Banish all the World Ch. 06byStultus©
I didn't have an ounce of energy to do anything other than float in wretched agony for a very long time. I was told that the water in Town Lake nearly boiled and that the steam and fog obscured the river afterwards for miles.
Some kindly firemen pulled me out of the river and wrapped me in a towel. It promptly caught on fire, so they put me back into the river to chill down for another hour. I had never wanted a Sandy's Frozen Custard so bad in my entire life before!
I spent the night in the hospital melting down ice packs until my proper internal temperature stabilized early the next morning. I didn't have a single physical injury other than being slightly toasted red all over, but I soon returned a normal fish belly white and pink once more a few days later.
My right bracer was now also gone, but in its place was a plasma burned branding everywhere the bracer had been, showing off every line and detail of the original Artifacts design. Much like a tattoo the intricate skin branding captured every single feature flawlessly perfect. Just under my skin, where the remaining three Arcane Stone had been I could feel three slight bumps under my skin. My guess was that the ancient Artifact once heated into plasma had merged into my skin, becoming a part of me. I decided that this would probably not be a good fact to mention to the BMA.
I felt totally burned out, figuratively and especially mentally for much of the next week. I couldn't even sense magic now, find let alone touch a Ley line. I was all used up, much like a burned out match, but I was too spiritually and physically tired to be sad.
Over five hundred people were dead, including two BMA magicians and two police officers. Someone had to be blamed… and I was a perfect fit for the scapegoat. The fix was in before I had even left the river.
I told my story to anyone who would listen, but BMA had already decided upon their set of 'facts' even before the fire was out. Sure, there might have been a 'bit' of a multi-dimensional leak, but 'fire crazy Zak Zyphyr' had to run in and play hero again and burned the place down to the very bedrock.
This was the story that was given up the line to Imperial BMA, and no one particularly cared to scratch below the surface to sort the facts out. A major Zoroastrian Fire Deity? A rapidly expanding uncontrolled vortex to a thousand worlds that would have devoured ours within days? Visitors feasting upon souls and changelings taking the places of mortals? Not a chance in seven hells did anyone want to believe this was even possible… especially it was true.
I could plead my innocence and the facts to the four winds, but no one was now listening. I learned real quick who my real friends were… and it was sadly a very short list. Anyone who even remotely considered my signed statement as 'fact' was politely encouraged to find something else better to occupy their time with.
It was just mere coincidence then that the restoration work on all of the other vintage Arc Deco theaters immediately and completely stopped for good and all of their original artifices and artifacts were completely torn out to the very bare walls. Protected registered historical landmarks or not, nearly every single old theater suddenly experienced arson, accidental terminal foundation problems, or had their roofs mysteriously cave in after minor rainstorms. It seems that someone was taking absolutely no chance of another El Marvelo incident.
They gave me the standard Magical Aptitude Test, which mostly consists of placing a specially crafted artifice, a round crystal ball into your hands to see how bright it glows according to your affinity for magic. Mine stayed dead dark. The other tests that followed confirmed a big fat new BMA score of zero. My magic was gone and I was now a 'normal'. At this point the BMA had virtually no interest in dealing with me any longer. My 'Internal Review' courts-martial before a panel of Wizard judges was now deemed unnecessary and cancelled. Now useless to them I was drummed out in record speed.
My Public License to practice magic was revoked and my BMA folder was stamped 'Retired' and sent off to some warehouse for long term storage. I was still placed on every governmental watch list imaginable. What they thought I'd burn down next, I'm not sure.
Money was going to be tight, but not impossible. I'd inherited my house from my favorite Aunt free and clear. There was a small annual trust fund that paid most of my normal living expenses and I had some savings, so I wasn't desperate to find another means of earning a living.
Mostly I was just too dead tired and sad to do much of anything expect mope about at home and sleep. I slept a lot… and thought about Harriet and what might have been.
I understood now exactly why she and her sister were utterly inseparable; her soul had split when her twin fetus separated from her in the womb. They had really been one person all along trapped in two separate bodies. Now they were reunited as one and roaming the multiverse… it wasn't quite a happy ending, but I eventually convinced myself that maybe a small tiny bit of good had resulted from the fiasco.
"Wake up!" I heard a small cheerful voice sing out into my ear early one morning about four months later.
I hadn't seen or heard a peep from him since the debacle inside the El Marvelo. I hadn't mentioned him in my statements to the BMA; just as well, they thought I was crazy enough as it was. Naturally, I assumed that this very odd visitor had gone off somewhere else to see and do something much more interesting than hang out with a burned out former minor magician very down on his luck. I soon learned otherwise… I was still 'interesting' apparently.
"Hurry up and get dressed and drink a cup of coffee, fast! You've got company coming! Another day, another new opportunity! Chop! Chop!"
The little guy, today about three feet tall, was wearing my best (and only) smoking jacket, now shrunk to fit his size and he was enjoying one of my better Cuban cigars along with a snifter of brandy.
"So, some building contractors need a building torched and want to contact the infamous Zak Pyro, arsonist for hire? Or maybe the Aggies want a consult for their next University Bonfire?"
"Laugh now, repent at leisure!" He brightly chirped. "Besides, this is going to be a good job. Snap out of it – your star is on the rise again!"
"Rising how? And what is it going to crash into once it rises? No one would hire me for any job – my powers are gone and my name is mud."
"My you're a pessimistic bugger early in the morning! I told you to go get some coffee… I swear you are quite impossible in the morning! And while you're at it, take a look at your Ley's, they're all a bit off this morning."
"Arise!" He commanded. "As a great poet once said, 'To banish, worry, doubt and fear; to again love and laugh and give!"
I hadn't been able to sense a Ley line since I walked into the El Marvelo, and frankly I'd stopped trying. Still to shut the little bugger up I closed my eyes and gave a good grunt or two to prove that I was concentrating… and found all three crossing Ley lines nearly at once. Just like old days… if not even easier!
"See!" The little rat bastard said, smirking at me. "You've had two women redecorating inside your head and then you channeled enough raw magical energy to flatten a small moon. Plus you had your Artifact graft itself into your arm for good measure. You flatlined your magical batteries and your body needed time to heal, adjust and adapt to the new and improved 'you'. Well… maybe improved, we'll see about that. You just needed rest and sleep and quiet. You've had all three and now you should be ready for a little bit of light exercise. It's a big world out there and there's a lot of shit that needs the attention of an infamous and talented pyromaniac!"
Magic! I could channel magic once again!
Oh, man…. was this going to really piss off the BMA! I'd be declared a Renegade for sure, at the very least. The only reason that I was still alive was that the BMA thought losing my magic was an even worse punishment than death!
"Walk before you run, young grasshopper! Besides there are absolutely no laws about 'retired' magicians working outside of the Republic or the Great Western Alliance for awhile, until certain 'misunderstandings' get resolved." He smirked with a sly grin.
That made complete sense. I got dressed in a flash just moments before a couple of nice Yankee gents in dark suits knocked on my door.
Like the Brownie said, it was a magic related job in the United States, to assist them with tracking down a major weapon smuggling ring similar to the one I had discovered here in Austin. They had heard about my success and politely asked the BMA if they could borrow my expertise. The BMA was only too happy to be rid of me and gave their blessing with no strings attached. That alone should have warned them, but apparently they were too desperate to care.
I could do this! The pay was good, the cause was just, and it was a way to get back into the game again! I accepted at once.
While packing, I asked the Brownie what had happened to his thick brogue and accent.
"Too much late night TV watching cooking shows and infomercials." He replied. Then he asked me if 'Magic Kaboom Putty' really could really be used to make lasting magical artifices fast and easy.
I had no idea, but told him that we'd soon find out!