No Questions Please

Magic is all about style. Each spellcaster cultivates their own techniques. Two different magicians can accomplish the result through very different means. One might travel instantaneously across a city by slowing time so it appears that they have suddenly appeared in a different place, while another dissolves into conscious light and speeds to their destination. The merits of techniques are fiercely debated amongst in arcane circles (social circles, not the kind used for ritual or protection), but at the end of the day, each magician has their own particular modus operandi.

-From the Esoteric Primer, Volume One

There are two things magicians love anything above magic itself, the first has to be luxury. When you can rework the fundamental laws of the universe, you’re not going to be content with a folding chair and reheated take-out. Such people desire the best of everything because they work so hard. So they say. 

Luxury includes clothing. Robes are still very popular. While comfort is a factor, style is also important. You might see a waistcoat that shows the night sky where it was tailored, an orrery hat, flame trousers, seafoam gowns, or even crystal culottes.

The second thing they crave is gossip and a place to do that gossiping. One would think that a group of people whose existence was a secret would know how to keep their mouths shut. One would be wrong. They thrive on it. Who created a new spell? Who tried to steal the sweetheart of another, failed, then created a golem that looks and acts just like the aforementioned sweetheart? Who is still invisible after a year of trying to reverse the spell gone wrong?

In New York City, the place where all of that takes place is the Dee Club, named for the British magician, John Dee. It’s located somewhere on the lower east side of Manhattan, though it has a habit of moving occasionally but members never have trouble finding it.

On this day, we see the return of October Maniver, a member in good standing and Aeromancer, glided into the club’s common room. He was dressed in a Victorian-era explorer’s outfit made of gold cloth. His deep green hair and beard were, as always, perfectly coiffed. He immediately spotted his old friend and Transforming Mage, Amos DuFontaine, who was sporting an ever-shifting, paisley print fox hunting ensemble.

“October! When did you get back?”

“Yesterday, I just flew back from Patagonia.”

Neither magician asked about the tiredness of arms. It was considered to be in bad taste.

“What’s there? Other than excellent barbecue?”

“There was an Aeromancer, Catalina Baltazar, who had been rumored to have made some incredible discoveries in her field, but left no records of her findings.”

“Intriguing,” responded Amos, “What happened to her? Delved too deeply?”

October leaned in and whispered, “Misadventure,” and Amos nodded sagely.

It was not unheard of for magicians to perish or vanish or even be transmogrified while pushing the boundaries of their craft. Sad, but it was considered to be a ‘died as they lived’ end. Misadventure, however, was the worse way to die for a magician. It meant they slipped on an icy street, or choked on a fishbone, or were hit by a bus. In other words, an avoidable accidental death. Very shameful for a group of people who break the laws of physics on a regular basis.

Changing the subject, October shared, “While her villa was abandoned, and ransacked, I chose to stay there for a month, exploring. The wind blew day and night, it was haunting. Eventually, I sensed a pattern. Catalina Baltazar had carved the surrounding canyon walls-”

“She lived in a canyon?” asked Amos.

“Yes! I just said that,” snapped October.

Amos thought to himself, “Technically, you implied that,” but said nothing because he didn’t want it to become a ‘thing.’

“As I was saying, she carved the canyon walls into the world’s largest ocarina. When I redirected the wind, it produced an intricate music composition that, when deciphered, will reveal her secrets.”

“Well done old bean!”

“I hate to argue with you so I’ll just have to agree,” replied October with a pronounced lack of modesty, “Is Lianna about? Her talent with Symphomancy is well known and I’d like to tempt her to… collaborate with me on this.”

“She around here somewhere.”

From across the room, a musical laugh was launched and sailed around the room. It was Lianna, as lovely as October remembered her. Before you get too moony over that notion, he’d only been gone a month and if someone looks drastically different after that short a period of time, things have likely gone very, very wrong.

As said, she was still stunningly attractive, garbed in a gown of woven musical notes, her pale azure hair spilled down her back like a cloudless summer sky. And sitting next to her, in October’s favorite chair was…

“Who is that?”

“Oh, he’s a new member.” said Amos, “Just joined recently, he’s from Chicago.”

“I see.”

“Let me introduce you,” and October was led to the group that had gathered around this newcomer.

“Charlie, here’s someone you should meet, October Maniver,” offered Amos.

Charlie stood up, held out his hand, and said, “The famous Aeromancer! A real pleasure!”

October shook Charlie’s hand and looked him up and down. Not handsome nor ugly. His hair was brown. Not the brown of an autumn leaf that had fallen to the forest floor. Just brown. If there was anything extraordinary about him is was his ordinariness. His attire was odd. Not odd like most magicians. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, and under a sports coat, what at first looked like a hooded tunic but turned out to be a hoody.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Hey, let’s get another round of drinks!” suggested Charlie and everyone agreed. Even October suddenly wanted a drink.

Cocktails were distributed, glasses were raised, spirits were both raised, and consumed. 

“Lianna here was about to tell us about that crazy piccolo that nearly destroyed Carnegie Hall,” stated Charlie.

“Truthfully, it wasn’t the piccolo that was insane, but the enchanter who made it was most definitely was!” supplied the Symphomancer.

This created more laughter and more magicians gathered to join in on the fun.

“I hate to interrupt,” interrupted October, “But there is a pressing matter I need to discuss with Lianna.”

Conversation and laughter died out as he said that.

“October, let’s talk later, we’re all having such a grand time!” added Lianna.

This was the unanimous opinion of the group, including Amos, much to October’s irritation.

“C’mon pal,” said Charlie, “pull up a chair and join us!”

“I would, but you’re sitting in my customary seat,” tetchily replied October.

“Sorry man,” stated Charlie, “I didn’t know. It’s all yours.”

The newest member stood and offered the chair. October was about to take, what he considered to be his rightful place when he looked around. Instead of the approval of reinstatement of the natural order of things, he was being given death stares. Not actual Death Stares, those were forbidden to be used on club premises by the bylaws, but his social standing was dissolving around him.

“Everyone, let’s head to the roof garden, they have it set for late spring and the view is spectacular,” suggested Lianna.

This suggestion was taken up with gusto by the rest of the crowd, which had grown to include everyone. Everyone except October. As they filed out of the common room, the aggrieved Aeromancer muttered, “I should challenge that cur!”

“Excuse me?” said Charlie.

Everyone fell silent, including October.

“It sounds like you’re formally challenging me,” declared Charlie.

October knew that things were spiraling out of control and did the only thing he could. He double-downed.

“Indeed! I formally challenge you to a duel!”

“Okay then, if I understand the club rules, and I do. Never join a group if you don’t know what’s what. It’s good advice,” he said with a wink, “Now, by the rules of OUR club, I get to choose the terms of this dust-up.”

“Yes, you do,” replied October.

“I’m a reasonable guy, no need to fight to the death. Let’s just say till one of us gives up. Willing.”

The assembled group all thought that was an excellent idea.

“Fine.”

“And as the challenged party, it will be my magic versus yours. No need for pistols or sabers.”

“These terms are acceptable.”

“Great! I’m happy you’re so agreeable,” Charlie added, “Because. The. Rules. Are. Important.”

“Yes.”

“And I’ll need a second,” added Charlie. Everyone volunteered but he chose a whipcord lean Battle-Mage by the name of Delano Constantinople.

October chose Amos who replied, “Oh… Certainly,” with a lack of enthusiasm. 

“Sweet, let’s do this tomorrow, let’s say noonish? Then we can go out for lunch afterwards.”

With that, the assembled crowd exited, leaving October alone.

The next day, the entirety of the Dee Club assembled at the dueling grounds in Westchester, just north of Sleepy Hollow. It had bequeathed to the club by an old member who was repeatedly fined for dueling in public. It was named the Bethawai Dueling Grounds, clearly in a fit of pique but the name stuck and here we are.

October arrived in a cloud of fog and wind. It was a very showy entrance and usually got applause but today it only earned him some disinterested glances. 

Charlie was ready there and chatting with Nial Thaker, the Serjeant at Arms. Nial was laughing a little too enthusiastically, thought October. He strode up to hear the end of Charlie’s story.

“-and that’s how we escaped!”

Nial whooped with delight, “What life you’ve led my friend!”

“I’m sure you’ve had plenty of adventures,” added Charlie.

Then Nial, to October’s shock, actually blushed. He had seen her dissemble a rival’s clockwork beast with but a whisper after it had stepped in the edge of her very long skirt. The Aeromancer cleared his throat.

“I see you’re here,” she remarked with unveiled disregard, “Very well, let’s get this show on the road.”

With small charm, she amplified her voice, “Assembled magicians, a challenge has been issued! October Aloysius Maniver, you have issued a challenge to Charles Steven Close. Do you wish to withdraw? You may do so without loss of face.”

If October was a more reasonable magician (they do exist, really), he would have not issued this challenge in the first place. 

“I do not withdraw!” he declared.

Nial then asked, “Are the seconds present?”

Delano Constantinople stood and bowed, which Charlie returned to the delight of the crowd. Amos waved halfheartedly but did not bow or even stand.

“Very well,” proclaimed Nial, “The terms of this duel have been established, once I leave the wards will be sealed and the combatants cannot leave till the terms are satisfied or surrender, yada yada yada!”

With that, she transformed into a cloud of tiny flying weapons and left the field.

“Prepare for humiliation,” grinned October.

“Oh, I’m prepared,” agreed Charlie.

October paused, this upstart was very self-assured and it made him uneasy. To bolster his own confidence, he created Wind Whips at the ends of his hands. They were not lethal, but very painful.

“That is so cool. I remember the day you first showed me that trick,” reminisced Charlie, “It was a day just like today.”

“What?” asked October, as his Wind Whips slightly diminished.

“We met at our favorite beer garden, the one where they had those great pretzels. You really loved those pretzels.”

“We only met yesterday and I have never socialized with you!”

Even as October verbally denied this history, a faint memory of that crept into his mind. As he fought it, he felt his Wind Whips fading away.

Charlie ambled toward October and added, “There was that waitress, Gerty. You had such a crush on her.”

“Lies! All lies!” shouted October, his Wind Whips now gone, though an image of Gerty appeared in his mind’s eye. Mustering his fury, he flew into the air on a whirlwind, whipping up leaves and other debris.

With no fear, Charlie continued, “Right! You tried to show her that trick but you were so nervous you ended up spilling beer all over the place!”

“This isn’t true!” October shouted. Even as he denied it, the memory, yes it was a memory, became more real. He lowered to the ground, surrounded by the detritus his whirlwind had picked up.

Charlie was right next to him and offered, “It wasn’t a total loss, you got Gerty’s number.”

“I did, didn’t I?” October agreed, the digits remembered.

“A great night.”

“It was.”

October’s desire for petty vengeance left him. It all was so ridiculous. He spoke, “I give up. Willingly.”

As he said that, a cheer went up from the crowd, and he was forgiven. It wasn’t a spectacular duel, but those who watched it enjoyed it, and October felt that maybe the most important thing.

Everybody celebrated at a nearby beer garden, and it was a lovely afternoon. People got drunk, but not too drunk, partially because magicians generally have a very high resistance to drink, but also because of all the giant pretzels ordered.

As things were breaking up, October pulled Charlie aside and said, “This has been an odd day.”

“Some of the best days are odd ones.”

“I think you are correct.”

Charlie laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.

“While it is impolite to ask, I very much want to know what your area of magic is. I thought it might be a type of glamour, or chrono-manipulation but…”

“Generally, I’m not a fan of questions, puts a burden on the person being asked, and just slows things down. But since it all worked out in the end, I’ll tell you this.”

Charlie leaned in and whispered something into October’s ear. 

“That’s so simple!” declared October.

“Yes, and it really works,” offered Charlie with a smile.

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