Do you know how they did it?

“Do you know how they did it? How The Masters won? No? I’ll tell you.

“They cheated.

“They couldn’t beat the dark, or at least that was the lesson they took from history. So they locked up all the magic. All of it. All sides. Light, dark, gray, didn’t matter. For six hundred years, from the fall of the Templars, whence they received the Great Eye, to the start of the war, they searched for and imprisoned every artifact. They sealed every portal they could find, cutting us off from friend and foe alike. Ancient treatises were taken and buried. New ones were forbidden, or else had to be written in approved codes and cyphers. Anyone who resisted, or even just refused—woodfolk and the old practitioners of wildcraft—were labeled witches and burned alive.

“This was their great enterprise, their solution to the problem of evil. This was the ‘peace’ the High Arcane bought with their power. And slowly but surely, bit by bit, over six centuries, magic went out of the world.

“Not all of it of course. They kept the good bits for themselves. Oh, I’m sure the theory was that they’d hold onto it just in case. But safety or greed, the end was the same. The only ones with any real power were themselves—and anyone they deemed worthy.

“Couldn’t have done it without the Eye, though. That’s how they found it all. As word got round, folks took to hiding things, of course. But the Eye sees all. A huge crystal it is—spiked and radiant—forged by the first robed priests for Naram-Sin of Akkad, the first god-emperor of civilization.

“Eventually, when things got desperate, the dark ones rebelled. They managed to find their holy book, the Necronomicon, lost since the fall of Babylon, and with it, they pursued a hundred-year war to destroy The Masters.

“Good people had to make a bad choice.

“It wasn’t until the middle of the last century that the seekers of the dark were finally defeated. And only at great cost. Their book was destroyed. And that was that. The end of the story. So everyone thought.

“Until . . . out of the jungle, out of nowhere, a man appeared—a man from a tribe spared the ravages of history, a man who could make magic. Not the repetition of some crusty old spell, mind you, but real magic. New magic.”

“Étranger . . .” I breathed.

“Here was a threat. A genuine threat. For the Eye cannot see what hasn’t been made.

“There was a battle, if you believe the rumors. All seven Masters versus the bald shaman of the forest. In the melee, the Eye of Akkad, the source of the High Arcane’s power, was cracked.” She smiled at first. But then her face turned angry. “Thirty years on, The Masters are no more. And the dark ones have returned. It seems they’ve won after all.”

“Is that why you’re doing this?”

She shrugged quickly. “Sure. If it makes you feel better. But I’ll say this . . . I’ve read the tea leaves. I’ve seen the entrails. There’s no dawn. Do you understand? The clock stops at midnight. Not even the great heretic himself can stop it. Not anymore.”

rough cut of dialogue illustrating how a scene starts in my head, taken from the revisions to the third course of my forthcoming occult mystery, FEAST OF SHADOWS.

art by Alexander Gorbunov


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