Tales of London #9
Finding a pub in London, especially in the inner zones was easier than finding a parking spot. They only had to cross the road from the Museum and there were two already, but they looked way too busy. On a normal day, it would be full of tourists resting after a long day in the Museum, and Robert had no doubt that tomorrow will be the same. It was a very British, nay, Londoner thing to do: open your thing for the public a mere days after people were killed because life goes on, doesn't it? No time to mourn. Just don't forget to mop the blood first. And don’t get emotional, we’re British, after all.
'Why are we heading to the back streets, Montgomery?' Jenna asked suspiciously.
'Because I am planning on attacking and killing you in front of fifty CCTV cameras and with 400 tourists around. That's my kink. Now tell me yours.'
The girl said something about some figlio di puttana, which Robert wasn't keen to translate, although he got the gist all the same. He might have exaggerated the 400 tourists, but the real number just in this particular narrow little street wasn't that much lower. He had to be careful not to push someone or step on someone's feet as he made his way through the mass. There were moments when he lost Jenna in the horde, and one of these lasted so long that he considered calling the girl on the phone when someone grabbed his arm and basically pulled him into a building.
Robert looked around. It was a sports bar with the smell of stale beer and a huge TV up in one of the corners.
Jenna let his arm go.
'Shit… Where did all those people come from?' she asked. 'It was like some kind of bad zombie movie…'
'Are there any other kinds of zombie movies?'
'Not a horror fan, then,' nodded Jenna, looking at the bar. 'What do you want?'
'Mostly leave,' he said, examining the tables. They somehow managed to look sticky. 'But I suppose this is as good as it gets for now, given that every other place is full of zombies. I wonder why they are avoiding this particular one...'
Jenna shook her head and tried to look annoyed but Robert saw that she had to fight off a smile.
'Just sit down. I will be back in a minute.'
Robert did as he was told. The site was small, deserted and dirty. He chose a table near the door, where he could see the TV and could also make a quick exit had things gone south. Not like he was afraid of Jenna, but judging by the interior, he could see a real chance of something that was born in the fridge attacking them.
Jenna came back a few minutes later, carrying a tray. She put it down on the table and gave Robert a bottle of beer and a big portion of nachos.
'That was the only thing on the menu that looked kinda edible' she explained. 'The sauces are from Tesco, I guess. Their own brand.'
'Lovely,' said Robert, and tried a piece of nacho, which was actually quite good. The "salsa sauce" was simply ketchup, but the cheese tasted nice. 'Want some?'
'I'm good,' she raised her whiskey glass, then took a sip.
'Shit… It's warm.' She pressed the tip of her forefinger to the glass, and a Rune gleamed up on one of her silver bracelets. The glass went a kind of opaque shade as a thin layer of ice was growing on it. Robert couldn't see which Rune she used but figured it had to be either the Change, which could alter temperature as well as physical form, or the Fire, although taking warmth out with it instead of just lighting things up required real talent.
'So… I guess if we are co-workers on a dinner, then we should talk about work, right?' said Jenna. 'Tell me, what do you know about necromancy?'
Robert shook his head with an annoyed grimace on his face.
'You see, that's the thing: I know nothing. And it's not just me: I asked all the professors at my university. Nobody could say anything useful. None of them. The library is a dead end too, and not just ours, apparently all of them. I spent half of my morning on the phone, talking to other colleges and universities all across the country, with no result whatsoever. The Commissioner did a really remarkable job. Not only the Necronomicons are gone, but everything related, too. There is no source about how necromancy actually worked. I don't even know if necromancers used Runes.'
'That's just brilliant,' said Jenna derisively. 'Do you think he kept one of those Necro...Whatever for himself?'
'Necronomicons,' corrected Robert, 'and I highly doubt it. The man is a fanatic. Those are dangerous but mostly predictable. I don't think he is lying, not about this, anyway.'
Jenna made a sour face then drank a bit. A particularly loud group of tourists passed the bar, talking in a language Robert couldn’t identify.
'That also means that he wasn't lying when he said that there is no other necromancer left. Not that he knows of, anyway, I guess. '
'Trust me on this, if there were more necromancers, he would know about them. He was bragging about how he destroyed the books, but he failed to mention how he and his happy little murderous gang killed off every last one of the actual necromancers.'
Jenna almost choked on her whiskey.
'What? C'mon, that’s can't be true. He is an ass, sure, but he is also a copper.'
Robert gave her a dark smile.
'He is, now. But he wasn't one back in the day. You see, there was an agreement amongst the USA, the UK, the MAGE, the Soviet Union and several other parties back in 1947, not long after the Second World War ended. They declared necromancy an illegal form of magic and set up a team, a huge organisation really, to end it. Just like that, not put it under control, bring the necromancers to justice or anything, no. To wipe it out. I think they all remembered Hitler's nearly immortal soldiers and their own fallen brothers-in-arms, raised against them, and all the other terrible things. I’m not denying that necromancy might be the branch of magic easiest to use for dark purposes, mind.’
‘If all those stories are true,’ added Jenna. ‘But you know what they say about history…’
‘It’s written by the winners,’ nodded Robert. ‘Either way, for more than forty years the Commissioner and his team travelled the world, recruited people and killed others, regardless if they were real necromancers or just suspects. It was a regular witch hunt. By the ‘90s there weren’t any necro left, so they got defunded and dismissed.’
Jenna stared at Robert almost in awe, then she shook her head and finished off her whiskey in one go.
'How do you know things like that?' she asked, impressed.
'I read a lot,' he shrugged. 'And it isn't exactly a secret. They just don’t really advertise it, but what’s a little genocide between friends anyway? Especially if you kill people who are different?'
‘That’s just fucked up,’ Jenna said.
‘That’s our history in a nutshell,’ answered Robert.
‘I need another round,’ she said and stood up. Robert didn’t argue. When Jenna came back, she cooled the drinks the same way again. This time Robert caught the Rune she used, and it was indeed the Fire.
‘Why are you doing it that way? I can think of a dozen easier methods.’
Jenna frowned, then caught his eyes, looking at the whiskey.
'Oh, that?' she shrugged, 'I didn't even notice it. You know how it is, you just want something and magic makes it happen. At least with the small things like this.'
Robert did not know. He always knew that Jenna was a powerful sorceress, but only now that he spent some time with her did he realise, how vague that assertion was. Most of the sorcerers, him included, needed to know the exact process for anything they wanted to achieve, step by step, and then they had to find a way to metaphorically link it for a Rune or more. Using magic at its full potential required never-ending learning and practising, not to mention a very vivid imagination, something that caused most of its users to settle down on a relatively low level. They just learned a handful of spells at magic class in high school, spells good enough for everyday chores and tasks. Most of the shops didn't even offer real wands with separated Runes on them, only those cheap ones with popular spells pre-carved. And then someone like Jenna came along. Nobody ever bothered to make up ranks for magic wielders, but on a general 1 to 10, Robert would have been a stable 7, maybe even an 8. While Jenna would land somewhere around 12. Off the charts. If only she learned how to use properly what she has got… Though Robert had a PhD in magic, he would be no match for her. Sorcerers like Jenna came once, maybe twice in a generation.
And she didn’t even know how unique she was.
'Are you still here, Professor?' she asked now, putting him off his thoughts.
'Certainly. Forgive me, I was just lost in my own mind.'
'What you were thinking about?' she asked, searching his face.
'Honestly? You,' he answered, 'and how remarkable you are.'
Jenna made a dubious grimace and narrowed her eyelids.
'Are you hitting on me, Montgomery? Look, I don't doubt that your confident charm works on other girls, and yes, you can totally pull off those fancy suits, and sure, smart is sexy, but you are still a Montgomery. I tend not to date anyone who sent me to a hospital before. Call me old-fashioned.'
'I was talking about your magic, Jenna', he grinned. 'But I do like the way you think, if I may add.'
The girl went very pale in a heartbeat, except for her freckles and two red spots on her cheeks. She tossed her whiskey off, then avoiding eye contact she said:
'You may not.'
'I was just…'
'Shut up! Just… Shut up.'
'Speaking of your magic,' Robert continued undisturbed by her wish, 'You never told me how do you summon that shadowy dog creature.'
'And I never will,' said Jenna resentfully.
He grinned and shook his head. Silence fell on them, but it wasn’t the worst kind. In fact, Robert almost felt it friendly. Jenna might have had the same feeling because she tried to ruin the mood with sharp looks and sudden huffs. That only made her look like an angry cat.
Then something loudly exploded around them, and Robert grabbed his cane and saw that Jenna was already on her feet, bracelets shining and the air gone cold around them. Then they realised it was only the television on the corner. The bartender switched it on, and for some reason, it was booming.
'Sorry, I am sorry. Don't wanted scare you.' the man said in broken English. ‘Sorry.’ He lowered the volume. The TV was on a sports channel, and an enthusiastic commentator was talking over the speakers. Jenna sat back and Robert let go of his cane. His heart was racing.
'And in the semi-final tonight, the veteran O'Brien will face Penn, who fought brilliantly so far, but will it be enough against a living legend? We will see in a few minutes, stay tuned!'
'Are you following Duel?' nodded Robert towards the television. He wouldn't be surprised. After all, Duel was a brutal and unforgiving sport, fast-paced and exciting. Kind of like Jenna herself.
Duel was almost as popular as football. The participants got three randomly chosen Runes, a lot of protecting gears, and then they had to force their opponents to leave the arena by any means necessary. If none of the players was successful at the end of the third 9-minute long round, judges had to decide who won according to the clean hits counted. As the three available Runes always changed, and nobody knew what they are going to get for the next match, the fighters had to be flexible and resourceful.
The arena itself was changing, too: only the size remained, slightly smaller than a football field. Every game had different circumstances from rain to rocks, from a bonfire to an urban landscape, etcetera. Robert once saw a match where the duelists had to fight in a blizzard.
'I had a major crush on Peter Lee when I was a teenager,' laughed Jenna. She might have read from Robert's blank face because she explained: 'He was a phenomenon. Wasn't even twenty when he won his first World Championship back in 2008. It turned out to be the last one, too. He fell during rock climbing and even though the doctors managed to put him together, he wasn't the same anymore.’
‘I think I remember,’ said Robert frowning. ‘Black-haired, very handsome Asian gentleman right?’
‘That’s the one,’ nodded Jenna. ‘He was still good after his accident, but something was missing, and he retired from the fight in… I'm not sure, in 2010 or 2011. Never made it into the really big names. What about you?'
'I used to play, back in college, but I wasn't really good.'
'How come?' Jenna sounded genuinely surprised.
'I was too… brainy, as my trainer had put it. I always wanted to do something big and flashy and elegant, and while I was busy with that, I got hit hard and quick and I lost.'
'That's kinda typical, don't you think?' giggled Jenna.
'Yes, I suppose it is,' smiled Robert. 'So you never played?'
'Tried, a couple of times, but I don't like the limits. Three Runes aren’t enough. But I guess that's the challenge of it, right?’
'I would think so,' nodded Robert. 'So who do you support now?'
'Claire Penn, of course.You?'
‘I prefer Jaroslav Nowak but he isn’t playing this year, he just had his first child. Do you really think that Penn has a shot?’
‘Sure, why not?’
'I don’t know,’ shrugged Robert. ‘O'Brien is extremely experienced and his defensive game is exceptional. Miss Penn is what, 19? She got talent, no doubt, but she is sloppy and hot-headed. In fact, she reminds me of you.'
Jenna rolled her eyes at him.
'She isn't hot-headed, you moron, she was acting like one, so Bogdan would think she lost control. It was a plan, I'm telling you.'
The adverts ended and the commentator came back.
'In any way, she cannot pull that trick off again. O'Brien will eat her for breakfast.'
'Fifty quid says you are wrong, Professor,' said Jenna with a big grin. 'I don't know why you think that experience is better than talent, though, after all those times I've beaten you up…'
'Fair point,' agreed Robert. 'Nevertheless, you’re up, Carvelli.'
'They already got their Runes, ladies and gents, and I have to say, the Goddess Fortuna is with O'Brien tonight,' said the overly cheery man on the TV. 'He has Movement and Denial, a combination which could easily win on its own, and he also got Change, another mighty Rune, which makes him basically unbeatable. Claire Penn, this rising star, has Light, Water and Steel. The latter, of course, could be amazingly useful in an urban-style arena, but they will fight in a forest scene, so that's one Rune less for Penn. Will she turn it around? Looks like her only chance is to use the water of the brook running across the area.'
'I know that luck is part of the game, but this hardly seems fair,' noted Robert. 'She already lost and the game hasn't even started yet.'
'Don't be so hasty,' Jenna warned him, 'She has Water in a forest. Also, O'Brien sucks at mental spells, he won't be able to paralyse her with Denial and Movement, no matter what that blabbering moron says.'
Robert raised his bottle, as a sign of recognition.
'I might have accepted this bet too quickly,' he said. 'You do know what you are talking about.'
'Hush now, they've started,' she said. Indeed, the "blabbering moron" began to splutter.
'And as I predicted, Penn opened with a couple of ice balls, it has to be very hard to control them without the Rune of Movement, but all the efforts are pointless, as O'Brien can easily protect himself either with the Movement or the Denial, I couldn't see which one he used, but now he is on the move, and…’ The auditorium gasped together. ‘That was close! He managed to bring down a few of the smaller trees, and Penn now at the edge of the field, had to run to avoid the attack, it was chaos, I haven't even seen what happened exactly, but now she is quite a bit further away from the brook…'
Jenna's eyes were glued on the TV, so Robert risked a glimpse at her face. The big brown eyes were sparkling with excitement. Robert smiled without knowing it.
'...and that has to be the end for Penn, ladies and gentlemen, she is literally on the edge of the field now, nowhere to hide, and yes, here it is, she is finish… Wait a second, what was that? How…? Looks like the rock O'Brien tried to use simply just flew through Penn, and another, oh, that's good, ladies and gents, it was an illusion! Claire Penn bends the light with its Rune to make a reflection of herself, but where she really is then? She must be invisible... Ouch, that must've hurt! Penn used some kind of optical beam, and it looks tough, the first attack was spot on, O'Brien almost fell over the edge of the field, but he blocked the second one, probably with Denial, and here is the third one already, I can't even look at it, it's so bright… But O'Brien can hold it, for now, and the light is blinking, and it's gone now. Looks like Penn is spent, no wonder after that incredible attack, but she is still nowhere to see. O'Brien does not waste his time, he is hitting the spot where the beam came from with everything he's got, branches and rocks in the air, he's tearing up the very ground, he literally destroying the scene, there is no way Claire Penn could have avoided all this, we are gonna need medics soon by the looks of it… And I still cannot see Cla… What? What?!'
It was, Robert couldn't find a better word for it, epic. While O'Brien let a compact little apocalypse out, Claire Penn simply just appeared beside him, grabbed his protecting jacket from behind at the collar, and threw him off the field. The game was over.
'That was incredible, ladies and gentlemen, incredible! I had my doubts, but I say it out loud now, we are gonna see Claire Penn a lot. Next, of course, in the final of this tournament when she is going to face Krisinki, who better watch out for this little girl!'
Jenna grinned at Robert, who spread his arms.
'You were right; she is good. I admit it.'
'Less talking, more paying up, Montgomery,' she said, then used her prize for buying them another round.
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