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Archive for October, 2015

Searching for the ineffable

The Key

Kyle tore open his orders and pulled out the single sheet of paper. He read it then read it again before looking up.

“What is this? Some kind of joke?”

“I would think it was obvious,” Winslow said.

The Key has passed. Find the Key.” Kyle quoted with a shake of his head.

“I will not pretend I know a lot about the Key. I am sending you to the University. The High Wizard knows more than anyone about this matter. To be honest, this mumbo-jumbo gives me a headache. Give me an enemy I can look in the eye. Give me a foe that has the grace to die when I slide my blade up under his ribs to kill.”

“Is the Key a thing or a person?”

“Short answer? Yes.”

“Er, what? That was a choice not a question.”

Winslow laughed and shooed him away with a wave of his hand like a pesky fly.

“Go talk to Sib. He knows. I can try to explain but after a thousand words I think you would be more confused than before. He is expecting you.”

****

The University stood in the center of a great park on the edge of the city. The wards around it were notoriously clever, something to worry about if you were a thief or an assassin but if you were an agent of the King, you could walk up to the front door unchallenged. Kyle left his thief and assassin licenses at home and wore his King’s Man badge on the lapel of his jacket for all the world to see. Demons flitted about him in the tree tops as he walked down the main promenade, chittering nervously but they did not attack.

A secretary waited for him on the steps leading up to the great doors into the castle. The man studied him over the rim of his half-moon spectacles and then cleared his throat.

“Harrumph. I do not know what a King’s Man can do that a school full of wizards cannot. The High Wizard will not listen to my protests.”

Kyle said nothing. He knew so little that any comment would betray his ignorance. Silence was best.

“Yes, well,” sighed the secretary. “Here. Take this.”

The man handed him a coin. It was cold to the touch but that changed almost at once. In the next second, the fabric of the world twisted, turned into a whirlpool, and sucked him down. When it released him, Kyle found himself standing before an enormous desk in a darkly paneled office.

“At last,” cried the man behind the desk.” I told them it was an emergency and here I sit, two weeks later, still waiting for help. Are you it? Where is the rest of your team?”

Kyle stared at him.

“Well? Are you dumb, man? What is the plan? Where should we start?”

Kyle was still in the dark. He asked the only question he knew to ask.

“I was told you know all that there is to know about the Key.” Kyle said. “Start at the beginning and tell me everything, no matter how insignificant.”

“You are joking, right? Do you see that bookshelf? That contains the sum total of everything mankind knows about the Key.” The bookcase he indicated covered most of one wall from floor to ceiling.

“Fine. Give me the abridged version. Just enough to get the job done.”

The old man started to hiss like a tea kettle as his hands ran through his silver hair and left it all askew.

“You don’t seem to understand …”

Kyle gave him his best assassin’s stare. The man blanched.

“Fine. Fine. I will not explain the chaos theory or go into the details of the math. I am a wizard first and foremost so I will explain just the energetic nature of this planet and why it has not succumbed to entropy as so many other planets have.”

“Less is more, wizard,” Kyle growled. “Cut to the bare bones.”

“Oh my god. You are kidding, right?”

“No,” Kyle growled.

“OK. Think of this planet as a spaceship. Someone always has to be sitting in the Captain’s chair to make sure things are working smoothly and everyone is doing their job. Imagine the chaos is everyone was working at cross purposes? No. Nightmarish stuff, that. We need a captain to keep entropy from ripping us apart. Only the person who holds the Key can run the ship. The Key is, well, it is part computer program, part algorithm, part magical spell, part synergistic harmony of the sum total of all life on its surface, part…..”

“By all the gods,” Kyle swore. “The Key. What is it?”

“It is a single line of code, magical, mystical, mathematical, that is embedded in the very fabric of this reality. Life would not exist here without it. It is in you and I and every living thing. It is a quantum doorway inside the matrix of all life. Ordinary humans who find it, call it God. It is the backdoor in the program of creation and only one person holds the pass word. We call her the Key.”

“Her?”

“The key is always female. A female of a very particular bent. Up until now, we were able to control the passing.”

“The passing?”

“The key-holder is human, and though being a Key grants a certain level of longevity, they die and the matrix passes to the next, the nearest, suitable candidate. Put a bunch of innocent virgins with a fanatical belief in god, any god, in a room with a dying Key and one of them would come out as a key-holder.”

“So the key-holder died and the Key went somewhere else?”

“Yes! How did you know?”

“It was not a hard guess.” Kyle said dryly.

“So we looked for her. It had been a while since the natural passing of the Key had been allowed to take place. We had to look up the search methods in the books because no one was alive who had ever done it before. While the scholars were researching the problem, I sent my three best demons to find her.”

The old man grimaced.

“And?” Kyle asked

“She stole them from me.”

“Er, what? Does that make her a wizard every bit as powerful as you? I thought you said the Key had to be an innocent?”

“That was the conundrum. What kind of creature could hold the key and still be able to wield powerful magic?”

“Creature.” breathed Kyle.

“Yes. We suspect that the key-holder is not human, per se.”

“Per se?”

“Maybe a little bit human. We think this reality well grew tired of our meddling and created something new. Or woke something old. A new old thing.”

Kyle stared at the wizard. He was starting to think that this man was just a little bit unbalanced.

“Explain.”

“Hmm. OK. Say you got a cut and it got infected. What does the body do? The immune system kicks into overdrive. The body humors brew a soup of warriors whose sole job is to fight infection. So the next time you you get cut, the body has a recipe already in place. It brews the old recipe anew and sets it loose in the body. That is what we think this world has done. It has taken an old recipe, built a thing, and woke it up. An avatar that may be sentient in its own right but at the same time is being controlled by the synergistic whole of this reality.”

“What would a being like that do?”

“Do? I do not know. Right now, it is walking the earth, studying us, and wondering why we have messed her planet up. When she finally embraces her primary function … No, I dare not conjecture about that. All we can hope for is mercy.”

“You make her sound like a machine.”

“Is she not? I do not believe that she has free will like you or I. She is a weapon, built for a purpose, and she is aimed at the heart of mankind. That single line of code. That is who she is. An animated computer program.”

Kyle scowled at the old man. The world was in this mess because of men like him. Kyle was of the mind that he should walk away and let the heads roll where they may. Disgust bade him go, curiosity made him stay.

“Call your demons,” Kyle said.

“They will not come.”

“Do not command. Ask. Perhaps she will release one so we can talk to it.”

The High Wizard shook his head. “I will need to call in a circle and build the wards.”

“Ask, old man. Do not play your magic tricks. She will not think kindly on them,” Kyle said. It was not that he believed this to be true, but he could only imagine a being of such power would not look kindly on those who thought to control her.

The wizard scowled and then shrugged. “If we die, it will be a mercy, for we will not have to endure the fires of her retribution.”

He picked up the crystal ball sitting on the corner of his desk and whispered a name. A black speck formed in the heart of the crystal. It began to grow and as Kyle watched it seemed that something monstrously huge was flying towards them. The old wizard put the globe down hastily and retreated to the back of the room.

When only one evil yellow eye filled the ball, the room took on an icy chill and something stepped through the veil. The demon settled itself, folding its wings carefully under the low ceiling as it dipped its head and fixed its eye on Kyle.

“Man,” is growled. “What do you want?”

“I would parlay with your mistress,” Kyle said.

“I have no master. The Beloved has set me free.”

“The Beloved. Is she what this man calls the Key?”

The demon snorted. “Humans are fools. This one is no exception. But yes. In their twisted understanding of the nature of this world, she is the Heart and the Mother and the Gardener which to their mind makes her the Key. They wanted another simpleton that they could control. My Beloved is anything but that. She sees all. She is your Justice but the blinders have been removed. What will you do, fool human, when she looks into your soul and sees everything that you are?”

“I will risk it,” Kyle said. “Let me talk to her.”

The demon laughed. “As you wish,” it said, whisking Kyle out of the world. It was a long journey. Long enough to make him wish he had taken a deeper breath before leaving. Long enough to make him wish he had brought a warmer coat.

The demon dumped him down on the knoll of a grassy hill and flew away to a tall stand of trees growing off in a draw down at the bottom of the hill. Two other dark shapes shifted in the foliage, making room for it.

Kyle looked around. He was alone on a grassy plain that stretched off to the horizon. The grass grew like fur on the hide of some great beast, the curves of its body hidden by the infinite breadth of its pelt.

“You said I could talk to her,” yelled Kyle to the dark shapes in the distant trees.

Somewhere near, a child giggled. Kyle spun around, trying to see where the sound came from.

“Everyone is worried,” Kyle called. “They do not trust what they cannot see.”

“Liar,” said the child. Then she laughed again. The hiss of grass blades against one another told him she was moving.

“OK, OK. They do not trust what they cannot control.”

“You have been to see the wizards,” the child called. “Liars and usurpers! They are the reason I am awake. They should have let me fade like all my kindred. More fools they. Now they fear me.”

“What?” Kyle growled. The crazy old wizard had lied to him. They had done more than game the system that created a Key. They had used their magic to call something infinitely old out of the pages of history. Kyle was going to kill the High Wizard is ever he got out of this alive.

Something large and lithe and not human moved in the grass behind him. Kyle spun around, his eyes looking for any anomaly in the tall grasses.

“Whose side are you on,” called the child. Kyle spun around. The animal behind him shifted closer.

“I am on humanity’s side,” Kyle called. “Do not judge us by the actions of those who sit in power here.”

“All the machinations of your clever, evil men are falling upon sterile ground. Your masters know this. The common people know me. It was easy enough to subvert the magic that kept them in thrall. They listen only to me now. It makes your masters desperate. You were sent to kill me.”

“No,” called Kyle. “I do not kill children.”

A child stepped out of the grass. She was probably six or seven. Her hair was the color of the dry grass, her shirt as faded as the green stalks. She glared at him with eyes the color of a looming storm.

“That is no kind of answer. Tell me. Is it easy to kill a Key? They have done so before, countless times. Every time one of us dies, the world grows a little colder, the magic grows ever more thin, and chaos creeps in, eating at the world. They do it on purpose. If the Key is busy fixing what has been broken, she cannot do what she was meant to do. Do you think that is my job? Healing the world? I am no healer. I am a Gardener. Weeds get pulled and thrown into the fire.”

“I am no killer,” Kyle said, holding his hands out from his sides. Something huge growled at him from near at hand. Kyle resisted the urge to turn.

“Liar!” cawed the girl. “You cannot hide from me. I can see everything.”

“Do you see an Assassin’s badge? No. I am the King’s Man in this. He wants just one thing. The truth. Tell me what they did to you that makes you so angry?”

The biggest lion Kyle had ever seen padded out of the grass and circled her. She put her hand out and let her fingers trail through its mane as it passed.

“This is Lion. He will eat you if I tell him to.”

“Please don’t, Lady. So the wizards woke you. How did they do that?”

The girl stamped her bare foot and spat out a curse. “Grave robbers. Defilers. They broke the seal on our crypt, destroyed the magic that kept us bound to the earth, stole the bodies of my loved ones, hoping to steal their magic. But they did not count on me. I was only mostly dead. They used their magic and brought me back to mostly alive. Towards the end, just before I stepped out into the circle, they realized their mistake, realized they could not control the thing they called, and they broke the circle and drowned the candles. There I was, not yet dead and mostly alive. A ghost. Doomed to wander the world. I stole a body, an infant, and became human, thinking to take my revenge.”

She turned and waved at the grassland. “Who would come looking here, so far from the halls of power? I was safe. Safe to grow up and gather power. Safe to plot their deaths. More fool I. I had not counted on the extreme arrogance of this current crop of humans.”

“The key-holder died.”

She looked up surprised. “Yes. The key-holder died and there I was, full to bursting with the earth magic and what should drop out of the ethers but the Key.” She stamped her foot again.  A dark cloud scudded across the sky and then another. Kyle flinched. She was a weather witch on top of everything else. “It is just so unfair!” she pouted.

“What is unfair?” Kyle asked, confusion warring with growing concern. If the storm let loose they had no where to run.

“Did I want to be a Key, I ask you? I had a family to avenge. I wanted to light the world on fire and let it consume me along with all the defilers. The Key changed all that.”

“You said you would burn the weeds,” Kyle suggested helpfully.

“Cursed Key. Now I am pregnant with all the wee ones of the world and gravid with the possibilities of the next generation of evolution. My anger burns more than the guilty. Weeding is good but it is not so satisfying at mindless bloody violence. You know what I mean, surely?”

Kyle stared at her. What the hell had the wizards woken out of the darkness? Nothing merciful or gentle, apparently.

“Uh, sure. But you can’t go stomping around in your garden for fear of ruining what is already growing there. You stole the wizard’s demons. That must have been a satisfying revenge.”

The child looked at him oddly. Suddenly she stood near to him, though he could not remember seeing her cross the distance between them. He looked down into those stormy eyes and fell into her depths.

“Did they deserve to be tormented and enslaved?” she whispered, desperately wanting him to understand something. “I know too much about being caught inside a cage for most of eternity. I loved them so I set them free. They do not seem to understand freedom for now I cannot get them to go home. I do not think they remember where home is. In this too, we have much in common. What a pathetic pack I have gathered around me. This is the Land of the Lost Children.”

A tear trickled down her cheek. Kyle put a hand out to stop its passage down her face. “Do not cry, sweet one,” he whispered. He stared down at the tear on the end of his finger. The world was whirling around him. What had he just done?

“All I can do is love, now. It is my only weapon. But you will help me, won’t you Kyle?” she purred softly.

Kyle looked down into those violet eyes. “Yes,” he said. “I am yours. Command me, Lady.”

The child shook her head. “Oh, no. You are free. Free to keep me safe or not. Free to help me defend the Garden, if you want. Free to avenge those who trespass against me as you see fit.”

Kyle smiled. His life seemed to take on a new meaning and purpose. “Yes, Lady,” he said. “Do you think I can borrow your demons?”

****

Kyle stepped into Winslow’s office. The King’s Director of Intelligence looked up, a surprised look on his face.

“Well, that was quick,” his boss said. “What did you find out?”

“All sorts of things. That the wizards at the University were plotting sedition, a plan outside of the King’s scheme to control the Key,” Kyle said, a pleased smile on his face. “Intentionally or not, they hijacked the Key.”

“They what?” Winslow moved to pick up his comunit. Kyle put his hand out, stopping him.

“Don’t worry. I took care of it. The king will know soon enough.”

“What do you mean?”

Kyle leaned forward. “Like I said,” softly as he slid his blade up under Winslow’s ribs and found his heart with its tip. Kyle watched the light fade in his eyes as Winslow gasped once and then went limp. “I took care of it. I think the King is going to need a new batch of wizards.”

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