It was once said that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This might be true for someone who is not a sorcerer, but for one of the gifted, it was plainly evident that these steel beasts were nothing but very advanced machines. I needed to know where I was, and when, but looking out at the street, no one was armed, and no one dressed like me. In Florence, everyone was armed. Streetfighting and banditry were endemic, so everyone at least had a small dagger. Here, no one was armed, and may react poorly to a person bearing arms. However, I was unwilling to disarm myself. So, I had to use an illusion. Illusions are not spells I am skilled with, so there were limits to what I could do then that I have since overcome somewhat. However, it is better to show and not tell such things.
Thankfully, projecting illusions was easier in terms of raw energy than mind magic, as I only had to change the light that reflected off of me to everyone’s eyes, which was far easier than directly affecting thoughts. It was just more complicated.
As a brief aside, this actually brings me to a general discussion on magic again. You may be asking why I don’t just go back in time to where I was before. Doing that is impossible. Once a sorcerer moves forward in time, they are out of play, like killing the queen in chess. Once the queen is gone, it can have no more impact on the board, but if a pawn reaches the other side, the queen can return, but cannot undo what was done in its absence. Paradoxes such as changing history which has already occurred cannot occur, the universe will literally not permit it. Extremely powerful sorcerers can view the future, but any attempt to change the future will not function, up until the point where they have viewed it. Instead, all they end up doing is creating the conditions by which that future will come to pass, in much the same way as the tragedies of Sophocles.
I watched people pass by in the alley for a while, and absorbed the local fashions. I had to work within certain limits, I could not change the form of the clothing I wore, only the appearance. So, I could not go from a long sleeve shirt to a short sleeved one, and I had to do something with the armor and helmet. I concentrated, holding the image in my head of what I wanted everything to look like, then I muttered the requisite commands:
“Precipio viribus lumen et auras, forma dissimulant.”
With that, the energies took shape. I looked down and saw that my boots had transformed to laced shoes, my greaves into some smooth blue padded material, the same with my vambraces. My helmet was a helmet of the same kind, and I wore a jacket of a rough blue material, with a pack on my back where the cloak should have been. The weapons, while still on my person, had vanished as they did not have to move as closely with my own motion, they were easier to hide. Now, I just needed a cover story. I knew that sometimes a blow to the head would cause memory loss, so that would be how to explain why I did not remember my location or the year.
I walked out of the alley and stopped a young women walking along the street, politely. Though, I am translating here for the benefit of the reader. Late middle English is however, similar enough to modern English that it can be understood.
“Dear young lady, pray assist me?” I said, my Italian accent hopefully making up for any strangeness of my address. I had no idea how much the language had changed. She giggled a little bit, then stopped.
“What can I do for you?”
“I apologize for my forwardness, but I took a poor fall, and cannot for the love of God remember what year it is, or where I am. If you were to tell me, it may loosen my memory”
She looked at me confused for a second, then her confusion turned to concern as she translated what I had said inside her head.
“Do you remember where you are from?” she asked “ and your name?”
“Augustinus, from Florence. I am also looking for the library, I just cannot remember certain details”. That seemed to satisfy her.
“You are in New York City, the year is two thousand and two.” I managed to hide my shock. I had traveled almost five hundred years.
“Thank you.” I said
“Would you like me to call you an ambulance, you might have brain damage?” she asked. It took me a moment to translate the word with its context, but I managed to gather it was a form of conveyance to see a physician.
“No, no. It is coming back to me. I should be fine.” I said with a sheepish smile.
“Would you perchance be able to direct me to a library?” a city this large and five hundred years in the future probably had one. They were spreading in Europe when I apparently left. She was kind enough to oblige me
“Thank you again, you have been most charitable.” I said bowing courtly, offering her my hand. She hesitantly took it, and I lifted it up and kissed it chastely. She blushed.
I managed to follow her directions, figuring out that the streets were laid out on a grid, with the numbers corresponding to the position of a building on the grid. This made finding my way relatively easy. When I entered the library, I was staggered by the sheer number of books,. There had to be hundreds of thousands of volumes, more than I could conceive. In my time the printing press had only recently been invented, and most books were still hand copied and very expensive. Thankfully, there was a well-marked reference section, which contained maps inside books appropriately enough called Atlases, including an atlas of the Cosmos. This, I opened first, noting immediately that Ptolemy had been wrong. That the earth was spherical was nothing new however.
“Questo per quanto riguarda quelle sfere di cristallo” I muttered to myself, filing the information away, and moving to a world atlas.
Once again, I was taken aback. There were several new continents, and the American continent was much larger than I had known. The city I was in, New York, appeared on the north eastern coastline. I also noticed that all of the kingdoms, fiefdoms and city states had united into small empires. I was apparently in a place called The United States of America, which spanned half a continent, and was broken up into smaller (but still massive) dukedoms. Well, I later learned that they were hierarchical republics, but I was only looking at the maps, and had nothing else to compare something like this with.
I could spend my entire life and still not assimilate all of the knowledge contained in just this library, and there was probably more than one, just in this city. There were more titles in this library than had existed in all of Europe at the time of my birth. To me, this was both terrifying and glorious. My family had succeeded in revitalizing the world, certainly not alone, but I could only conclude, that what Giovanni and Cosimo had started had been completed. We succeeded in bringing the classical pursuit of knowledge back from its decline after the fall of Rome. I must confess, my heart swelled with pride. Still, in order to function, I had years of reading to do, and before I could do that, I required a livelihood, and a place to live.
I will spare the reader the unpleasant details of being homeless in New York. In effect, I lived under a bridge in central park, bathing and doing my laundry in a pond for some four months as I taught myself the basic history, geography, and governmental functions I would need to establish myself. This was done though judicious use of bribes. I found out that were I to go to a proper money-changer, the gold florins I had with me were not worth much. However, government clerks did not know that, and the sparkle of a freshly minted gold coin was generally sufficient to reach an understanding. If they ever discovered the relatively paltry value of the coins, they would not press the matter, as they would both be prosecuted, and humiliated. Using this method, I was able to in effect forge a complete identity for myself, sufficient to take something called a “Graduation Equivalency Diploma” examination, and achieve the credentials necessary to enter University, and basic employment.
I must confess, I was somewhat disappointed by the exam, my English skills by that point were sufficient, as was my knowledge of mathematics. History and the sciences were the only things I needed to study for, and that was only cursory. When someone who’s childhood was five centuries ago can take an examination by studying for a few months in a public library and achieve the level of knowledge expected of someone with thirteen years of education, there is a problem.
By the time I had been in the New World for eight years, I had managed to earn a doctoral degree in—amusingly enough—Medieval and Renaissance Studies. I was simply powerless to resist the irony in it, and having been there does present advantages. For my dissertation, I was very tempted to cite my own personal observations, but could not do so for the obvious reasons. For other undergraduate requirements I focused my studies on modern history, philosophy, and mathematics. These were never enough to fulfill any other degree requirements, but enough to give me a good familiarity those areas, particularly modern socio-political history.
I shall spare the reader the details of those years as well, as much of it was the tedium of studying and living in a dormitory or small apartment. For me, given how much about the modern world I had to study while also writing about the area I was best suited to being an expert, it was not unlike living as a monk inside of a whore house. I will leave you with that thought to ponder before getting to the real point of these memoirs.
I took an adjunct position at New York University, where I taught classes on medieval and renaissance warfare. I also re-engaged myself with the supernatural community, which is where our little story really begins.
The truth of the matter was, I did not know if supernatural beings had survived the inquisition. Or rather, inquisitions. The inquisition was not just one thing. First, there were the medieval inquisitions, which were smaller more decentralized affairs. The Spanish inquisition began in 1478 and is the most well known, the Portuguese and Roman inquisitions started in the sixteenth century. Their primary goal was to stamp out heresy and witchcraft, as well as crypto-judiasm and crypto-islamicism. However that was the public face. They also went about the destruction of all “supernatural evils”, which generally included everything that was not strictly human. More than sorcerers exist, you see. Fey creatures, merfolk, selkies, dragons, griffins elves, vampires, werewolves; they all do in fact exist, and the Dominican order was tasked with bringing them all to heel. Officially, the inquisitions ended in the nineteenth century. At this point, because I was merely trying to catch up and earn a living, I did not know how successful they had been, they were certainly effective when I was alive. The protection of the pope is what kept me from being hunted down, subdued by Dominicans and burned alive, others were not as lucky.
Prior to the thirteenth century, these creatures, as well as sorcerers were a fact of life for the common people, by the time I was born, people in cities might not believe in them. Part of that was reduced numbers, part of that was a change in their survival strategies. Many a vampire lived as a minor noble or merchant prince in Italy, they were just difficult to find. Vlad Tepes was one of the few in recent memory to openly rule over his lands as a vampire. He may have “died” in 1476, but he managed to hold one of his castles, even in death, until he was finally re-killed by Harker and the sorcerer Van Helsing in 1888. Or so I gather.
The problem is that vampires can never be fully eradicated. There were three ways to become one. The first was to be drained to near-death and then fed the blood of a vampire, the second was to be cursed either by spell, or by your own horrific actions to vampirism. You were also doomed if you were the seventh son of a seventh son. There is always someone slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people, or families who have many children, so there will always be a few powerful first generation vampires who are resistant to the usual methods of destroying them. They tend to multiply in cycles, where the number rises until someone with the power and knowledge to do something notices, then that lineage gets wiped out, only to have another lineage spawn somewhere else, or the old vampire who survived a previous purge recovers. I do not want to bog you down with an exhaustive list, I will mention more as it becomes pertinent, but I thought that would help illustrate the problem.
I was watching the local news after I finished an morning of grading, and the anchor, one Sylvia Thompson began discussing a wave of disappearances: six teenage girls, all red-heads, all taken on their way home from catholic high schools. This peaked my interest. Catholic schoolgirls with red hair, that was specific even for a serial killer. There was only one thing that could be otherwise. Demon summoning. I realize that statement may come off as overly forward, as if I have some sort of strange a priori knowledge, but it does make a logical sense.
Souls and favors are the currency of demons. They trade favors in exchange for souls, favors for favors, but of course never souls for souls, unless one demon wants a particular soul for something. All other things being equal, the rarer the soul, the more it is worth. Red-headed catholic schoolgirls were a dime a dozen, given the number of Irish, however if they were virgins, the value of a soul increases. The stupid summoners bargained with their own soul, while the intelligent ones had read one of the various incarnations of Faust, and bargained with the souls of others. Usually the foolish ones end up destroying themselves. The astute ones can wreak untold havoc. This of course assumed that I was not dealing with a serial killer with unusually particular tastes. Either way the prospect of a demon rampaging through a city this size, or a sorcerer bargaining for power with six rare souls was not a prospect I was overly pleased with. As in all things, there were other uses for souls, but this was the most likely.
I had a nice little villa built just outside the city on a decently sized plot of land. Brick walls, a nice tile roof. The kitchen, bedroom, libraries, and study were along the outside while the primary living area was an atrium just inside the gate. I had everything decorated with busts, base relief, tapestries and frescos. It felt like home, and as I got up off my chair and walked across the atrium I pulled one of the torches set into the wall, yes, I use torches and candles for lighting. The torch was a lever that activated the mechanism of the secret door leading down to my basement, a basement not on the official plans filed with the city. Again, bribery is my most valued friend.
I descended into the darkness, waving my hand and lighting the torches, illuminating the nightmare that was my basement. It consisted of a complex the size of the rest of my home. In the center was the laboratory. Shelves of strange ingredients lined the walls. Cages with newts, toads, ravens, rats and other creatures used in the construction of spells and potions were on one wall. Another wall contained some of the more exotic materials like uranium, congealed sunlight, congealed scents or concepts. The other contained herbs and other plant components. The fourth of course, contained gems and precious metals. The center contained my work table, and on the north wall was a pentagram bound in a circle carved into the floor and inlaid with silver.
This was not the room I needed. I needed the armory. That was the east room. The west room was the torture room. You never know when you might need one. I had a rack, thumb screws, a wheel, chains to hang people with, scourges. It was all very barbaric, but thus far I had never had occasion to use it, but, it gave me a certain peace of mind to know I had it. The armory had racks of polearms, stands for various sorts of armor, and a table with swords, maces, crossbows, axes and hammers. It was all very retro-grade.
I put my chin in my hand, rubbing it contemplatively and glowered at my weapons. I needed something I could hide, it would do me no good wandering around New York in a full harness trying to get information from grieving families with a police presence. I would only end up in lockup with some very uncomfortable questions to answer.
I strode over to one of the armor racks, and pulled off a gambeson, slipping my arms through the sleeves and then trying the front. Then I pulled a long coat off a rack and slipped it on. It was made of leather and had small metal plates riveted to the back. A brigadine duster would have to do, especially with the spells I had engraved in the plates. While not as strong as my plate armors, it should stop bullets, shrapnel and ward off some of the weaker attack spells. A slung a belt around my waste under the coat. It had a variety of loops and slings that would allow it to carry various weapons. I slipped my old long dagger into a loop on the right hand side, and a warhammer into the loop on the left, and made sure that the pouch containing chalk and a few other simple implements were in place. Then I opened a file cabinet, and searched through the neatly organized folders. I found the file I wanted and opened it, pulling out a wallet and checked to make sure they were the ones I wanted: a forged set of detective’s credentials. Badge, identification, they would not hold up to scrutiny by the police, no amount of bribery would get one’s name into the computer system and payroll, but it would be enough to fool a civilian. One of the other benefits of being a sorcerer is that given the raw materials, blank ID card, a lump of the raw material for the badge, I could make some convincing copies. I put the wallet into a pocket of the long coat.
There were several pieces of information I would need. Whether the girls were virgins, how he the summoner knew, and how he took them. That would help me determine who he was. The problem with using someone else’s soul in a summoning is that there had to be an element of free choice involved. The soul was in the keeping of its owner, you could not make bargains with others unless they chose to consign their souls. Of course, this could be done indirectly. Being responsible for your actions means even the consequences you cannot see, and even unintended consequences can doom the soul. The choice to go with the summoner could be sufficient under the right conditions, such as breaking a sworn oath, or with the intent to murder the summoner. In any case, the choice must be free, no compulsion, magical or otherwise could be used. So, you could not actually kidnap them by force, but you could trick them.
I climbed the stairs into my atrium, and approached a large mirror. I had figured out how to drive, I had a car, but driving around in New York was a somewhat trying endeavor, so I did not do it often. Instead, I used mirrors. If a mirror was large enough for you to step through, and you knew where another mirror of appropriate size was, you could use them as portals to travel long distances. This was easier said than done in the sixteenth century because mirrors were expensive and usually small. Now though, large mirrors were everywhere and I had made it a point in my first year to find appropriate mirrors in strategic locations throughout the city.
I muttered a few words in latin, thought of a mirror in an office building near the school where the most recent girl, Jennifer Lewis, had been a student, and stepped though the mirror. I waited inside the mirror on the receiving end, looking out and waiting to make sure no one was in the bathroom, then I stepped out, standing on the countertop of a row of sinks, the ceiling just a few inches above my head, and hopped down.
I exited the office building with only a few odd looks. I was after all a person exiting a building that no one had seen enter. I walked the few blocks to the school. New York was a very interesting place. It was an old city as far as they went in the United States, so the architecture was an interesting fusion of new and old, especially the older catholic churches, built in the style of gothic cathedrals. This school had a set of wrought iron gates with a ten-foot stone wall, a pleasant grass courtyard with a series out outbuildings lining the courtyard. The church was in the rear of the courtyard, built in the style of one of the smaller basilicas that were common in every town in Europe when I was a child. It even had gargoyles.
A plaque on the gate indicated that it was run by Franciscans, so conservative but not insane. The Dominicans had shifted roles somewhat in five hundred years, at least their public face was kinder and gentler than they had once been, but one never knew. I would much rather deal with Franciscans. As I walked around, looking for the offices, I saw kids in the usual catholic school uniforms, and noticed immediately that all the teachers were nuns or monks. They were all dressed as laymen, but it was the way the carried themselves. I found the main office, and strode in with the sort of confidence that told everyone that I had an absolute right to be there.
The headmaster was a nice looking man in middle age, wearing a simple black shirt with a clerical collar, shorts, and those foam “crock” shoes. I looked at his little plaque.
“Father Lucca?” I asked, showing my credentials.
“Yes?” he asked with the high baritone of a young man, even though he could not be a day under forty five.
“I am detective Medici, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to ask you a few questions about Jennifer’s disappearance.” My accent was not as thick as it used to be, but still detectable, and I had learned proper modern English, though I was still more comfortable with Latin or German. He looked at me with a sideways glance before responding.
“Of course, though the police have already questioned most of the instructors and her friends.”
“I know, but something has come up in the investigation, and we would like to confirm a few details that perhaps you might be able to answer.” Most of the teachers were not suspect, unless there was a coven of summoners, all of them catholic clergy, they would have difficulty getting students from six different schools. No, far easier for one person, going from school to school and finding targets, probably through some sort of sanctioned activity.
“Were there any unusual activities, something that you might bring an outsider in for? Bringing in the DUI van, career day, that sort of thing?” He shook his head and then started to answer no, then stopped thought for a second, and then did something on his computer, checking a calendar it looked like.
“Yes. We had an outside instructor in that day hired by the archdiocese to teach sex ed.”. I raised an eyebrow, and he explained.
“We teach abstinence only sex education, students take purity pledges, but we use a third party organization so that the student-teacher relationship is not strained by discussing personal material. “
“Do you have the contact information for the contractor?”
“Of course, here is his card” he said, digging a business card out of a rolodex and handing it to me.
“Thank you father.” I said, taking the card and exiting the room.
I did the same thing for the other five schools, and then took the information back to my villa.