Tucked behind West St. where all the students get wasted and vomit, is a small pub, another real ale pub, that seems to have been smuggled in from the countryside. It too is full of students, but more of the beardy, woolly jumper kind, in serious discussions about core course topics. They’re altogether more civilised in their drunkenness. I’d never been in The Red Deer before, because it’s the sort of pub that would ID me. I don’t know who the previous owners were, but it’s now owned by Alex Reeves.
Angela was dressed up and ready to join us, when Samuel stopped her. We’d been talking about what to do if and when Reeves showed up with his bodyguards. Samuel and Norman were going to stay with me for protection – Norman presumably for safety in numbers.
“It might not be safe.” Samuel explained to her.
She laughed. “No one can do anything anymore.”
“They can still hurt you.”
“It’s a public place.” Angela said. “The worst they can do is refuse to serve us. Unless you think it’s been converted into a demonic chamber, overnight. Like Changing Rooms.”
Samuel had no idea what Changing Rooms was, and was non the wiser after Norman described it.
“I was left behind yesterday.” Said Angela. “And now again today.”
Behind her was Chris, sat bent over, about to tie his shoelaces but waiting for the outcome, which left him holding his foot like a puppet. She wasn’t left behind alone yesterday: she spent the day with Chris.
At the pub, three became two. I recognised a few faces sat downstairs, by the fireplaces. They looked at me and then at Samuel, ignoring Norman, huddling together to discuss the significance. It struck me as odd that they always meet in pubs. Very few of the once-magicians are drinkers – I suppose they got their highs elsewhere – my father rarely drank. Some of them had sherry, others a glass of red wine, a lot of them had coffee or juice. It turns out the venue is more to do with convenience and economy than alcohol. Most villages had a public house and you don’t have to rent it to meet there, making it an ideal neutral ground. Turns out to be a traditional thing among magicians.
Norman was left downstairs, sat with a pint, to look at all the paintings on the wall by local artists. As non-magical, or rather never-magical, his presence was not acceptable to the select group. It’s a long, thin pub that reaches back far, but he got in close to the bar, so he could hear if the cry went up. Samuel was admitted, begrudgingly, as my guest, and we were all led upstairs to the function room.
Arthur Enright had set up a central table, like an office desk, at which he sat and gestured for everyone to take a seat. As well as a minute taker, Enright’s son was sat beside him, calming my fears about any ambush that Samuel’s paranoia had built. Twenty or so others, a mix of candlelighters and carvers, filled the small room. Alex Reeves, with all four of his guards, came up last – making it like a 5 o’clock bus in there: a lot of odour, not a lot of eye contact.
Enright stood and greeted us all:-
“What I hope to share with you today, is a vision, of what our future can be if we forget our past, and our quarrels. If we leave that as history, and get on with what needs to be done today.
“Already, since we last all met, there are divisions along the old lines, of propriety and the morals of ambition. That doesn’t matter anymore. The powers you had that created those divisions have gone. And look now at the people you’re with. Carvers and candlelighters. Look now at whom you trust and don’t trust, but think back to an hour ago, it was just you and your allies then. You don’t trust them as much when it’s just you in the room. You can’t. You can’t trust your closest friend as soon as there’s only the two of you. Because the old divisions were only ever the fear of losing the secrets that we’ve already lost. Secrets I’ve begun to rediscover.”
On the table lay a stone, carved but simple, about the size of a brick, worn smooth with age. Enright now lifted it with one hand. His son followed the stone’s trajectory with his eyes wide, like it was a shooting star.
“This small stone offers us hope. It has returned to me what I feared had gone forever. And although it was a last gasp, its power’s now exhausted, it is proof that anything is still possible.”
He described to us how it felt to draw out the last magic from the ancient stone, and the once-magicians around me nodded, reliving their own experiences. “Like the power of the universe reached through me.” The candlelighters and carvers alike smiled as if he’d told their favourite story.
“Why here?” Enright asked, on our behalf. “Because for the last week I’ve received a number of visitors to my house, and I could see the wariness in their eyes. It’s natural, of course. Not since before the age of wizards in their towers-” I thought that was an interesting distinction “-have any of us trespassed in comfort. So I want you all to consider this neutral ground. This is where we come to meet as equals. This is where we are all welcome. And this is where my vision of the future begins.”
Enright turned and went back to his seat. A chorus of hear-hears went up, although no one actually clapped. “Well said” was well said a few times behind me. Enright smiled, and looked to his son, taking in his admiration. You could see the love they had for each other in that moment, as he forgot everyone else in the room, and then it was back to business.
“What have we got?” Enright asked.
The first report back was from one of the carvers, and its potential was discussed by the group. In New York, there’s a magician who was half in and half out of the astral plane when Tuesday Midnight hit. When the bridge collapsed he went into a vegetative state, but he keeps making lucid statements, as if reporting back from the astral plane. It could be delusions, but it still shows signs of conscious thought. If the statements could be built into something coherent then they could offer a unique perspective. A party of three agreed to go to New York and investigate further. Alex Reeves is paying for the flights. There’s a contact in New York who they can stay with.
In Italy an entire family has disappeared. This happened a month after Tuesday Midnight. One of the candlelighters proposed investigating this. He said the church was bound to be involved.
“The church?” Enright asked.
“Well Perierga. But we know who they are.”
I could see Samuel tensing up beside me. Again, flights and this time accommodation were to be paid for by Reeves.
Another candlelighter gave a third report, which was more of a rumour. In Scotland, something was supposed to be buried – something that couldn’t be killed, so they buried it and sealed the tomb. When the spell on the seal broke it would have been released, but could it survive Tuesday Midnight itself? It was a magical creature – it should have died, or it might now be mortal. Accommodation and supplies were agreed for an investigation.
When the meeting was over, all of those gathered mingled together and compared notes on the proposals. Only Reeves remained aloof from the crowd, his bouncers stepping in front of any efforts to ask him or thank him. Enright was finalising details, so I left Samuel to boil internally and went to speak with Arthur junior.
“You weren’t bored?” I asked him.
“I need to learn as much as I can about my father’s work.” He said, and in truth he probably followed the finer detail better than I did. As we talked, I held the iron pyrite Challoner gave me up to the castle stone, hiding it my hand. There was no glow in the golden veins at all, so he wasn’t lying – the stone is spent.
“And your mother doesn’t mind you hearing all this? It can be a little…” I tried to think of another word for morbid, and then realised I didn’t need to.
“My mother is no longer with us.” He sounded bored with the question. “But I don’t see why you think she’d object. Children are taught about the crucifixion in Sunday school.”
I took his word for that. I don’t know if I upset him, but he called his father over. Enright shook my hand and said he was sure I must be wondering why I’d been invited. I wasn’t, until then.
“What I was saying about division applies to you too.” Enright said. “I don’t want you to feel excluded. And you shouldn’t feel you can only choose your friends from the people who turn up on your doorstep.” He looked across at Samuel. “What do you suppose he wants? A man who hunted demons, with the son of the world’s foremost demonologist.”
“My father was-”
“Among other things.” Enright smiled. “I’m not here to choose your friends. Just check they are friends.”
Enright quickly changed the subject to what I thought of the proposals. I didn’t have any grounds for an opinion. But was I excited at the prospect? He moved on before I could answer him. If Challoner was right about it being Enright that coveted my father’s books then he was doing a poor job of getting close to them. Without another word to me, he’d scooped up his stone and was leading his son by the hand, down the stairs. Reeves had already gone, Samuel too I realised, and the rest of the guests were shuffling after.
Suddenly Enright was behind me, from out of the empty room.
“Oh I almost forgot, your magical theorist, David Challoner? Could he not make it today?”
I jumped my hips up into my ribs. “No, I’m not sure where he is.”
“That’s a shame. We could use his expertise, especially in New York. A lot of us know how to use magic, but not all of us know where to find it.” He wiggled the castle stone at me as proof. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, you just startled me, appearing out of nowhere. I’m not used to seeing that.”
“Did I?” Enright looked at the stairs and back to where he’d materialised. “Do you know, I didn’t notice. I just thought how I needed to ask you a question, and then. Good. I’m getting stronger, good. Do you see? If it didn’t last then what hope is there?”
Norman brought me home. He didn’t know whether to follow Samuel or wait for me. Samuel still hasn’t come back.