• Mark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Act I

The Final Spell

Scene 4

I trained you for hours every day and for weeks on end. As the humidity of summer gave way to dry, crisp evenings, your skill improved dramatically. Visits to your teenage girls dropped off, and before long you stopped talking about Caryn from Bristol, despite seeing her every week – lunch every Saturday at the Crow’s Corner.

One thing you insisted upon is using your magick for good. When you were thirty it hadn’t mattered much. As age fifty came and went, perhaps you had your mortality in mind. Then again, Caryn might be influencing you – Caryn and her church. I’d felt their prayers.

You turned fifty-five and your abilities continued to blossom. With the wave of a hand, you caused fireworks to detonate in the sky. A gesture filled a sink with water. You’d think, and rain would fall. The right movements with your fingers produced gallons of warm, soapy water, and a mop would wash your Mercedes without you touching a thing. While driving through Bristol one day, you even stopped a mugging by ripping the knife out of the attacker’s hand. The victim ran off, the mugger stared at the knife blade sunk two inches into the concrete sidewalk.

Caryn rang your doorbell on a hot and sunny June day. Arriving with her: a man and woman from her church. The taste of the cross seeped from their skin, dripping to the floor and sizzling. None of you could sense it. Only a Brother would.

“Won’t you come in?” You stepped aside to give them room.

Your invitation didn’t sit well with the unknown man and woman, but Caryn didn’t hesitate to cross your threshold.After seating your guests in the palatial day room, you moved into the expansive kitchen.

I showed myself again. “I don’t like these people. They have a prejudice against magick.”

“They’re nice.” You pointed at the granite countertop and a platter appeared. With a complex hand pass and a muttered phrase, a heap of quartered sandwiches materialized. Surrounding them, a tasteful circle of cheese and crackers. Some of the crackers supported a small wedge of premium sausage.

I scowled. “They’re not here to be nice. They’re here to stop your magick.”

A look of disgust crossed your face, and then your first overt act of betrayal manifested.

“Begone!” Your fingers flashed the complex weave of magick used to drive away spirits.

I laughed to cover my anger. “I’m more powerful than that spell. Just remember my warning.” Fading into invisibility I followed you into the day room.

“I have ham and cheese on rye.” You placed the tray on a coffee table, where the aroma of meat mingled with fragrant cheese. “Also, egg salad on pumpernickel, whole wheat with salami, or if you’d like, something else. It won’t take a moment.”

Caryn looked receptive and nibbled on a cracker, but the others made no move for the snack tray.

“Anything to drink?” You remained standing as if eager to serve your visitors.

“Do you have some ice water?” Caryn asked. The others shook their heads without uttering a word. You glanced toward the kitchen and sub-vocalized a spell to ask for the water.

I didn’t want to miss anything happening here, so I grimaced and summoned an imp to take care of the request.

You sat. A low level Brother, doubling as a servant, emerged from the kitchen with a pitcher of ice water and glasses. You and Caryn drank, but the others didn’t.

“How did your servant know to bring water?” The bald man with wire-framed spectacles glared at you. Suspicion oozed from his words like condensation on the pitcher of water.

“They’re well-trained and very observant.”

Even an imp could interpret human wants and needs. It looked at me and I waved it toward the kitchen, where it could safely vanish. I wouldn’t owe it too much.

Baldy frowned. “Then why didn’t one of them bring your tray of appetizers?”

You smiled and crossed your legs. “I wanted to help you feel at ease. Something seems amiss, and I wanted to welcome you properly – with my own efforts.”

Baldy’s frown deepened. “Your own efforts. That’s rich.”

“Ken, we’re concerned about you.” Caryn leaned forward and placed her glass atop a coaster on the coffee table. “Magic is wrong, and we’ve seen you do too many unexplained things.”

I moved in to disrupt her composure, but drew up short against her aura of faith. Y-you could handle her, even if I couldn’t. How much longer would they stay?

“Magick?” You affected confusion. “I don’t understand.” Playing dumb was good for an opening gambit.

The gray-haired woman, who looked every inch the stereotypical librarian, cut in. “There are strange things happening, and they’re centered on you and this house.”


She looked over the top of her glasses. “Here. People you meet are affected in ways that are not natural. It’s very subtle. Some win scratch-off lottery tickets. Others living in high-crime areas have homes that are not robbed, and those people are not mugged. We’ve seen these things happen.”

“Sounds like people are doing well and you seem to resent it.”

Baldy elaborated. “Unexplained. And it only happens with people you sell amulets and trinkets to. They tell us you do magic.”

I whispered in your ear. “That act won’t play out for long. Change tactics, or better yet, get them out of here.”

Your expression never changed, but Baldy and Library exchanged a look. Maybe they perceived me. I backed further away from the circle of chairs and sofas.

You stood – a subtle invitation for them to leave. “Look, I appreciate your concern, but I know what I’m doing.”

Caryn took the hint and also rose from her seat. “I care, Ken. We’ve gotten to know each other over the last few months, and I have to say God doesn’t appreciate magic.Your salvation depends on stopping its use.”

You paused. “When I was growing up both of my parents died. I’ve never been able to rely on anyone but myself. What I’m doing is an extension of that.” You went to the front door and opened it.

Before anyone could leave you said, “Caryn?”

She stopped.

“Would you like to have dinner tomorrow night?”

If I had a jaw it would have dropped. Having dinner was a huge step and I thought I’d stopped you from taking any strides that direction..

Caryn pondered.

Baldy and Library paused by the open door, looking like they’d sucked on a lemon.

“I think that can be managed.” Caryn’s eyes sparkled. “Bristol Steakhouse, quarter to six?”

Baldy and Library doubled their citrus.

You nodded, and your broad grin made you look even dumber than a constipated alpaca. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

When the door closed, I snapped into full view. Anyone could see me. “What do you think you’re doing?” I demanded.

“Allaying their suspicions.” You banished the snacks and drinks with a wave. “If they suspect I’m using magick, the best way to disabuse them of that notion is to meet with them openly and without fear.”

“Just be careful,” I warned.

If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.

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  • Mark Meier

Bypassing a gigantic beige door used by grav loaders,they entered through a personnel door, which squealed its objection to being opened. Inside were stacks of lumber, ranging from a meter in length up to ten meters. Width and breadth increased toward the far end of the building. Lannetay filled her lungs with the aroma of freshly cut material.

Marc gasped. “Wood! Olthan, I’ve never seen so much of it.”

Olthan nodded. “You’re Lunite, right? I seen lots of it.” He kept watching the guards as they entered the warehouse.

Lannetay smiled. Marc had grown up on Earth’s moon and had seen precious little of that sort of thing. Olthan’s colony had been feeding millions of people with their crops, and even had some groves for timber exports.

Gerid let the four visitors peruse the novelty for a half-minute as the guards took up positions inside to cover the traders. “This way, please.” She led them into an office set in the corner of the building. To the three guards she said, “You can all go about your business. These people won’t be a danger to me or the colony.”

After the office door closed, Gerid slid into the chair behind a diminutive desk. “We have product to export, Lanny.” She waved the four crew from William Placard to sit in the seats provided.

Lannetay noticed the workmanship on the stained and varnished wooden wing chairs. “Nice job, whoever crafted these seats.”

Gerid leaned back in her captain’s chair. Her smile turned expectant.

Lannetay was surprised when the wood behind Gerid looked like it “gave” a bit, so she checked her seat, subtly shifting her posture. Her chair back felt as if it formed to her body. In fact, it was all-around remarkably comfortable. Her eyes grew wide.

Gerid smiled. “You’ve noticed.”

“Noticed what?” Marc asked.

“These chairs, Marc.” Lannetay stood and peered at her seat. Though implants couldn’t match the ability of a hand scanner, her augmented eyes could detect many things. “How can that be? Wooden seats have been around for thousands of years. There’s no mechanism, there are no nanites to rearrange the material. How is that done?”

Gerid’s expression grew wary. “Proprietary information, I’m afraid. However, we have enough cut lumber to fill at least some of your cargo hold.” She waved toward the piles of wooden product on the other side of the wall.

“In exchange for?” Lannetay asked.

“We’d like to expand our current atmo wall by adding a Five-K ring.” Gerid leaned forward. “Do you have a Stage Two terraforming kit at a price we could afford? Then we could grow enough lumber to have regular exports sent out.”

“A Stage Two kit is expensive.” Lannetay wouldn’t object, exactly, but she needed to act the part of a trader. Most colonies would kill to get their hands on a kit to grow a Five-K ring.

“I know.” Gerid scowled. “We simply can’t make a good show of things without growing more trees, and most of our arable soil is growing the food we need. Wood takes time, and the process to make it conform to other shapes takes almost as long as growing the timber. The waiting for six months to grow a Five-K wall is nothing compared to the rest of it.”

Lannetay considered the proposed deal. She had the kit – dozens, in fact. The main question, however, was how far Gerid’s gratitude would follow. The crew’s main purpose was to recruit a spy in the Wanti hierarchy, but she needed friends before she was in a position to do so.

“Would you include a letter of introduction to someone in the Trade Ministry on Wrantiban?”

Gerid frowned. “Why would you want that?”

“I used to trade on Wrantiban itself. When hostilities began I lost my contacts there. I’d like to reopen trade.”

Gerid let silence linger long enough for Lannetay to suspect she’d overplayed her situation. Then Gerid’s gaze grew distant as if listening to a message on implants. She stood, knocking her chair backward. After a few seconds her eyes widened. “The governor’s son has been kidnapped.”

Olthan jumped to his feet. He unslung his rifle and looked around as if the kidnapper might be in the room.

Lannetay asked, “The Kio of Wrantiban?” Though she disliked the thought of separating children from parents, Kio Otmitter deserved everything horrible that could happen to him.

Gerid shook her head. “No, the new colonial governor who replaced me.”

Carnifor grimaced, but otherwise remained still. “Kidnapped? How?”

“This colony isn’t big enough for anyone to get away with it.”Lannetay scowled and crossed her arms.

Gerid’s eyes continued with the dreamy quality of someone receiving information on implants. “A ship left the planet. It’s heading toward a neighboring colony.”

Bill broke in. High-speed corvette, making more than three hundred c before it left scanning range.

Lannetay’s blood froze. Someone was taking a child out of the system, away from their parents. “Whatever we can do, we’ll do.”

Carnifor and Olthan both shot her a questioning glance.

We will do what we can, Carnifor.Lannetay was adamant about that. Even Wantis shouldn’t have their children kidnapped. Well, most Wantis, anyway. Besides, whatever the faults of the parent, the child should not be punished.

Gerid was obviously worried. “Could you retrieve Hyanto? The governor’s son?”

“Doesn’t the colony have a ship?” Carnifor asked. “William Placard is slow. Our top speed is barely over a hundred times the speed of light.”

Though she stood still, Gerid’s eyes flicked left and right, reviewing data only she could see. “The governor has a ship, but he’s off-planet on a trade mission. There are some in-system tugs and ore processors, but they don’t have interstellar capability. Yours is the only vessel with the ability.”

“I dare say your governor will be back soon.” Carnifor leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. We can’t, Lannetay, and there’s no need. This is not our problem.

We have to, Lannetay sent back. This is a child, and there’s nobody else close enough to do something right now. She stood and held a hand out for Marc to take. “We’ll get him back. If we can. Carny? Let’s get back to the ship. Gerid, send our ship the details. We’ll lift off right away.”

Marc took Lannetay’s hand for a moment, then let go as they left the office.

Olthan took up rear guard and kept scanning their surroundings.

The four marched across the gritty macadam back toward the William Placard.

Carnifor never paused in his carping. “We don’t even know where he is. How could you promise we’d do it? And why are you so adamant about helping out when it’s against regulations?”

Lannetay gritted her teeth at Carnifor’s diatribe, but didn’t break her rapid pace. “I promised we’d do what we could. And if a neighboring colony took Hyanto, we’ll have resources they don’t.”

“How do you know that?” Marc asked.

Carnifor gave the boy a condescending smile. “Your mom does her homework. There’s only one colony within ten light years that might kidnap a child from Herlorwis.”

“HIP 36985.” Lannetay signaled Bill to open the airlock as she walked up the boarding ramp. Gravity gradually increased from the half-normal colony pull to full-normal. She replaced her holster and racked her pistol.

“What?” Olthan asked. “It’s called what?” He kicked the side of the ramp, knocking the grit off his boots before stepping on.

Carnifor recited the designation. “HIP 36985. It’s a catalog number. The star doesn’t even have a name, much less the planet or the colony.”

Olthan set his rifle in the rack. “Let’s call it Cayn, s–.” He latched the storage cabinet and opened the one for his disrupter pistol.

Lannetay paused at the inner airlock. “Cain?”

Olthan shrugged. “My mom told me about Cain and Abel. The colony done somethin’ wrong. So, why not Cayn, with a Y? C-A-Y-N.”

Carnifor said, “We can’t name that colony, much less call it Cayn.”

“Why not?” Marc put his stunner back in its charging station and closed the locker. “I like Cayn.”

Bill interjected an explanation. “The Federated Union of Stars charter gives that right to the colony. Only they can name their own colony.”

“That charter hasn’t been ratified yet, much less adopted by HIP 36985.” Lannetay lead the way out of the airlock.

Bill asked, “The rest of you coming in, or do you plan on lingering there?”

Carnifor, Olthan, and Marc stepped through into the common area and Bill closed the hatches.

Lannetay headed for the control room, stepping around the chairs and tables others had left in the way. “Bill, get rid of these things. And set course for Cayn.”

Marc and Olthan both smiled.

Carnifor followed Lannetay across the room as unused furniture macrites dissolved back into the deck. Bill opened the hatch to the command center as Lannetay approached, and both stepped inside. Carnifor glanced over his shoulder at the hatch which didn’t close.

Lannetay took the left seat in front, Carnifor the right.

“Get clearance to lift, Bill.” Lannetay scanned readouts.

“We’ve already gotten the ‘okay.’ Gerid Meit called.”

“Then let’s go. Maximum safe speed as soon as we pass the atmo shield.”

The William Placard’s background hum intensified, and Lannetay sensed the ship lifting. The climb to the atmo shield took mere seconds, then Bill accelerated. A thin streamer of Herlorwian air followed them into space. When the star’s gravity well fell far enough behind, they passed light speed.

“One hundred twenty lights.” Bill announced their top speed as soon as they reached it.

L-T stepped into the control room and the hatch closed behind him. “One-twenty c? Can’t we go faster than that?”

Carnifor shot a questioning glance at the hatch, then raised an eyebrow at Lannetay. Getting no response, he answered L-T. “Not if we want our ship to remain intact. Our space frame is only rated for one-twenty. At interstellar distances, going slow isn’t something we’d do on purpose, Twunyesperinak.”

“Call me L-T, please. Nobody uses my given name.”

Before the two could exchange more words, Lannetay had Bill calculate their travel time. She said, “A little more than sixteen days to get to Cayn. I think you two could remain civil for that long, don’t you? Carny, why don’t you compose a report for our dear admiral?”

Privately, though Lannetay hated being under the thumb of the admiral, she had to admit she’d been given everything needed to accomplish the mission. Each colonization kit – even a small one – cost more than an average person would earn in their lifetime. And William Placard had scores of them tucked away in secret recesses. They’d have to be returned when Lannetay’s year of service ended, but she’d get to keep the ship. Along with the secret recesses.

If you're wondering more about these characters, their origins are detailed in Ebony Sea: Origins. If you appreciate this story, please share on social media, and consider supporting the author's ability to continue writing by purchasing the Origins story and leaving a review at the link above.

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  • Mark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Act I

The Final Spell

Scene 3

Four assistants arrived the next day in a minivan from Bristol. Each of them would do anything necessary if enough money was offered.

My intangible existence allowed me a freedom you couldn’t anticipate, and the magick you’d learned was no hindrance to me. Runes designed to create barriers to spirits didn’t affect me. I watched for months as you practiced spells to dispel spirits in your secret work room, supposedly off limits to my kind.

Good. It was all very good. You practiced attacks and defenses against me, the most dangerous entity you’d ever met. You didn’t realize I’d never teach you anything which would work against me.

On one gray and overcast morning I said, “Let’s put all the parts together and do something impressive.”

You sneered at me across the seedbed of oregano you tended. “It’s about time. I’m nearly fifty years old, and haven’t learned much of anything.”

“Oh, but you have.” Reaching out with my skills I traced a line of dread along your spine. “All these lessons are only parts of a whole I will begin revealing.”

You shivered, but tried to hide it. “Like what?”

You’d been very patient – in fact, more patient than I’d expected. The time had arrived, though five full years later than average.

“It’s cloudy,and we’re nowhere near any busy air traffic corridors. How about we improve a bit on your fire spell?”

I walked through the greenhouse wall and waited outside for you. You’d long since given up being impressed by that trick, but I loved reminding you.

You snorted, then took off your gardening gloves, grabbed a jacket, and exited through the door. “What, light a fire in the air? That sounds about as useful as sinking a rock in a lake.”

Smiling, I pointed to your jacket pocket. “Take those twenty pebbles we’ve been working on for the last two weeks and place them on the ground in a circle about ten feet in diameter.”

You patted the outside of your windbreaker. Your eyes widened as you looked up at me.

“Yes, I put them there.” There were still things you didn’t know I could do. Among those was causing the gray overcast to turn darker and edge closer to the ground.

Dread seeped into your subconsciousness, heightened by the scent of ozone. Despite your unwillingness to comply with my instructions, you did as suggested.As you dropped the last bit of polished granite, I said, “Those stones will now tune magick– like a lens focusing light. They’ll amplify your ability, giving you more control. Now stand in the center of the circle.”

You hesitated to step into the lopsided circle you’d created. Hexes I’d taught you sprang to mind, but you entered – despite your fear. Once you were in the middle of the circle I pointed to the forbidding clouds overhead. “Cast your fire creation spell as high as you can.”

You uttered the incantation and pointed skyward. A moment later a conflagration exploded above the clouds, driving the sky cover back. A gap of blue opened up with a neat ball of yellow-orange fire in the center.

Gap-jawed, you looked on, getting an impressive sunburn in the process. Your arms fell in stunned disbelief as the explosion faded.

“That is what you’ve been working toward.”

A moment later I vanished, leaving you staring at the dwindling fireball.


“An unidentified explosion lit the sky outside Bristol, Wisconsin, this morning,” the TV news anchor read. A small picture-in-picture next to him showed a poorly-shot video of the flare as it died out.

“Cell phone video provided no clue as to the origin of the event, but experts assert this is a normal phenomenon at the end of a meteor’s plunge into Earth’s atmosphere. Channel 7 science reporter Jay Licht has more.”

I waved a hand and your gigantic flat screen turned off. Only old people used large televisions these days. Younger people watched everything on their cell phones.

You grimaced. “Hey, I want to hear about myself. It’s not every day a guy is on the news.”

I added a nearlyimperceptible bit of echo to my voice. “The story isn’t about you, it’s about the explosion.”

“Well, stop playing with my stuff,” you muttered, suddenly uneasy. “It makes me nervous.”

“You’re a wizard. I used to be one. Get used to things happening.”

You gestured, and the TV came back on.

The story ended. “From UW-Bristol, Jay Licht reporting.”

Cursing under your breath, you picked up a glass and placed it in your right palm. The glass then levitated, spinning on its axis as the talking head blathered about a new sports arena somewhere. It was inconsequential tripe, and I said so.

You ignored me.

“Why can I do this,” you said, referring to the rotating glass, “when it took those magic rocks to make the explosion?”

“Two reasons.” I pointed toward the rest of your twelve-glass set and they flew toward me – eleven missiles spinning and orbiting each other in the air. “First, now that you’ve opened yourself up to real magick, it’s much easier. Second, you’ve enchanted some of the nails in the sub-floor of your house. They form a circle, centered where you’re now sitting.”

You glowered at my display of skill andplucked your single glass from where it danced in the air. After smacking it to the countertop you stepped from your stool to face me. If I had a personal space, you’d be invading it.“I enchanted every nail in the sub-floor.”

I smiled, letting my teeth show a pair of canines slightly longer than expected. “Exactly. Wherever you stand in this house you’ll be near enough to a focal point for magick now.”

You turned away to find my glasses had settled into a pyramid surrounding yours. “I want to have a party.”

You didn’t know anyone well enough to invite to a party, so I agreed. “Excellent idea. You can provide the fireworks yourself, but you’ll have to practice a bit more first.”

“There’s a girl I met in town.” You sent all twelve glasses back to the cabinet where they belonged. “She reminds me of someone. I can’t think of who.” More than likely it was your mother. Humans.

I’d already heard about your “girlfriend” Caryn, and how she’d pushed a pamphlet into your hands on a street corner. Every single one of your people answered to me. “Your” bodyguard reported the encounter last week. But at forty-two, she could hardly be considered a “girl.”

“I want you to meet her.”

I laughed. After three visits for coffee and one lunch you wanted me to meet her. “She won’t be able to see me unless she has some skill at magick.” Since she was reported as a church-goer, I couldn’t get too close to her anyway.

“Maybe she can do magick.” You waved, and the television plug removed itself from the wall outlet. A commercial for some miracle cleaning product cut off in mid-sentence.

As a true believer, she wouldn’t want to learn magick. The only reason you did is because you’d left the church after your mother died. Magick was your substitute religion, and you wanted Caryn as your substitute mother.

“Maybe. When you’re done practicing your fireworks and planning your party, you can invite her.”

I could tell you grew suspicious, though you pretended to be mollified. I’d watched enough people like you that I could read you easier than a book. Some would confuse that skill with telepathy, but practice made it simple.

“I’ll do that.” Your eyes narrowed slightly. “She has a lot of friends.”

All you really knew was that she was an amiable person who’d likely attract many diverse people into her circle of influence.

“Then should we practice?” I asked. “Fire is easy, the illusion of fire is harder. Let’s practice making real fiery balls of sparks and work your way up to illusions.”

If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.

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