The Secret Garden

Chapter Thirty Four: "Scourge"

Down the Rabbit Hole

Summer swells and passes. Fall from Grace prospers, winning repute on the club scene, sweltering with success. As the months pass, the Butterfly Effect cabal are not idle. Kailani hooks up with Jah Kingdom and studies the arts of Time and Mind with him, while going on a massive skunk binge. Aiden spends his time meditating on his past lives, deepening his understanding of Spirit. Alastair listens to the Wheel in a series of deep isolation sessions in his tank, further exploring the Entropy arts. And Felix spends his time working with his library, further refining his Quintessential web, and increasing his mastery of Prime.

Early in September, Alastair contacts Corduroy Jack for his promised pint. They meet at the Black Castle pub near the fish market. Jack is clearly interested who the mage they’re keeping at St Jude’s is. Alastair says he’s a mage who knows how to find a book that one of his friends is seeking. Alastair, in turn, asks for the dirt on Ludwig, and Jack spills the beans on Ludwig’s broken bonds with the Brythonic Lodge. He rounds this out by giving Alastair Ludwig’s mobile number. Alastair thanks him and pockets the number.

They down their pints and head to a nearby park, settling down on a bench. Jack leaves a pound coin on the footpath in front of them and tells Alastair to figure out whose life is the most changed by it. ‘If someone picks it up, or someone walks past and doesn’t pick it up, upon whose life will it have the most effect?’ he says, then leaves. He’ll be back in an hour…

Back at the club, Aiden welcomes Kay Weston from Time Out for a feature interview. The interview goes well enough (Kay noses around how much the club cost) until their tray of drinks flies across the room. As Aiden tries to calm Kay, he sees the wall behind her cake with frost. Just as she seems about to settle down, she feels someone touch her on the shoulder. This is more than enough for anyone’s nerves – Kay makes her excuses and leaves. Aiden mutters to the empty room ‘You haven’t heard the last of this.’

Felix is stroking his pussy at the Mobius Strip when he hears someone enter the shop. He finds a small boy who introduces himself as Babo and asks Felix to help him. Felix realises the boy is actually a magical effect of some kind. Babo asks Felix to find him, in return for which he will help the cabal find the Hapsburg Codex. Felix examines Babo’s Resonance and finds that it is connected to himself, the rest of the cabal, and the sleeping form of the Thebian at St. Jude’s. Babo departs and is apparently run over in the street in front of the bookstore. Felix rushes to his side, but there is no sign of the boy. The distraught driver swears there was a boy there a moment ago. Felix heads for the chantry, deep in thought.

Kailani sits atop Fall from Grace, chatting to Gothrak. They discuss how best to get Gothrak home to the Chalcedony Cathedral, to which Gothrak reacts as if he is being punished for his failings. Surely the Great One does not wish to banish him? Kailani insists it is only because he is an alien here and needs to return home. Gothrak promises to do whatever she thinks is best. She is the Great One, after all. Kailani makes it clear she can’t take up her role in the Cathedral until she learns how to heal others. They spot Alastair arriving home and wave from the rooftop.

Alastair watches the coin. A rich woman walking her dogs ignores it. A youth out with his mates pockets it. Alastair follows them, but they are doing little of interest besides smoking and drinking alcopops. Alastair sits on another bench to watch them. He is joined by a young woman with a baby in a stroller, checking her phone and crying. They talk. She is in a dilemma, having reported a crime but indirectly caused the death of someone in retaliation. She now wonders whether or not to report this killing. Alastair tells her that she has a greater responsibility – that of her child – and that staying alive is her prime task. Yes, there are things worth dying for. But not this. She makes her mind up and leaves.

Shortly thereafter, Jack returns and asks Alastair whose life was affected the most by the coin. Jack muses on the possibility that it could have been Alastair’s. Alastair is pretty sure the coin had the most effect on the woman, who neither picked it up nor ignored it, and whom Alastair was able to help because he ignored the coin except to let it lead him to the right place. He doesn’t contradict Jack too much though, because he is so intrigued by the whole game, and Jack’s motivations for it. They part. As Alastair heads back to the chantry, he sees Baedecker ahead of him in the street. He follows, but loses sight of Baedecker a couple of blocks from the Red House. Kailani and Gothrak wave as he walks up the street.

Inside, the cabal gathers to consider its options. Felix talks about Babo and says the boy is connected to the Thebian somehow, so they decide to pay a visit to St. Jude’s. En route they also decide to visit Solomon at the Observatory so they can check up on any developments with Rupert Soames. During the discussion, Aiden notices small spirits clustering around Kailani. Investigation reveals that they are barely-sentient music gafflings, drawn to her. They create a continual soundtrack on the other side of the Schism. He also reports the strange occurrences during Kay Weston’s visit. Alastair sends his senses across the Schism to survey the Spirit world in the surrounding area. He sees Killian’s wraith in the corner of the room. Killian glares at him and demands he stop looking. Alastair tells him to fuck off, and Killian sinks through the floor.

Kailani uses her Time arts to divine when she will next encounter the Chalcedony Cathedral. To her surprise, she learns that this will be in three months and also nine years ago in Egypt. From this she deduces that time travel to Egypt lies a few months in her future. The cabal ponder the significance of this as they head to the Observatory.

There, Solomon is preparing for the Surge, and is only too happy to explain its significance to the cabal. As for Soames, he states that the hapless journalist is still in an induced coma but that he found a small runestone embedded in Soames’ neck. The runestone uses static magic to make its bearer appear Awakened, but Solomon hasn’t had any time to look into it further. The mages examine the runestone, then inspect Soames himself (in magical sleep in an antechamber beneath an ensorcelled shroud).

Aiden examines Soames’ mind and discovers that he has a compulsion to phone a certain number after leaving the Observatory. Aiden notes the number and looks deeper. Soames’ memories of the implantation of the runestone have been removed, but Aiden is able to glimpse a blonde woman in a featureless grey room administering Mind arts to Soames. Aiden rises out of Soames’ mind and imparts his discoveries to his cabal-mates. They agree that whatever is going on here, it’s far too spooky to get involved with at the moment. They recommend to Solomon that he remove Soames’ memories of the Observatory, but keep him here under observation for now. Solomon agrees, far more concerned about the Surge than an unconscious Sleeper.

Shortly thereafter, the mages arrive at St. Jude’s, where the Thebian is still comatose. Babo appears again and they correctly divine that the child is an astral projection of the Thebian’s younger self. They narrow the Schism as much as they can, then Aiden joins the cabal together in a shared dream, from where they will be able to step into the Thebian’s dream in order to answer Babo’s call for help.

Aiden’s Arts engulf them, and they arrive in a strange representation of Fall from Grace. It is dark and dank, and graffiti lines the walls. “Murderer!”, “Killian knows!” and “The Codex will destroy who I am!” and similar inscriptions reveal that they are joined together in Aiden’s Oneiros – his personal dreamspace. From there they must find the conduit to the Thebian’s Oneiros. It lies, of course, in the astral version of the club’s toilets where they faced Killian’s wraith. There the broken mirror has been replaced by a jagged portal into darkness. The cabal summon their courage and plunge through.

They arrive in a strange maze dotted with unearthly black monoliths inscribed with silver runes. Alastair manages to decipher the runes, learning the name of the place: The Maze of the Ebon Gates. Moments later, a mass of grasping tentacles erupt through the hedges and attacks the cabal. Felix is able to decipher enough of the runes on another of the monoliths to activate a portal. Aiden and Felix race through and Alastair shoves Kailani ahead of himself, suffering the touch of the Maelefract for his troubles.

They emerge from the portal in a forest glade. A boulder grooved with lost scripts sits at it centre, and standing before the boulder is a startlingly beautiful man. He identifies himself as Adonaios, and asks if the Thebian found the Garden. Alastair replies: ‘Would we be here if he had been successful?’ Adonaios seems unmoved by his insolence, and asks if it was worth the search, but the cabal has no answer for this. Finally, the angel asks why the Thebian’s search was unsuccessful. ‘Because there is no Garden,’ Kailani says. Adonaios smiles at this reply and steps aside as a further portal flares into life atop the boulder. The cabal step through.

They appear on the banks of a great river at the heart of a verdant belt in a mighty desert. A dusty hut sits on its banks. Babo plays in the dirt outside and is overjoyed to see the cabal. He points to the hut. ‘I’m in there.’

The mages enter the hut to find the Thebian sitting in the gloom. He congratulates them on being able to understand and respond to his plea for help. He says that he needs their help. The Scourge has trapped him inside his own mind and he wants out. If the mages agree to free his consciousness from this nest of memories, he will help them in return. Aiden says the cabal will help and Felix asks where the Hapsburg Codex is. The Thebian says they’ve had a wasted journey as he gave the book away years ago. But if the cabal helps him, he will tell them how they can find it. They agree.

The Thebian tells them that he obtained the Codex by trading it for a diary. He then traded the Codex to the Ahl-i-Batin in return for learning the location of a Lilith Stone, so that he might enter the Garden. But the Batini lore was flawed – or a lie – and he found only Adonaios and death at the Lilith Stone. As for the Codex, he gave it to a Batini called Yusuf in Jerusalem. The cabal thank him – this advice is better than nothing – and ask what they need to do to help him. The Thebian replies that they must kill Babo.

The cabal are horrified. Alastair suggests that they just end the shared dream and leave the Thebian where he is. Only Kailani and Aiden possess sufficient Arts to destroy the spirit-projection, but Kailani flat-out refuses. The Thebian insists it doesn’t matter – Babo is only an astral construct. Aiden heads outside to kill Babo, but Felix follows him, arguing that Babo is actually part of the Thebian’s mind and therefore sapient. Aiden changes his mind, breaking their bargain, and ends the shared dream. The Thebian’s curses echo through the Astral Umbra after them.

Back at the Red House, Felix contacts Ibrahim and asks him about Yusuf. Ibrahim replies that Yusuf went into the Nephandic pits at Damascus, and has turned barabbus. The Codex wound up in a Batini library, but was subsequently stolen by a demon known only as the Angel of Tears.



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