.

Meanwhile, Al had studied some of the spells in the Walachian magic books, and had been practicing them with somewhat limited success. The vampires had a version of the shadow gate spell, but dependent as it was on The Wild, Alís attempts at mastering it had led to some bruises and scrapes (as he kept emerging in a storeroom full of busted furniture instead of the shadow he had conjured). Al also wanted to try the Walachian change-of-state spell that would allow him to transform himself into mist (or, given that the "mist" would contain a lot more than just water vapor, smoke or smog), but found himself a bit reluctant to do so when Githros listed things that might go wrong, and Countess Lamia was less than solid in her assurances that it would be safe.

In spite of the continuing threat of Morgensternís wrath, business was business, and Al and company had to keep working. Thus, Al and Githros found themselves in what was left of Feldspar Sporting Goods, looking at the most amazing case of vandalism they had ever seen. Everything in the store had been torn to shreds and scrambled as if in a giant blender. Even more amazing, surveillance video proved that all the damage had been done in less than ten minutes by incredibly energetic and completely invisible vandals.

Githros examined the debris and found no evidence that a demon or demons had been involved, but ran across copious amounts of ectoplasm -- a sure sign of ghosts. Meanwhile, Al read a document written by the owner of the store, a local history enthusiast, describing the history of the site.

Almost fifty children had perished in a fire that destroyed an orphanage that had occupied the land on which the store had later been built. The fire had occurred exactly one hundred years before the indoor tornado that had reduced many thousands of dollars in merchandise into mulch.

Realizing that they were dealing with the ghosts of the dead orphans, Al attempted a generalized Summoning spell so that he could help the spirits of the children to move on. Too late, Githros noticed that the roomful of debris was starting to move again.

Al and Githros were trapped inside Alís fortress spell, unable to apport to safety, while the bullet-fast debris ate away at the magical shield. In desperation, Al used the Walachian change-of-state spell to transform the pair into mist just before the fortress spell collapsed.

The spell gave Al conscious control over all his dispersed particles, and left him and Githros untouched by the storm of scrap wood, plastic, and metal that would have torn them apart if they had been solid. Still, Al had no way to speak to the children, and they had no reason to stop what they were doing.

After some thought, Al used friction between his particles and the plate glass window to give himself an audible voice. Casting himself in the role of an authority figure, he ordered the children to stop playing -- and they did so, letting the lethal whirlwind of debris subside.

Back in solid form, Al Summoned the spirit of Jenica Comaneanu, who "adopted" the orphan spirits and led them to the next world.

With the ghosts gone, Feldspar was able to obtain an insurance settlement, and was soon back in business. He showed Al a plaque commemorating the deaths and long-delayed ascension of the childrenís spirits.

Dark Matters

Continuing to practice spells from the books of Walachian magic given to him by Countess Lamia (see A Matter of Taste), Al tested a blackout spell that surrounded him with a cylinder of impenetrable darkness. He hoped that this might provide protection from the searing heat generated by Morgenstern's aura when the undead demi-god uses it as a weapon. But when he demonstrated his new spell for Janine and Githros, something went wrong: the cylinder of darkness vanished after a few seconds, but Al and Githros were gone as well.

Billy's werewolf nose told him that Baldies were somehow involved. When Al and Githros did not reappear, Billy and Janine feared the worst.

Meanwhile, Al and Githros emerged from the blackout spell to find themselves in a dungeon-like chamber. A Baldy appeared, holding a wand studded with amplifier gems, rendering it a weapon of extraordinary power. In the confined space of the underground chamber, this made him the magical equivalent of a suicide bomber. The Baldy told Al that the blackout spell had provided a focus for a shadow gate through which Al and Githros had been abducted.

Githros shrank to flea size and hid in Al's clothing, fooling the Baldy into believing that he had fled. While Al goaded the Baldy, making him angry enough to slow his reaction time, Githros climbed Mount Al to reach his favorite diving platform, Al's shoulder.

When Al sensed that the Baldy was about to trigger the amplified wand, he signalled Githros, and the demon snapped back to his two-meter size, trapping the man's wand hand and aiming it toward the ceiling. Al threw a fortress spell around the wand to contain the blast just before the Baldy triggered it.

The fortress spell held, allowing only a fraction of the wand's charge to emerge as heat and light. This left Al and Githros unharmed aside from what looked like a bad sunburn, but vaporized the Baldy's wand hand.

Al soon discovered that despite his success at countering the threat of the amplified wand, they were trapped in the dungeon by warding spells that blocked his apportation and communication abilities ...

Back at the office, Janine had asked Countess Lamia for assistance, since Al had been practicing a Walachian spell when he vanished. The vampire quickly determined that a shadow gate had been opened, and was able to reopen it and step through. She emerged with Al, Githros, and their one-handed prisoner, then departed through a shadow-gate of her own.

A Matter of Faith

Al fought a long series of practice duels with Magister Blackstone, the Combat Magic instructor at the Conlegium Magistris, losing every time, but drawing praise for his increasing skill and power. Blackstone chided him, however, both for being too easily distracted by minor things (such as an itching spell that Blackstone had slipped past his defense) and for having insufficient faith in his own abilities. To bolster Al's confidence in his chances against Morgenstern, Blackstone told him that he believed that Al's part in Morgenstern's resurrection gave Al a measure of power over the undead wizard, at least in the sense that Morgenstern's magic would not work as well on Al as it would on anyone else. Al was comforted by this news -- but still felt that he had no chance against a creature with mana-channelling potential many times greater that his own.

Back at the office, Githros drew Al's attention to a newscast showing a ruined school building. The newscast showed a message Morgenstern had burned into the parking lot (and a few cars that had not been moved in time): Bring Majius to Me.

When Al whined about how poor his chances would be when Morgenstern finally caught up with him, Githros said that Magister Blackstone had visited the office and mentioned Al's lack of faith in himself. Githros told Al that he had come a long way, and that many demons now spoke of him with fear. To prove his point, Githros conjured a fearsome and powerful demon, Samael. To Al's amazement, Samael displayed obsequiousness worthy of Uriah Heep when told of Al's identity, and fled as soon as Al said that he could leave (after unintentionally destroying some furniture).

Al received an emergency call from Magister Sciavone, asking for his assistance. The call faded in mid-message, indicating that there must be serious problems at the College.

Al apported himself and Githros to the Combat Magic dueling room, which seemed normal enough. After some time searching for Sciavone, Al deployed a tiny magically-animated figurine of a bloodhound to find the source of the call for help. Githros was able to follow the hound by scent, as the hound left a trail of miniscule droppings (which Githros "can follow ... but I'm not going to clean it up").

Al and Githros soon found an area where the light spells were failing or had completely shut down. Githros was badly affected by whatever had extinguished the light spells, actually shrinking in size, turning pink, and losing some of his armor-like spikes and horns. Al sent his demon companion away from the dark zone to recover, and continued on alone.

At the center of the blackout area, Al found a tall, balding man surrounded by the crumpled forms of many of the Magisters, all weakened by the same thing that had affected Githros: the sheer power of the man's disbelief in magic. The man, one Alfred James Prufrock, had been conjured by the Magisters as a possible weapon against Morgenstern. Upon his arrival, however, Prufrock's disbelief had so thoroughly dampened the flow of mana that the Magisters were rendered almost powerless. For some, like Sciavone, who used magic to extend their lives, the effect was devastating and could be fatal if unchecked.

Al tried to return Prufrock to his poirnt of origin using a spell Sciavone gave him, but failed as he felt his own powers draining away. It was only when he forced himself to believe in himself and in his magic as much as Prufrock disbelieved that he was able to make the spell work.

With Prufrock gone, the Magisters and Githros soon regained their strength, leaving Al a hero ... although Janine was a bit annoyed about the demolished furniture.

A Matter of Urgency

Magister Sciavone summoned Al to the College to show him a new weapon for the inevitable battle with Morgenstern: mana sinks, objects conjured from the magic-free realm that was home to Albert Prufrock, the Unbeliever. Since mana tended to flow from areas with higher concentrations to areas with lower concentrations (seeking that entropic ideal of universal mediocrity), objects from Prufrock's universe tended to soak up mana from the surrounding area. Thus, they had debilitating effects similar to Prufrock's impenetrable aura of disbelief -- but the Magisters had learned that the effect could be at least partially blocked by a combination of glass and water.

Al and Janine volunteered to test the efficacy of a mana sink as protection against offensive magic, and learned that a sink could absorb the energy of even a highly-destructive fire storm spell (although they were both frightened when it appeared that Al's attack might seriously injure Janine). Janine pointed out that mana sinks would drain the powers of any wizard carrying one, so they could only be used as weapons by non-Talented individuals -- namely herself and Billy. She then suggested that Al find a way to increase their agility so that she and Billy could dodge any physical attacks (such as large objects thrown by magic, against which the mana sinks could not protect them) while they use slingshots to fire additional mana sinks at Morgenstern.

Later, back at the College, Sciavone showed Al encapsulated mana sinks -- small hollow glass balls with water and an object from Prufrock's world in each one. Even thin glass shell and small amount of water comprising each sphere had proved to be adequate to allow Sciavone to handle a mana sink without dangerously depleting the magic that had extended the old Magister's life by many decades.

Sciavone told Al that he had sent a shipment of encapsulated mana sinks to Al's office and to his house so that both locations would have a supply on hand.

Al returned to the office to find an angry Githros, minus some of the spikes and horns that normally adorned his massive body. Githros complained that he had innocently answered the door when the courier had delivered a package from the College, and had opened the package -- only to find a collection of encapsulated mana sinks, sufficient to drain enough of his energy to cause some of his demonic features (just barely restored after the Prufrock fiasco) to shrink again.

Suddenly, Al sensed that one of the pre-charged blasting wands he had given to Janine and Billy had been discharged. He became alarmed when more wands were used, indicating that Janine and Billy must be facing a serious attack. Al feared that the worst had happened -- that Morgenstern had penetrated the screening spells created by the College to hide the Majius clan from him. He told Githros to send help while he went to do what he could to help -- Githros could not come because there was another box of mana sinks at home, and their proximity would surely drain his strength before he could help.

Githros reacted badly to this news, and his anger caused the box of mana sinks in the reception area to fall -- shattering the glass spheres and allowing the full effect of the mana sinks to explode through the office. Immediately, he collapsed and began to shrink rapidly.

Al snatched Githros up (the demon being no larger than an infant by that time, with pink, smooth skin) and ran out of the office.

Once they reached a safe distance from the mana sinks, Githros told Al to go help Janine and Billy. Al tried to apport there, but failed because his own stores of mana had been depleted. Fortunately, Githros had found a Walachian speed spell that would require much less mana than apportation. Al recited the spell and found the world seemed to be frozen around him; he set off at a dead run for home, losing his clothes to inertia and friction almost immediately.

Meanwhile, Janine and Billy were fighting a losing battle against Morgenstern. Their blasting wands were useless against the raw power of Morgenstern's aura, and the mad wizard was again using that raw power as a weapon, burning them with its deadly light.

In desperation, Billy used the Baldy dart in the pouch around his neck to trigger the Change to wolf form, and tried to attack Morgenstern directly. This, too, was useless, and Billy was thrown back against the wall with enough force to break bones and render him helpless.

Al arrived just in time, snatching a pair of encapsulated mana sinks from the box on the table inside the house and throwing himself at Morgenstern. At the moment of contact, the glass spheres shattered, nullifying Al's speed spell and draining much of Morgenstern's strength as well.

Al collapsed, exhausted and injured by his run and now drained of magic by the mana sinks. He had done all that he could; Janine and Billy were both helpless as well, their weapons gone, their strength burned away by the furnace heat of Morgenstern's aura.

Morgenstern recovered, at least partially, and it appeared that Al, Janine, and Billy were all doomed. But then he made a speech acknowledging that Al had become a more worthy foe than he had expected, and claiming that it was beneath him to destroy Al when he was already helpless -- and departed.

Janine, the least injured of the three, went upstairs to summon help...

*** Al and company will have more adventures -- at least until Morgenstern catches up with them ... ***