Authors: Mark Tuson
The book, it turned out, was enchanted to show the reader what they would have written in their diary over the previous year.
Not long after that, Peter began receiving guidance through the process of actually performing spells of his own, which was generally reliant on him gathering chaotic, stray energy from around an object and rearranging it into a coherent pattern. The proudest moment of his life up until that point was when he lit a match using magic: his first ever spell.
The rate at which he learned was increasing, with each new lesson building upon previous ones and combining multiple ideas, though he was still not being allowed to use his wand, even after a year had passed.
As his rate of progress settled and he was allowed to become more comfortable with what he was doing at the Guild, he took to visiting the library in the evenings, where he would read about academic magic and history, in particular the history of the Guild as an organization. It turned out, to his fascination, that the Guild had been established so long ago that there were no records of its actual establishment, and also that the Guild had been based at the same location – the underground monastery – since the earliest records had been written.
However, what might have otherwise been a long and prosperous history actually turned out to be a particularly bloody one; it seemed to Peter, as he read through the records and histories, that there was a very long war being waged between the Guild and another group, which was most often referred to in writing as the Army of the Fraud.
No war ever seemed to be explicitly mentioned; only single battles. But these single battles were
with the Army of the Fraud, whether it was referred to by that name or another (the records were sometimes written with this name or that, or some recognizable variation), and while the times intervening between particular episodes of violence varied wildly between a few minutes and a few decades, there was always a threat hanging over them; a Sword of Damocles.
There wasn’t any real detail concerning any of these battles. What bothered Peter the most about all this was that it suddenly seemed to him that the Guild was more a military organization than anything else, where they had previously appeared to be an academic, almost monastic order. Were that the case, why had he been recruited? Had they seen leadership qualities in him that would be valuable to them? Or did they just need a grunt – cannon-fodder – to help to shield the more important, more powerful people from harm?
Those thoughts made Peter feel physically sick; either way, he had been recruited to kill or else be killed himself. Out of morbid interest, however, he continued to read: if he was to risk being killed, he felt he should at least be entitled to understand what he was to risk being killed
Before long, on a Saturday evening, he came across something in a footnote in a great tome from the mid-eighteenth century, which was about the battle strategies employed by the Army of the Fraud, and which seemed, as soon as he found it, to be very important:
Of the strategies of the Fraud Rechsdhoubnom himself, almost nothing is known, for he has not been seen abroad these many millennia.
He wasn’t sure what the Fraud was supposed to be; who Rechsdhoubnom was. A single person, or an organization? Hell, he thought, I don’t even know how to pronounce it.
For all his continued reading between lectures, Peter found no more references to this name. Eventually he resolved to ask Caroline what she knew of the matter, when he next saw her, the following Tuesday.
Their next arranged lesson came early in the morning, at eight o’clock. Peter arrived first, wearing a black suit of his own, as had been issued to him by the Guild, with his two-stick in his breast pocket and his wand in his jacket. None of the doors except those into bedrooms and offices were ever locked, so he was able to just walk into the room and sit at one of the school desks in the front row.
Caroline followed a couple of minutes later, looking as stern and serious as she usually did, and announced that today Peter would be expected to use his wand.
‘You’ve had a little over a year to study it and get used to the feel of it as the wood has matured and gained its own character,’ she said, ‘so by now you should be able to use it to arrange and manipulate energy just as you’ve been doing with your two-stick.’
Peter blinked and slowly took his wand out of his inside pocket. ‘I’ll be using it today?’
She placed a small box on the desk in front of Peter. It took him a second to recognize it: it was a transistor radio. He hadn’t seen one for a long time. He raised an eyebrow at it and looked blankly up at Caroline. She turned it on, and the room filled with white noise.
‘I want you to block any signal from getting into this receiver.’ She said it simply and then stepped back, clasping her hands behind her back.
Okay, Peter thought. Things like this could normally be blocked by a wire mesh, connected to earth, surrounding the receiver – a Faraday cage – but he only had magic, and a way of manipulating it which he hadn’t ever used before. If he had thought he was going to simply be expected to do it without any tuition in the use of the tool itself, he would have practiced with it far sooner in his own time.
But... that’s the point. Peter realized this suddenly, as though the truth of it had been hidden by its own obviousness: he
learned about the tool. If he knew about the tool, he would be able to figure out for himself how to use the tool.
He steeled himself and then, holding the wand as he had been taught to hold a knife at the dinner-table, began tracing lines of invisible force with it, using the open grain along the end of the wood that he was holding to gather stray energy from around the room. He took great care not to touch the receiver itself. Slowly, the white noise began to die off, and when he had finished connecting the edges of the cage together underneath it, the sound stopped completely.
Caroline walked slowly around Peter and the desk, holding out a hand. She completed a circuit around them, and then waved the hand she had been holding out over the radio, causing the force lines Peter had drawn to glow softly red, like so many laser beams in a smoky room. They were tightly woven, around half an inch apart, and vibrating slightly: Peter guessed that would be radio waves colliding with the cage and interacting with it.
She nodded, apparently satisfied, and then made a ‘go away’ gesture: Peter’s magical Faraday cage blew away and the white noise once more filled the room. ‘Very good,’ she said, snapping the radio off and picking it up. She started to walk away with it, and carried on talking. ‘That’s all for this lesson. The rest of what I want you to do is simple enough, and you can do it alone: you’re to run through all of the spells you’ve worked through already, with your wand.’
She was at the door, about to leave. This was Peter’s only chance. ‘Who is the Fraud?’ He felt childish for having spat it out as nervously as he had, almost as soon as he had done so.
Caroline just looked at him. No.
him. ‘Same time next week.’ And she left, closing the door behind herself.
Peter sat there alone for almost fifteen minutes, staring into space and wondering if Caroline had ignored his question on purpose. Slowly, he went back to his own room and placed his wand on the table and looked at it. Run through all the spells you’ve done before, that’s what she had told him to do. He took out a match from a box in a drawer by his bed and clamped it into place by jamming it in the gap between the drawer and the top of the chest.
He picked his wand up and closed his eyes for a moment, remembering how he had arranged the energies when he first did it with his two-stick. As it turned out, replicating that with a gesture using his wand was far simpler than it had been with the two-stick; the match took light after just one attempt.
The rest of Peter’s morning passed in much that way as he repeated all the spells he had learned up until that point. Boil a glass of water. Freeze it. Make invisible ink visible. Make visible ink invisible. Make a flame freeze in time, retaining the same shape, for ten seconds.
As the flame faded out following this last spell, he noticed it was about lunch time. He had done quite a lot of magic today, at least by the standards he was used to, and he was starting to feel rather tired. He allowed the spell to die away completely, replaced his wand in his pocket, and left his room.
Walking to the refectory, Peter found his mind wandering back to the name and the nature of the Guild as an organization. It was intensely irritating to him that Caroline wouldn’t give him an answer when he asked; he was used to being able to find information when he sought it, and often when information turned out not to be available it generally, likewise, turned out to be almost completely irrelevant.
In this case, however, the name and its owner seemed to be altogether relevant: the Fraud and the Army of the Fraud were mentioned in almost all of the records and histories Peter had found, and in the year he had been a student of the Guild, he had found a lot of records and histories among the other books the Guild kept in their vast library.
This train of thought was interrupted by the sudden realization that he had arrived at the refectory: he must have been walking on auto-pilot. He walked to the counter and was given a healthy portion of steak pie, chips and gravy, and a mug of the old-fashioned ale he had come to enjoy there. He carried these to the place he generally sat at along the majestically long bench and sat down.
Eric was there, apparently finishing a conversation he had been having with two other people who had just finished eating. Once they had gone, Eric took a swig from his own mug and returned to his own half-eaten pie. Peter took a swig from his mug as well, and held the liquid in his mouth for a moment, savouring it before he swallowed. It was made by magicians at the Guild to a recipe which had apparently been preserved unchanged in nearly a thousand years, and wasn’t the type of ale one could easily get drunk from: it was drunk at room-temperature, not as strong as the ales and beers and lagers which Peter had been used to drinking previously, but it was very refreshing and he had come to like it very much.
Peter wondered if it was worth asking Eric about the Fraud. Carefully and slowly, he spoke.
‘Eric, how are you?’ He tried to sound casual.
‘Not bad Pete, yourself?’
Peter inwardly cringed: he hated being called Pete, because it made him think of half-toothless pirates wearing hoop earrings and black-and-white stippled bandanas. And Eric knew this. Peter knew he was doing it on purpose. ‘Alright thanks.’
Eric nodded and filled his mouth with pie.
Peter took a sip from his mug. ‘I was reading in the library.’
Chew. Swallow. ‘Yeah?’ More pie.
‘Looking at the history of the Guild, it’s interesting.’
Swallow. ‘A lot of it is,’ Eric nodded, ‘but there’s been long times where nothing’s happened except hundreds of underground magicians practicing their art.’
‘What about war?’
‘There are wars too, and we have those who fight in them, like myself. We have academics too. And other types. Often one person does a lot of different kinds of thing.’
Peter nodded and breathed deeply. ‘And the Army of the Fraud?’
‘Or the Fraud himself? Rechsdhoubnom...?’ He didn’t know how to pronounce it, so it came out
Eric looked deadpan into Peter’s face. ‘How are your lessons going?’
Peter sighed and gave it up. He ate the rest of his meal in silence, knowing for sure now that this was something he wasn’t supposed to know – or at least not
. The way this had been made clear to him made him feel cold with anger.
When he had finished, he left without saying another word to Eric or anyone else, and decided to walk around the above-ground areas of the Guild for a while before returning to his room, to try and clear his mind.
He had come to like walking around the grounds above the Guild, enjoying the simplicity of nature and relishing his escape from the so-called ‘civilized’ world: a world which was dependent upon technology. There was something far more real about seeing the sunshine breaking through between the leaves of the grand, ancient trees and listening to the birds chirping away their immortal little songs. There was a magic of its own in that music, which made him feel calm and at peace, even though he knew that in his own life, he wasn’t.
Skirting around the main woodland in which he had made his wand the previous year, Peter paid vague attention to the rhythmic crunching of old twigs and rotting leaves he was making with each step. He allowed his mind to wander, not for the first time, to his old life. Only a little more than a year ago, he had been an out-of-work computer technician with a mind to making his grand entrance into the world of work and cutting his way through the barriers that separated him from “them.” He thought with self-reproach of Mike, on whose couch he had been sleeping, and of his parents. For all they knew, he was dead.
The really disturbing thing, he found himself thinking, was that he didn’t really care. He had found himself here, in the Guild, and while he was extremely angry at what he had recently found out – and been denied the chance to learn more – about, he was happy to be a part of it. There was something in magic that seemed to matter in a fundamental way to him, as though he had been called to it by fate, or destiny, or whatever people it was called.