Excerpt from ‘Antimagic’
When we had an overhead look at the scene, we could only see the roof of a large, but only single-storey building, surrounded by a large carpark and a few smaller appendages which looked like window shops. Lucien was taking cover beside the building, down a narrow passageway which ended in a door, and presently he was just standing there. Perhaps he was doing what we were doing and simply observing the scene through his mind's eye; or more likely he was working some sort of dark magic.
“That looks like a supermarket,” Lillian observed.
“I don't like this,” Mr. Woodward said slowly, his face pale. “I don't know what he's planning but I've got a very bad feeling about it. Stay very close to him, Amelia; and Marc, be prepared to jump in with any magic at any moment. I'm fairly sure you can perform it from in here if you're focused on those screens.”
“Sure,” Marc muttered, his eyes glued to the screens as Amelia lowered us back down to Lucien, who remained motionless.
Minutes passed, and then more minutes. Lucien didn't do a damn thing as far as we could tell, and out of frustration, James turned the sound on all the spyers back up in case they could provide a clue about what was happening here. Eventually, this move paid off: it happened gradually, but it became clear that there was some sort of commotion taking place in the carpark. When Lucien began to smile ominously, Amelia gave up watching him directly and, without waiting for our opinion, took the base back into the air so that we could see what was really happening, and out of our shadow so that we would have a clearer view of it.
And we could only gape in astonishment. The carpark was now jam-packed with vehicles—not just the parking spots, but everything else as well. A few people were trying to leave, honking their horns and shouting at other motorists to get out of the way so that they could get out, but most seemed desperate to get inside and do some shopping. People were scrambling between cars, squeezing through gaps that looked uncomfortably small, and several came very close to getting squashed by a car trying to move closer to a spot. Others were giving up and turning their cars off where they had ended up, getting out and scrambling for the doors.
Mr. Woodward let out a groan. “This is bad…this is very bad.”
“You can figure this out?” Natalie asked.
“I think I get it too,” James said slowly, his face paling. “He wants to pack this place as tight as possible. Either he wants a greater choice of people to hurt, or he's going to find a way to make them all suffer.”
“A riot,” Mr. Woodward breathed. “That's what this is looking like. People will be crushed and possibly killed in there.”
“Can we stop this before it gets going?” Marc asked desperately.
“I don't see how,” James said. “I mean, he must have all their minds inside his own, so we can't do anything to change their behaviour. Our only hope is to put Lucien out of action, but does anyone still think we can do that?”
“Probably not now; Lucien will be expecting us to try,” I heard myself say, but my head was light and dizzy with anxiety. He was doing this to punish us—particularly me, for some reason—most likely because I had dared to take Stella from him. All these innocent people were about to suffer horribly because of me, and all I could do was watch. And even if we were somehow able to prevent this spiralling into a full-on riot, Lucien could instantly change his plan to something else—perhaps something worse. He would only be limited by his imagination, and unfortunately, his imagination was immense.
“We need to keep an eye on him and watch his every movement,” Mr. Woodward said, “and maybe we'll see an opening to do something. Go back down to him, Amelia.”
Amelia descended, but not to Lucien; he had disappeared. Had he made himself invisible or had he teleported? Amelia took a chance on the latter and teleported the base back to Lucien's current location. It took a second to figure out where we were, and it was a bit of a shock when we did: Lucien had teleported himself into the supermarket, but rather than subject himself to the throng (which we could hear making an almighty racket not too far away), he had taken shelter in one of the bathrooms. Judging by the lack of a urinal, it seemed to be the ladies' bathroom.
“This must be where he's going to coordinate it from,” Peter said.
“Yeah, maybe,” James said slowly, “but he could have done that outside, or pretty much from anywhere. If he wanted to go where no one would see him or know he was there, why pick a public bathroom? And why isn't he making himself invisible?”
“He wouldn't need to be invisible if he can prevent people coming in here just by using his mind,” Peter pointed out. “Also, he's probably hoping that we're still following him. Maybe he's daring us to try to attack him again.”
Yeah, I thought that sounded plausible, which meant…what? Were we supposed to avoid his bait and let him do all kinds of damage here? What if we took the bait? Would we be running the risk of saving those people now, only to expose ourselves and kill the last resistance against him? My head swam again and I had to grip the sides of my seat to steady myself. I'd faced some dilemmas during this war—the one the previous night in which Natalie had very nearly died had been a particularly nasty one—but this was quite likely the worst one yet.
“John, does this base have any weapons that we can use from in here?” Marc asked suddenly.
“No,” I said, taken aback, “but you can use your crystal from in here.”
“Not when we're in our shadow, I can't.”
“But we're not in our shadow—”
He broke off when a noise came through the spyers. We looked sharply up at the display screens, and were astonished all over again by what we saw. A woman had just staggered into the bathroom carrying a shopping bag, red-faced and out-of-breath. She was young-ish (probably in her 20s) and quite attractive, even taking into account her obviously harried state. She turned around with her back to the door, and then froze in horror at the sight of Lucien standing there just a couple of metres in front of her.
“Hey! You can't be in here! This is a…”
She trailed off, her expression shifting from major indignation to dawning comprehension. My first thought was that Lucien had used his Honnie mind to deal with her, but then doubt seeped in as she spoke again.
“You're him,” she said slowly. “You're—you're the new ruler—are you?”
Lucien smiled. “No, you're right. I am Lucien. Shhh,” he put his finger to his lips and winked conspiratorially at her.
“I—” she began, her face turning red as, I assumed, she became star-struck. “I've seen you on TV. You're a lot better than the Hammersons.”
“Why, thank you,” Lucien smiled charmingly at her.
She gulped and then looked down at the shopping bag swinging loosely from one hand. Then she looked back up at Lucien, her expression settling. “You have magic, right? I know this is probably small by your standards, but there's a real mess out there and some people are already getting hurt—”
He put a hand up to still her speech before it could get going. “I know about that. That's why I'm here; I sensed a disturbance bigger than something the police could manage on their own. Obviously I can't be everywhere at once, but until I have found a magical way to prevent these things without me being on the spot, I can only sort them out on a case-by-case basis.”
“Wow,” she breathed, her face going red again. “You really are gonna be a great ruler. So—so can you help us here today?”
“Well,” Lucien said, taking a step towards her—I expected her to take a step backward, but she didn't. “I can tell from your mind that you approve of my policies, even if you weren't enraptured with my predecessors. Sorry, not snooping deliberately,” he added quickly. “The mind-reading thing is involuntary, Shana. That is your name, isn't it?”
“Yeah,” she said, and swallowed.
“How would you like to help me help them?” he asked her.
“Me?” she gulped. “Well—sure, I'd love to. I mean, you'll remember that I did, right?”
He considered, his smile turning into a grin of amusement. “Sure I will. If you're looking to use this as an opportunity to get ahead, I'm cool with that. I find myself trusting you, Shana, and don't worry; I can mind your shopping while you do what I need you to do.”
“What the hell is this?” Peter spoke over the conversation, causing several people to make shushing gestures at him.
After a brief silence, Shana asked, “What do you need from me?”
Lucien took another step towards her so that they were within arms' reach of each other. He reached out and put his hands on her body, causing her to drop the shopping bag and gasp in surprise. For a moment I thought he was going to molest her, but it was over before it had even begun. He had placed his hands on each of her sides at chest height; for a moment, it looked as though her breasts rippled, but when he removed his hands, she looked no different.
“What was that?” she asked curiously, apparently not at all affronted that he'd got into her personal space.
“Something which will send out a magical pulse,” he told her, “which will settle the crowd down and make it possible for them to disperse. But in order for it to work, I need you to get to the centre of the supermarket—or as close as you can using your best judgement. Can you do that?”
That made her a little nervous. “Er—I can try,” she hesitated, “although it might take a little while, and I might get hurt before I can get there.”
He just smiled at that. “You're under my protection now—you won't get hurt by the people out there. Trust me on that. All you need to do is get as close to the centre as you can, and then wait. I'll sense when you're there, and then I'll activate the pulse. You'll know immediately when it's done its job.”
“Okay, that doesn't sound too hard,” she said. She hesitated then, seeming to be on the verge of saying something else. When he continued to watch her, she blushed and finally took a step back from him, hitting the closed door behind her and letting out a little squeak. What was all that about?
“Go on,” he told her, “oh—and don't leave when it's over. I need to remove the pulse from your—er—your chest, and I'd like to give you another reward as well, for helping me.”
“A reward? What reward?”
He shook his head. “You'll find out later, but trust me—it will definitely help you in your aspirations.”
She beamed at that, and without waiting for any more turned, opened the door, and hurried back out into the throng. When the door had closed, Lucien picked up the shopping bag she had left behind, set it down under one of the basins where it would be out of the way, and then turned his back on the closed door. For a moment I thought he was about to teleport away, but instead, making us all cringe and several faces fall, he began to speak to us.
“I'm sure you're here, watching me. I could be wrong; and if I am, well, it hardly matters. If not, then allow me to explain what this is all about, although it wouldn't surprise me if you've already guessed much of it. I have crammed this place with hundreds of people from the area, making them believe they must do their shopping here and now. It is impossible for any of them to rationalise their way through this and realise that there's no point in coming in here, because I am preventing that line of thinking from occurring to any of them. Some people are already hurt out there, and a few ambulances have been called already, as have the police. I don't mind if paramedics try to get in here, but when the police turn up, they will determine that it is too dangerous for them to enter and so they won't do anything.
“Now, as for Shana, that lovely young woman you just saw me talking to: she is going to help me with my ultimate goal here today, and you must understand, John, that what is about to happen here is directly your fault. I have attached a bomb to her—not a small one, either, but one large enough and explosive enough that when it goes off, it will demolish the entire building and everyone with it.”
Marc swore loudly while several other people were making gasping sounds, but nobody could move; we were all paralysed by Lucien's speech.
“I'm sure you will consider it your duty to try to defuse her, but there are a couple of problems with that. Firstly, in case you didn't figure it out, I attached the bomb to her bra, right between her breasts, so it won't be easy for you to walk up to her and take it out. Secondly, and more importantly, I have enchanted the bomb to explode immediately if anyone tries to move or remove it from her bra, or if her bra is removed from her body. So trust me when I say this: you have no hope at all of stopping this from happening…except, perhaps, for one thing.
“Come to me. Reveal yourselves to me. You, John, Marc, Amelia, Stella, James, Natalie, and all the rest of you who have turned your backs on me. Come to me now and allow me to take you back to the Hammerheart base; if you do that, I will defuse her myself, as I have enchanted it to work only if I use my own magic, from my own crystal chips. I am going to teleport outside now, where I will have a good view of the destruction; you can come to me there if you decide that these people's lives aren't worth sacrificing just so that you can continue to resist me. don't take too long to decide; it may take her a few minutes to push her way to the centre of the supermarket, but when she does, your time will have run out.”
He vanished from the screens, leaving us alone in the ladies' bathroom. Marc began swearing at the top of his voice, and only when Amelia put a gentle hand on his shoulder did he quiet. She, meanwhile, had tears streaming down her face, and she was most definitely not the only one.
“What do we do?” Peter whispered, just loud enough for most people to hear.