The Anxious Hero, Chapter 3
The Story of The Master
Content warning: The fact that this story features an under-18 protagonist does not mean that it is necessarily suitable for younger kids. It contains strong profanity, sexual humor, significant violence, and depictions of bigotry by unlikable characters.
Note: Reading previous chapters first is highly recommended.
“Very well. But if it becomes too upsetting, please let me know, and I can stop. You have known since you were very young that some magicians turn to evil. After all, protecting regulars from these evil magicians is one of the key reasons that good magicians are needed. But what we have never discussed much are some of the specific evil magicians. I was the first wizard in history.” He chuckled, wryly. “Well, actually, I was a wizard before there was recorded history. So, I have seen vast legions of evil magicians come and go. But the worst that I have ever seen and probably will ever see was undoubtedly Magog. The most powerful magicians come from one of two groups. The first group consists of those such as myself who were the very first generation of witches and wizards to walk the Earth. The second group is mostly but not exclusively composed of magicians who have three or more consecutive generations of magical ancestry. Magog came from a family of magicians stretching back to the beginning of magic. He was a fourth-generation wizard, and all of his magical ancestors were powerful. The first wizard in his family, Edelmir, was my first apprentice. I took him on when he was a boy. He had grown up on what is now the French Riviera and been severely abused by his non-magical father, and this abuse had made him cruel and vengeful. I tried to help Edelmir with his personal demons, but he was already too broken from the abuse by the time I met him. He eventually left me and founded a cult. He had started to see himself as a god, and he believed that he should be worshipped as such. For the next few thousand years, his bloodline gained more and more followers, calling themselves the Edelmiric League. They began having temples built and human sacrifices performed in their honor. Edelmir forced all of his sons to kill each other until only the most powerful one was left alive. His surviving son did the same with his sons, and the winner, if you can call him that, did it with his own boys. The vicious cruelty of Edelmir’s father was multiplied tenfold with his descendants. Their goal was to take over the world and create as hierarchical and authoritarian a society as possible. Most of the population would be their slaves or sacrificial victims. About five thousand years ago, Magog, one of his great grandsons, was born, and he was as powerful as Edelmir and more powerful than anyone else in his family, including the two brothers he was forced to kill. In fact, he and Edelmir are tied for the position of the fourth most powerful magician ever to walk the Earth. Two of the magicians more powerful than them have now died of old age.”
“Who was the other one?” Randy asked.
“That will be revealed eventually,” said Waldo. “But it is one of the few happy parts of the story, and I do not want to give too much of it away now. Anyhow, Magog began to greatly expand the power of his order. Edelmir and his strongest son, Turold, had already been killed before Magog was born. When Magog was about forty, his father, Segomaros was killed. That made Magog the new head of the league, and he began to drastically expand its power. I fought the league, but for millennia, Magog and I never came face-to-face. Since he and his family came from France, they were thousands of miles away from each other. He very rarely ventured outside whatever stronghold he was using at the time. Instead, he operated through his many cronies. To Magog, going out and doing things himself were beneath him unless it was an exceptionally important mission. In a lot of ways, that made him more feared. Most people never saw him or even knew what he looked like, which made him a more mysterious figure. But he would have some powerful magicians captured and brought to him for duels. He defeated and killed every single one of them. His cronies made sure the word got out, so that everyone would now what a powerful, ruthless wizard Magog was.”
“For a very long time, I was able to keep his forces from making much headway into Northern Europe. He came to England in 1066 coinciding with the Norman Conquest, shortly after Dafna, Katie, and I came there from Norway. For the next six hundred years, his stronghold was in England. Finally, in 1672, Dafna, Katie, myself and many of the other good witches, wizards, fairies, ogres, Nannuke, and a few good trolls and vampires were able to locate his stronghold. It was a ferocious battle. Not only is he very powerful, but Magog is also psychologically incapable of feeling fear. Some people believe that the part of the brain that normally causes us to feel fear just is not wired that way in his brain. Other people believe it was his twisted upbringing. Personally, I believe that it is some combination. Whatever the case may be, Magog felt no fear of us, but he realized that he was losing too many of his forces by standing his ground and fighting us that day. So, he and his followers fled. Next, they set up shop near New Orleans, Louisiana. Magog began accumulating even more wealth through slave plantations. He even began using some of his slaves as human sacrifices.”
Randy shuddered. What a cretin, he thought. I knew slavery was horrible, but I didn’t know there were wizards who sacrificed their slaves like that. “Is he still in Louisiana?”
“No, thankfully not,” Waldo said. “Sometime back in the 1300s, he had set up another stronghold within the Bermuda Triangle. He and hundreds of his followers pooled their magic together in order to make it impossible for anyone to enter there without being let in by him. But it was not until the 1860s that he began spending most of his time there. You see, when the Civil War started, Magog and many other dark magicians believed that a Confederate victory would help their way of life to survive. It would make it easier for them to continue keeping slaves, and it would be a victory for authoritarianism and hierarchy. So, they threw their full weight behind making sure that the Confederacy won. But I and many other magicians helped stop them. You know, of course, part of what happened at the same time. The Confederacy was defeated, and slavery was outlawed. But what I haven’t told you is that there were many fights going on behind the scenes between magicians. As the war came to a close, Magog withdrew his forces from America the way he had from England earlier. He and I came very close to fighting with each other one-on-one this time, but the melee prevented it again. From then on, his primary base of operations would always be in the Bermuda Triangle. In a way, having him there made him less dangerous due to the rather isolated location. But it also made it effectively impossible to capture him. I let it be known that I wanted to fight him in single combat. My hope was that the word would get back to him, and he would accept the challenge. Then, I could defeat and imprison him.”
Randy looked at Waldo, eyes wide. “But weren’t you worried he was going to kill you? You said nobody had been able to beat him in a duel.”
For the first time, Waldo’s facial expression and voice became somewhat cocky. “Magog is tied for the fourth most powerful magician of all time, and he is the second most powerful magician currently alive and the most powerful malevolent magician ever to live. But I am the most powerful magician ever.”
The most powerful magician ever? Randy thought. Waldo’s so peaceful, he doesn’t even kill bugs. And he’s never said anything about this before! “I don’t understand, why didn’t you tell me?” Randy was not indignant, but he was very confused.
Waldo shrugged. “I would never try to mislead you, but what would have been the point of me telling you that I was the most powerful magician? If I brought it up without you asking, it would have come across as bragging. And I would not want you to think that anyone’s value comes down to how much magical power they have.”
“Fair enough,” Randy said, nodding.
“For one hundred twenty years, Magog did not fight me. He believed that if he let me into his stronghold, it would be a setup for me to lead an entire force there and possibly kill or capture large amounts of his cronies. That would have been rather inconvenient for him, to say the least. And he felt that having his henchmen kidnap and bring me to the Bermuda Triangle alive for a duel might be too tall an order. Finally, in 1981, he agreed to meet me in a secluded part of the Swiss Alps for a duel, and I eagerly traveled there. Tank, Dafna, a few other magicians, two trolls, and three fairies waited a few hundred yards away in case he had brought anyone to interfere on his behalf. But I told them that they were not to get involved unless Magog’s followers did first.”
“And that sucked,” interjected Tank, grinning. “I really wanted to fight Magog myself! I’d’ve whooped his ass all the way back to Louisiana, I promise you that!” He took a gulp of beer. Mike rolled his eyes.
“I did not want anyone else putting themselves in danger when I could handle Magog on my own. It was a ferocious battle. About two hours into the duel, I had an opportunity to win. But this would have required killing him, so I did not take the opening. Finally, after three hours and forty-five minutes, I decisively beat him. He held on as long as he could, and he was the hardest opponent I have ever faced. Even as I steadily gained the upper hand, I could not sense a bit of fear in him. When he realized that he had been bested, and that there was nothing left to do to stop me, he leaped off the side of the cliff hoping that he could die rather than surrender to me. I used a spell to try to stop him in midair. However, he had just enough left in him to block the spell for a few moments. And that gave him enough time to hit the ground. I went to find the body, but by the time I reached the spot where he had fallen, he was gone. He had brought some henchmen to back him up if anyone tried to help me during the duel. I believe that they took the body and fled before I could get to it.”
But he talks about Magog in present tense! “Wait, is Magog dead or still alive now?”
“I thought for several months that he had died. But then I found out that he was in a coma. Most people, even magicians, would have died from that fall. But his magic was so powerful that he was able to barely cling to life. He is still in a coma today.”
“Wait, how do we know that?” Randy asked.
“Since he has been in a coma, I have been able to search his mind. Before that, I could never penetrate his defense to read his mind. From reading his mind, I can tell that he is still unconscious. Though he dreams about killing me quite a lot. And he does seem to be healing. Very slowly, but healing nonetheless.”
Randy shuddered and almost wet his pants. “You think he’s going to wake up sooner or later?”
“I cannot say for sure, but unfortunately, I think that it is very likely. Most other magicians would have died from that fall long before now. I am afraid that Magog is resilient enough to recover from this and come back as strong as ever. But if he does come back, I will be ready for him. If he wants to hurt you, he has to go through me. And he will not go through me.”
“Or me!” growled Tank.
Everyone was silent for a moment before Waldo resumed speaking. “After Magog went into a coma, the Edelmiric League was drastically weakened. His followers were still dangerous without him, but not to the degree that they had been before. For fifteen years, it was very rare to find a crime that could be traced back to them. Then, their violent attacks started again. They were working in the shadows. They knew they were not in any position to have an open, all-out conflict with their fellow magicians. But we all knew that they were still a threat. We are almost certain that it was one of them who murdered Duncan. Usually, when someone is magically murdered and then put in a dumpster, the League is behind it. I have seen only three cases in my life where magicians outside the League have ever disposed of a corpse that way.”
Randy pushed down a lump in his throat. “Do you know what the name of the killer was?”
“Sadly, no,” Waldo said. “It was probably ordered by the highest-ranking conscious members of the League as revenge for what happened to Magog. There was a clue. It appeared that the killer left a piece of paper with a picture of a mountain lion on it in your father’s pocket as a sort of murderous calling card. But we do not know who actually killed him. It was much the same thing with the murder of Katie. She was engaged in reconnaissance against the League at the time that she died. Dafna and I wanted to accompany her, but she thought she would attract less attention if she operated alone. But compared with the murder of Duncan, we have a bit more to work with. We know that this was a powerful magician, and we are fairly certain that it was a male. While he did not kill her in a fair fight, the mere fact that succeeded in ambushing her means that he had a great deal of power. And even stabbed with a poison knife, Katie was a powerful witch. An ordinary magician would still have been unable to win the duel, even if they had the element of surprise. And we believe that he was the same magician who killed Duncan. Before she died, Katie told us that he said to her, ‘You put up more of a fight than your husband did when I killed him.’”
Randy had to fight back tears thinking about his parents’ murders. “Is it possible that the sorcerer was Jed Taney?”
“I find it very unlikely. Almost impossible, in fact. He is not powerful enough to have killed Katie, and he would have been only thirteen when Duncan was killed. The League would have almost certainly not sent a thirteen-year-old alone on a mission such as that.”
“Do you think Taney is a member of the League?”
“We know he is. I did not want to tell you before, because I wanted to avoid frightening you, but he has been a member for at least five years. After you identified him in the archives, I did some more research, and I found out about his affiliation with the League.”
“So the League is after me?” Randy squeaked.
“I am afraid so. Part of it is that they want revenge on me. Another part of it is that they probably think that you may grow up to be very powerful, given your genes. They probably want to eliminate you before you become a threat to them. I am sorry that we kept all of this from you, but this kind of information is an awful lot to put in a child’s head. Sadly, however, this situation has been forced on you, and there is no point in keeping it from you any longer. The League is not as dangerous now as they were before Magog went into a coma, but they are still formidable. The stronger sorcerers in the League fight amongst themselves for power, and some of them are quite powerful. Nobody is the undisputed leader anymore. And yet, they have been building up some of their old strength in the last few years. They are getting new recruits and killing more and more often. I believe that you heard about how about many of the vampires allied with the League are becoming increasingly aggressive. I suspect that they are planning for Magog’s awakening. As are we. If Magog wakes up, it will take some time for him to regain his old powers. At first, he will be in a severely weakened state. But it will not be long before he is as powerful as he was before dueling me.”
“Will you tell me if he wakes up?”
“Yes, I promise I will. But try not to worry too much. I know how scary this is, but we already defeated the League, and I already defeated Magog once. We can do it again. And there is still a possibility that he will never wake up. I also promise to keep you posted about anything else that we discover about the murders of Katie and Duncan. We have not given up on identifying and capturing whoever is responsible.”
“Thanks, Waldo. I love you.” Randy looked at everyone else in the room. “And I love all of you guys too.”
For the next year and a half, rumors continued to circulate that Magog’s old forces were gaining strength. Randy showed no signs of magical powers. He knew enough to admit to himself that if powers did not emerge by the teen years, they were unlikely to ever do so. While Randy was disappointed by this realization, he tried to make peace with it. That was often easier said than done. On November 28 of 2013, Waldo hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for their various distant relatives at their house. Things started off pleasantly enough. Randy and several of his cousins went sledding and had a snowball fight. Then, Tank gave them all rides in the snow. While all of the teenagers from Randy’s mother’s side of the family, except Randy himself, had magical powers, Randy had never felt any hostility from them on account of his own lack of powers. They did not act as though they were better than him, and he felt no resentment toward them. When Randy came inside and took off his jackets and gloves, he felt in a very good mood. Having held his bladder while playing outside, he went in the bathroom and sat down on the toilet. He heard voices coming from Waldo’s study room. “You might as well face the facts,” said Randy’s seventy-year-old cousin, Dwayne. “Even if that kid does develop magic powers, which isn’t likely at this point, he’s going to be the least powerful magician in the family. No magician with a high or even normal power level takes this long to show any abilities.”
He’s talking about me! Randy thought, crestfallen. He was still urinating, but he barely noticed as he involuntarily listened to his older cousin criticize him.
“And what if he does not have a high power level?” Randy heard Waldo say, coolly. “What if he is not a magician? That says nothing about his worth as a person.”
“A magician’s value, any person’s value, is measured by their power,” Dwayne said. “A weak magician can’t help protect regulars. They’re a liability to the other magicians, because they need to be protected themselves. And if he doesn’t have powers at all, which is looking likelier by the day, he’ll be nothing but deadweight.”
“I see getting older has not made you less close-minded. A regular or a magician with low raw power can more than make up for that in intellect, compassion, creativity—”
“Don’t start that hippie gobbledygook with me. You know, before your grandson came along, everybody in this family was a magician and had average or above average power levels.”
“I do not think that you want to go that route with me,” Waldo was not raising his voice, but there was a definite edge in the way that he spoke, one which Randy had never heard before.
“What route?” sneered Dwayne.
“The route where you criticize my grandson. That would be a very serious mistake. I also would remind you that this was not always a magical family. My parents had no magical powers, and neither did anyone else before I came along.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Dwayne, sarcastically. “Let me rephrase what I said. Before Randy was born, everybody in this family had been a normal or unusually power magician since the Stone Age!”
“If you denigrate my grandson any further, you will no longer be welcome at family gatherings.”
“Maybe that’s for the best. You should have tried to talk Katie out of marrying that regular, that was what diluted her magician genes. Do everyone a favor and get Randy to marry a regular so that he doesn’t dilute the magic of some other wizard family.”
“This conversation is over,” Waldo said. “It is unfortunate that I have such an unenlightened bigot for a cousin.”
Randy did not hear them talking after that, but he blinked back tears as he washed his hands and tried to rejoin the rest of the family, sans Dwayne.
“Randy, what’s wrong?” asked Dafna when she saw him.
“I heard Dwayne saying I’m ruining the family gene pool by not being a powerful magician,” sniffled Randy.
A rare look of fury crossed Dafna’s face. “I’m going to give that son of a bitch a piece of my mind,” she muttered, then uttered several curse words in Hebrew before trying to comfort her grandson. “You know, Randy, the only people who think that a person’s worth is determined by their power are people who don’t have anything else besides their power to be proud of. When I used to think about the grandchild I wanted, I never thought about whether they’d have magical powers or how their extensive their powers would be. But I did picture them being the kind, smart, loving kid you are. If Dwayne can’t see that because he’s so focused on whether you’ll be able to do magic or beat some magician in a duel, that’s just a reflection on him. As far as I’m concerned, anyone of any gender, race, or magical power level or lack thereof would be lucky to have you.”
Randy tried to nestle his head on his grandmother’s shoulder before remembering that she was no longer corporeal. “Thanks, Dafna, that means a lot.”
One day, in March of 2014, Randy walked out of school with Mike and Terkel and saw Waldo sitting in carpool. He immediately sensed that something was wrong. As soon as he, Mike, and Terkel got in, the car began driving home. “I am afraid I have some bad news,” said Waldo. “About two hours ago, I sensed that Magog had woken up. I was able to access his thoughts for a brief moment before he blocked my incursion. He is still in a very weakened state, which is why I was able to enter his mind to begin with. But he is going to regain his old power quickly. I did not want to worry you until I was sure, but I had felt for the last few days that this was about to happen.”
Randy felt his heart pounding. He had to fight to keep from wetting his pants. Magog back? Am I going to be able to leave the house again? What if he comes to kill me himself?
“This news,” continued Waldo. “Is why I came here to pick you up myself. But while this is a dangerous situation, I want you to know that we are going to meet it head on. The witches, wizards, Nannuke, all of us who are dedicated to combatting Magog, are already mobilizing. We drove Magog out of his stronghold twice, and I have already bested him in single combat. He is extremely dangerous, but he is not invulnerable.”
Randy’s heart rate went down but not by much. When they got home, Tank bounded up with a look of pugnacious glee on his furry face. “Don’t you worry aboot a thing, little buddy!” he assured Randy. “I’m all set to kick some ass! Nobody fucks with you as long as I’m around! Hey, I know what’ll cheer you up!” He picked up a beer can and tossed it to Randy. Randy, who was quite uncoordinated, failed to catch the beer, which promptly landed on the floor. Due to the momentum from being thrown by an enormous bear, the can exploded, and beer began running under the sofa, creating a sort of miniature alcoholic swamp. “Thanks, Tank, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Suit yourself,” said Tank, patting Randy on the back and nearly knocking him over. He picked up a bottle of brandy and called out, “Hey, Wendell! Want some brandy? You know you’ll love it!”
About the Creator
I'm a dog dad, historian, activist, and writer. I taught for 3 years and am starting a History PhD program. I write fantasy, mysteries, and historical nonfiction. I'm proud to get blocked by white supremacists, antigay activists and TERFs.
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