Shadow and Brightmoor (Part Two)

It was dark, and many of the streetlights were burnt out. That was just one of many basic services that Brightmoor had to learn to live without. The people in the part of the neighborhood that called itself the Farmway typically pestered the city enough to get them replaced in a reasonable timeframe, but out here the streets were poorly lit after night fell. On the other hand, even in the dark the cheery sounds of small farm animals, chickens and the occasional goat, could be heard bringing a little cheer to the night. Technically that was against some city ordinances, but with the loosened city presence had come a sort of tacit permission to ignore some city zoning laws, as well.

On his pass through the block earlier that afternoon, Marcus had taken note of the six houses that he guessed belonged to the man Xayvion called “old Freddie”. From the sound of things, Freddie was one of the people who had come to, or lived in, Detroit when the economy tanked and still had enough resources to grab up suddenly cheap real estate. Most of them had done creative things with it. The Farmway got it’s name because there was a lot of urban farming going on there. It wasn’t making a whole lot of money yet, but the people living there were in no danger of starving. More than a few people bought or “borrowed” abandoned lots for farm space. From the looks of things, Freddie had been one of the people who had caught the vision.

Poking around the property that afternoon he’d found a small pile of rotting lumber and signs that someone had started building a raised bed behind the house at one end of street. A look inside the house had shown that most of the furnishings and doors had been pulled out, either by the property owner or by scrappers it was impossible to tell.

He’s also seen signs that bothered him, and gotten the feeling he was being watched, which confirmed the suspicions he’d had when Xayvion had described Freddie’s behavior. That was what had taken him out to see Lord Caledonensis. And that was what led him to attempt something profoundly unwise that evening.

The string of houses Marcus had identified as of interest were a mess. Not just in the literal sense of being run down and partly overgrown with weeds, although they were that, too. But on top of that they were a tangled mess of criss-crossed, misaligned threads that tangled up the greater Weave around them. Half the street was quivering with the tension the threads were creating. Marcus ran a finger across one particularly bad tangle of threads as he approached the house at the center of the snarl. Untangling the mess was the kind of thing that could take days for a skilled weaver, or months if he allowed it to unravel naturally. In the mean time, it could cause all kinds of problems. And that was assuming no one was actively making it worse.

Marcus pulled out his phone and made a quick call, then slapped his thighs lightly and let himself in the house, carefully reaching back and drawing his sword. It was a three foot long, broad bladed weapon forged out of silver and cold iron that was itself a knot of carefully woven magic that represented the great Weave and the Pattern it tried to follow. It was the only weaver related thing he had taken with him when he left Fort Wayne and he was glad to have it with him now. He made a mental promise to himself that he would stop using it against thugs and scrappers. Not only did it get the neighbors upset with him, not only was it a disgrace to the purposes that the sword embodied, it drastically raised the odds he could get arrested or see it confiscated. And then he’d be up a creek for real, especially if he intended to do something this harebrained again.

The inside of Freddie’s house was littered with the corpses of the kind of small rodents you saw a lot in urban and suburban areas. Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, even a raccoon or two. They all looked like they had been caught and strangled. Where they weren’t rotting it looked they had been gutted in a very messy way. Marcus suspected that knives hadn’t been involved so much as teeth. Foul smelling gunk caked the floor in the entrance hall and the rooms on either side. It didn’t really bear thinking about what it might be.

With sword in one hand and the other dipping in and out of his pocket, Marcus proceeded deeper into the tangle of out of place threads that ran towards the back of the house. He found himself wishing that he had come in through the back window or something. The whole back wall of the house turned out to be full of paraphernalia – the kinds of stuff popular culture had come to associate with magic and that still got used in a lot of the rituals many who tinkered with it performed.

If Marcus had any doubts that old Freddie had Invoked something before, they were gone as soon as the “magic” rubbish started popping up. The first piece he found was a large, wrought iron candlestick, a perennial favorite. It was at one point of a pentagram drawn in chalk on the floor. Marcus snorted. If Invoking didn’t drive the people who did it insane, the clichés involved would be almost funny.

With a few quick strokes of his sword he split the candlestick in half and carved a pair of parallel lines through the pentagram, the blade effortlessly severing both the objects and breaking the mess of tangled threads that had been anchored to them. The Weave convulsed slightly as the anchors that were holding the snarled threads in place disappeared and the Weave began to repair itself.

There was enough paraphernalia in the house to make Marcus think that it might have been as long as a year since Freddie Invoked whatever nonsense was now stuck in his head. He went through two rooms with at least a dozen items each, before he felt the impact. Something was trying to go out the back door.

He glanced back, intending to send one of the other Templars to check it out. But he was alone on this run, really he’d been alone since he left home. There was nothing to do but fish a pair of quarters out of his pocket and follow it up himself.

He found a dirty, unkempt man still trying to force his hand through the back door to pick up the small, silvery disk sitting on the step. “You must be Freddie,” Marcus said. “Or should I call you Fredrick?”

Freddie spun around, a snarl crossing his face. “Who are you?” He snapped. “This is private property.”

“No use playing dumb, Freddie Ruin,” Marcus said, holding up the quarters in his off hand and twirling them so the other man could see that they were just like those on the step, with George Washington’s head visible on both sides. “These doors are mine. One way or another, you’re not leaving this room until I’m done with you.”

Something intangible changed about the man and he suddenly seemed less human and more alien. He jerked to his feet as if pulled up by puppet strings, banging one shoulder on the doorframe in the process but giving no signs of actually feeling the impact. “So you’re supposed to be a Janus of some kind?” Freddie slammed his fist into the wall and the whole building shook slightly. “That name is ours!”

Marcus grinned. “Sorry, but your kind have misused it, just like you misuse pretty much anything you set your hand to. And once you mistreat something you forfeit any right to claim it – that makes it mine now.”

He let the two quarters fall to the ground and, instead of bouncing the stuck fast there, completing a web of threads that wouldn’t let anyone pass through the door until he removed them. Then he took the hilt of his broadsword in both hands and waded in.

Practically since the Round Table was organized, back in the misty days of yore, one of the responsibilities of those weavers who were trained in arms was to find and do battle with people who had Invoked sinister creatures. The records called them different things and mentioned various abilities, but they all agreed that no two were alike and, whatever they might be, they took over the mind and body of whoever had called on them and drove them mad.

Even if Freddie hadn’t recognized the two-headed symbol for the Greek god of doors, or left his home scattered with the usual dead animals and asorted paraphrenalia, the dense knot of distorted reality that was tied to him would have tipped Marcus to the fact that he had Invoked something. Time and space weren’t functioning in quite the normal way around old Fred, and that meant pretty much anything was possible.

But still, Freddie grabbing the wall and flinging himself up to the ceiling, which he dangled from using nothing but his fingertips, was way outside Marcus’ normal experience. He barely had time to turn to the side for a decent shoulder block before Freddie’s swinging feet caught him and sent him staggering back to the door.

Freddie dropped to the ground, ripping the ceiling joist he’d been clinging too down along with him. It made for a classic board-and-nail bludgeon and he came after Marcus swinging. The most prudent thing to do was step back through the door and let Freddie slam to a stop when he tried to cross the threshold.

This time it wasn’t a casual step or an exploratory poke, Freddie was out for blood and he slammed into Marcus’ weaving with all the weight of the Invoked presence riding his back. When he hit the threshold the entire doorframe seemed to flex and the pair of quarters that anchored the ward to the door actually skipped back an inch or two. Marcus ignored that and swung his sword in a diagonal cut, sheering through the joist Freddie held, leaving hims with about six inchest of board in one hand, and a good part of the door frame as well. Then he flipped his blade so the silver edge faced out and pressed the attack.

Whatever it was in the old man’s body, and by the dim light of the back windows Marcus could see that “old Freddie” was at least in his late fifties, thus truly ancient by Brightmoor standards, knew better than to let that sword too close to it. So it took the two by four end and flung it at Marcus and backedpedaled. Marcus followed at a brisk walk, point of his sword aimed down and across his body. They came to a stop when Freddie ran out of room to back up through.

With a sudden twist of the hips, Freddie dove low and to Marcus’ left, taking advantage of the fact that Marcus’ current stance made it hard to connect with anything other than a jab. Whatever was in Freddie knew that he would try not to hurt Freddie if at all possible and that meant cutting with the silver edge of the blade and nothing else, certainly no stabbing.

Marcus hissed and kicked his foot out to try and stomp the old man to the ground, but Freddie suddenly planted a hand and skidded to a stop, grabbed Marcus’ leg and tossed him onto his backside. Freddie reared up over him, his hands clasped together to make an all natural club that nearly smashed his head in. Marcus managed to roll out of the way just in time and Freddie left a small dent in the floor instead. The sound of breaking bone followed, but like most Invokers he seemed immune to the pain.

That didn’t mean Marcus could relax, though. The old man might be empowered by a supernatural force but that didn’t mean he stopped being an old man. The shock from the broken bones could very well be shorting out his nervous system, all the activity was a strain on his heart that it might not be able to take, there were a dozen other problems healthy Invokers could run into, and Freddie didn’t look like he’d been healthy back when he first Invoked – he certainly wasn’t after months under the influence.

Under normal circumstances, Marcus reflected grimly, this would have been over already. As soon as an Invoker focused on one Knight he was generally toast, because the Knight’s friends would hack the Invoked power off it’s host before it quite understood the situation. Group tactics wasn’t something they seemed to grasp very well. Without backup, things would take longer.

Marcus kicked his legs up and scissored them around Freddie’s waist, then threw his weight to one side and rolled his opponent down to the ground. Freddie grunted and started to push himself back up but Marcus lost no time chopping his sword down onto the other man’s back. The silver half of the sword chopped into his shoulders and slid back out like a knife through butter.

Freddie convulsed as the silver edge cut the ties the Invoked presence maintained with it’s host, sending it spinning back into wherever it came from, and forcing it to spend long minutes or even hours pulling itself back along the anchor lines it had created in the various pieces of magic junk Freddie had been creating for the last who knows how long. Of course, Marcus didn’t plan on giving it that time. Just like the silver edge could cut through any kind of magic bond he’d encountered in his life, he’d never found anything the iron side couldn’t cut either.

It looked like most of the paraphernalia in the house was gone, he didn’t see that many stray threads left in the house and most of them tied back  to him, not Freddie. But every Invoker had at least one prime object, something that was a part of the original Invocation and that was the nexus of the anchor lines that kept the presumptive magician chained to the thing that rode him. Nine times out of ten, it was a book of some sort and Janus hadn’t found anything like that so far.

A quick check of old Fred himself didn’t reveal anything like that, so Marcus figured it must be in the room somewhere. As he looked around he spotted a dark, squarish lump sitting by the door where he’d first found Freddie. Of course that made sense, neither Freddie or his ride-along would want to leave that behind. Marcus took a step in the book’s direction only to stop short when Freddie’s hand grabbed him around the ankle.

He lacked the manic, supernatural strength he’d had a moment ago. This was the old man, not the supernatural malevolence he’d summoned. Marcus tried to pull free but Freddie was surprisingly determined. “Stop…” He coughed once. “This is… best shot. Not going…”

With a growl, Marcus knelt down and pried Fred’s hand off his ankle and shook his head. “You’ve caused enough mischief already, friend.”

Freddie made another frantic grab but with only one hand and the strength of a man in his late fifties to work with, Marcus was able to get out of his reach easily. Unlike most of the paraphernalia, the book had to be handled carefully. It took a few minutes to strip off most of the out of place threads and pull a little slack into them so there wouldn’t be a backlash when he destroyed their anchor point. That could lead to all sorts of problems.

Then he set fire to the pages and left it to burn itself out on the concrete back step of the house. Then he slung Freddie over one shoulder and carried him to the front door. His cargo made little noises as he bounced along but Marcus wasn’t feeling particularly charitable. It was true, Freddie’s Invocation hadn’t run loose and killed anyone, but the sheer negligence involved in doing such a thing certainly biased Marcus against the man. There were hundreds of cautionary legends about deals with otherworldly forces for a reason – it was almost always a bad idea.

On reaching the door Freddie panicked. It appeared that Marcus’ earlier diagnosis had been right. Destroying his environment, killing most small animals he found and now agoraphobia, all symptoms of what was commonly known as the “Ruin” type of Invocation. While Invoked powers didn’t have any pattern in what they could do, what the did to people did fit into broad categories. Other than his new found dread of open places Freddie would probably recover mentally. Physically, it was another story.

Marcus left him just inside the door and took a post on the front step where he could watch the street and Freddie at the same time. Other than the quiet sounds of Freddie Ruin muttering to himself it was a quiet night. Marcus smiled slightly to himself, wondering how he had managed to find himself doing this kind of thing again. He had left home thinking he wanted to get away from his work as a Templar. Apparently he was wrong.

On the other hand, Templars were dedicated to the defense and growth of a particular place. Maybe he just hadn’t been in the right place back in Fort Wayne. He’d originally planned to leave town after Freddie was taken care of. But winter was coming on and at least he had a place to stay here. In the doorway Freddie moaned softly, almost but not quite enough to cover the sound of ambulance sirens drawing closer, finally responding to the call he’d placed before heading into the house. “Relax, Fred,” Marcus said. “Nights’ almost over.”

Part One
Fiction Index

Author’s Note:

Shadow and Brightmoor is a work of fiction and, like most works of fiction, most of the people and places are a not real. But, while the most of the specifics I’ve mentioned in this story are not real, Brightmoor is an actual part of the city of Detroit and the Farmway is likewise an unofficial subset of the neighborhood where people are taking new and innovative steps to fight urban blight and experiment with new urban lifestyles.

The people there are fighting a real, difficult battle against forces just as oppressive, if not more so, as what Marcus faces in this story. If you wish to know more about Neighbors Building Brightmoor (the neighborhood association Marcus mentions in Part One) and the Farmway, there’s an excellent article about them here.