Spear of Destiny

0a - Prelude: Madeleine

Lessons Learned

This is a series of scenes during the apprenticeship of one of the player characters. Madeleine is – was – a French fascist journalist and Nazi sympathizer, until her assignments to fascist cults started leading her deeper and deeper towards ancient truths. Covering a Californian cult (secretly a Labrynth of the Guardians of the Veil), she Awakened. The young mage was assigned to a solitare Guardian, a Catholic friar named Brother Poverty.

Madeleine comes down the stairs into the great-room of the building she’s been sharing with Brother Poverty since her awakening. The space belongs to the Catholic church – her mentor, the friar, has been using it as a base of his operations in the city. He lives in a small monastic cell in the basement; Madeleine has chosen a much bigger and brighter room upstairs. No-one else calls this place home – which is handy for her to practice her newfound magical talents.

Brother Poverty is cooking breakfast on the old gas stove and glances over his shoulder as Madeleine enters. “Eggs?”

Madeleine shakes her head as she slumps into the nearest chair. “No thank you. I am still feeling an unsettled stomach due to the fate spells we were working at last night.”

She looks around to see if there’s a glass of water conveniently close by. Brother Poverty finishes preparing his breakfast and sits across the long table from his apprentice. He eats as she lays her head down on her arms. There is a medium sized wooden box on the table with three dials, like the lock on a briefcase or luggage, on the front.

The older mage glances over as he eats. “Since Fate has been bothering you, let’s continue working on Time. Are you ready? Sleep out of your eyes and a clear head?” he says over a mouthful of eggs.

She gives him a bedraggled look, like a puppy who just got kicked and is now being offered a treat. “If I must be then I will be.” Even with the pathetic look on her face, her tone is matter-of-fact.

Brother Poverty smiles. “Using the Arcana of Time, you can open this box. I will answer three questions to help you, but with the right question, you’ll need only one.” He points his fork at Madeleine, “And no, I won’t answer ‘What is the combination?’, so don’t even try.” The corners of his mouth crease as he smiles.

A light smile flickers across her face before she looks intently at the locks. “While I think, I will not say no to a glass of water if you offered.” She doesn’t look up at him, being a bit snarky this morning, but instead concentrates on the locks and starts toying with a number of questions related to time.

As he brings the glass of water, she looks up at him over her steepled fingers. “When…,” she pauses, to be precise and not waste a question, “…exactly…was this lock opened last?”

He smiles as he hands her the glass. “Very good. I opened this box last night, at precisely 9:16.”

Madeleine closes her eyes and attempts Postcognition. As she casts her mind back to 9:16pm the night before, in the lock’s past, her pupils flicker erratically under her eyelids, and she spreads her hands out on the table; an old habit of concentration she picked up from her father. She sees the friars hands working the dials of the lock – 3, 7, 1 – and the box pops open barely a smidgen before her postcognition stops.

2 successes for two turns – 6 seconds – at this level. Luckily Brother Poverty is both quick and timely :)

She reaches out to the lock and her eyes snap open, and she moves the dials to read 3, 7, and 1 respectively to open the box. The fine wooden box is full of neatly stacked dominoes.

“Excellent!” Brother Poverty says as he sits again across from his younger apprentice. “Many people see the Arcana of Time only for its augury of the future – but the past is often far more valuable.” He starts taking out the dominoes, turning them face down and mixing them up across the table. “A friend of mine – he loaned me this domino set – has been working to codify a rote for that spell. Are you much of a reader of fiction?”

Madeleine listens intently, steepling her hands again as she watches him mix up the dominos; his last question takes her off guard. “I think that maybe depends on the definition of fiction. The last fiction I read was Mein Kampf, but of course, at the time I did not view it as fiction.” A grimace crosses her face as she remembers the manifesto.

Brother Poverty doesn’t do more than glance at Madeleine as he continues to work the dominoes. “Mystery novels actually. This friend of mine – Eseteban, I will introduce you some day – loves the novels of a British writer, a woman by the name of Agatha Christie. Her detective, a countryman of yours, I think, named Poirot, always lectures the assembled characters on how the murder was carried out in some fancy nobleman’s parlor. Esteban is calling this rote ‘The Accusing Parlor’ – when he’s done he’s agreed to teach me, and I could teach it to you if you were interested.”

She smiles more widely at this. “Christie? Oui, yes I have read her work! I would love to learn the rote you are speaking on. When do you think he will have this prepared?” She watches him mixing the dominoes as he speaks.

Rote stolen from the Voice of Freedom AP on rpg.net. Thankfully Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels had been out for some time by 1933-34 when this takes place. Also, he’s not a Frenchie, he’s a Belgie!

“Soon, soon, I hope. I’ve been helping him, but you need to be Master of an Arcana to make a rote properly, and I am only an Adept of Time.” “Apologies to return to Fate magic, but perhaps this application will enlighten your mind rather than upsetting your stomach.” He finishes arranging the domino set face-down in a rectangle between them. "Find me the double-3, " he says as he setles on the bench and rests his head on a hand, elbow propped on the table.

She peers intently at the dominoes, feeling the tiniest lurch in her stomach anyway, but forcing it down for the time being – she reaches out with her mind to Read the Outmost Eddies and tries to sift the correct chance out of a random draw. A grin twitches at the corner of her mouth as she immediately draws the double-three and flips it face up on the table top. “This I think is not so difficult.”

The friar smiles again as his student succeeds. “Let’s continue to play with luck.” He moves the empty wooden box to the other end of the long table – nearly 15 feet away – and then comes back to sit across from Madeleine. He picks up a domino and twirls it between his fingers. “Grab a domino and toss it in the box; I will do the same – make sure you make it, and make sure I don’t.”

Madeleine smiles gamely at him as she drops a wink, casting Exceptional Luck on herself. Feeling a surge of good luck course through her, she decides to use it wisely on her casting of the Evil Eye on Brother Poverty, and throws in an extra dose of Willpower for good measure. Confident she has affected his aim, she looks down to the end of the table and gives her domino a light toss.

Brother Poverty feels the curse take effect, and tries to fling the ivory square accurately despite his apprentice’s best efforts.

The dominos clack together in the air as the mages toss them at the same time – and both fall to the table and slide to the base of the box. Brother Poverty laughs, “Even with a nudge of Fate, nothing is certain!”

He was on one die and she on four with a point of Willpower, but they both still biffed it.

The younger mage knits her brow, disappointment showing. “Yes, that is true.” She waves her hand in the air, as if waving away cigarette smoke. “Well, one day I will become much better at these things anyway. Mostly, I just wonder what it is I am to do when my training is complete. In what ways I can help.”

He smiles at her again. “In time, my dear, you will discover that for yourself.”

Several months later

Brother Poverty invites Madeleine to help him as he goes to deliver donations to the needy. He does this often – for a mage, he’s quite involved in the mortal world – but this is the first time he’s asked her to come along. They walk in the morning fog that is common in the City. “Talk to me as we walk, child. We’ve been discussing the history of the Awakened – Atlantis, the great Wizards War, the Fall, the Exarchs and their servants, the Seers of the Throne. Tell me Madeleine – what is The Lie?”

“The Lie is the period after the Abyss grew between the higher realms and the Fallen Realm, when mortals forgot their magical background and fell deeper into Sleep and became attached to the Abyss.” She walks next to him studiously, her hands clasped behind her, dressed in a smart black suit dress and a hat with a fascinator.

“Nearly,” he nods. “The Lie is that there is no magic, no touch of the Supernal – this is the Lie of the Exarchs, that their servants spread, so that none will challenge their rule over this Fallen World. It is good you know this. Many mages, especially those of the Silver Ladder and the Free Council, say that the world is a lie – but this is not true. The world was here before the Exarchs, and will be here after they are gone.”

She nods. “Yes, Brother Poverty. I understand.” She looks up, “It is important that we do not let our pride become excessive in our works.” Her confident tone, however, belies the swelling pride she has felt the last few weeks as her power has grown and she has made progress that has even appeared to surprise Brother Poverty.

“Indeed.” The pair round a corner and enter the rear of a church-yard, past a sign saying, ‘Church of Saint Philip the Apostle.’ Brother Poverty begins loading cans and other food supplies into a wooden handcart. “Madeleine, you know that I belong to an order called the Guardians of the Veil. What is the Veil that we guard?”

“The Veil between the Sleepers and the higher realms. You must protect those who do not know from those who would wield their powers without responsibility.” She begins to assist him in loading cans into the cart.

“All that and more. You might wonder why we would seem to uphold the Lie – why wouldn’t we want to show Sleepers the truth? But with every Paradox, the Abyss strengthens, and the Supernal is one step farther away.” He beings to pull the full cart along. “Be careful of vulgar magic, Madeleine – use it only when absolutely necessary, and abate Paradox in any way you can, even at the cost of your own body.”

She nods. “I understand fully. One wonders how, when our goal, all of us,” – she means in every order – “is to reach the Supernal, how so many can do things so harmful to that connection.”

“Not all share this view of the nature of the Abyss. I – many of the Guardians in fact – believe that one day, the Veil will fall, the Abyss will be destroyed, and we will no longer be required to act as the guardians of this world. To bring this about, a mage will Awaken, the Heiromage, who can perform vulgar magic in front of Sleepers with no paradox. This mage will bring an end to the Abyss and return the world to the way it was intended, before the hubris of the Atlanteans brought it down.” He glances down, and then sideways at his apprentice as he pulls. “A few of us…very few…like me believe that this mage has already been born. A man who worked miracles and promised the salvation of all…a man who did not die, but became an Archmaster. Someday, He will return…”

Blah blah blah beliefs and exposition. The friar has some interesting and odd ones at least…

Madeleine quirks an eyebrow at him as she walks next to him and listens. “And who do you believe this Heiromage is?”

He smiles again and taps the Crucifix that hangs on the wooden prayer beads around his neck.

The master and apprentice reach a collection of tents in a vacant lot. Madeleine has seen the pictures and stories in the newspapers of the great tent-cities, of Hooverville in New York. This is much smaller – but the dirty faces peering from the makeshift tents look no less desperate.

The other eyebrow quirks up to match. “You can’t possibly mean…”

“Yes. I believe that the Heiromage was born in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago, and will return some day to become the savior of all – a belief I don’t expect you to follow, my dear.” He begins handing packages and cans of food to grateful families.

She helps in this process and mostly keeps quiet as she digests this information, before some questions pop into her mind. “And the few who are like you? Where are they?”

“Scattered across the Christian world, very few of us, but we keep in touch.”

A middle-aged woman in a tattered dress runs up to the old man in the humble brown robe and the young woman in the fashionable suit. “Father! Father! I beg you, please, we need your help!”

“Brother, Brother Poverty,” he answers. “I am not an ordained priest, just a simple friar. Still, I will certainly offer any help I can give.”

“My son, John, he is posessed by a demon of Satan himself! He shakes and spits and foams – please, is there anything you can do?”

Brother Poverty nods, “Perhaps – I can try. Show me to him, quickly.”

The woman leads the pair through the tents. Madeleine follows, all thoughts of philosophy and belief brushed aside for the time being as she wonders what kind of problem they are about to face.

Inside a tent with walls of patched cloth and corrugated tin roofing, a man is restraining a young boy who is jerking, red-faced and eyes closed, on a blanket on the ground. The boy stops, and relaxes, seemingly asleep but still breathing hard.

“Please, stand back a ways – I will see what I can do. This,” he says, nodding to Madeleine, “is a fellow charitable volunteer, Madeleine – she will assist me.”

Madeleine feels him cast a silent spell on himself as he grasps the rosary beads (his magical tool). “Grim Sight,” he whispers. “A spell of the Death Arcana that allows me to see ghosts and spirits – of which I see neither. You can help as well; Interconnections, a simple spell of Fate that we usually use to detect Sympathy between things – the connections that allow us to cast magic at a distance through space or time – but it also can detect magical possession.”

She looks carefully at the boy, noting the area around him as she attempts to cast Interconnections.

Madeleine sees no indication of possession or mind control. She shakes her head at Brother Poverty. “I see nothing, no evidence.” She turns a concerned glance on the boy.

“I agree. Nothing supernatural is likely then,” he whispers. “We’ve been studying Life magic – here is a chance to use it. An Initiate of Life can detect diseases and illness.”

She nods and places a hand on the boy, attempting to cast Healer’s Trance. After 15 seconds or so, Madeleine feels a frenzied anger attack her brain as the Healer’s Trance continues.

It took her a while to get the 3 successes I decided was appropriate for this disease.

She whispers to the friar, “It’s rabies, nothing mystical.” She shakes her head and looks back at the boy.

“I am a Disciple of Life – I have the power to heal this boy’s disease. Without it, he will certainly die. Still, even a covert spell may call Paradox down from the Abyss when found improbable by Sleepers.” He glances at the family, standing apprehensively at the wall of the tent. ‘What should we tell them?" he asks. Madeleine recognizes the tone of voice – one she’s hear many times since her apprenticeship started; this is a test.

Perhaps a slight modification of the Paradox rules, but if modern folks will see healing magic not improbable with the use of medical tools or the like, the truly devout will not see an ‘exorcism’ as improbable. Madeleine’s player decides that the best lie is to not tell anything false, just fail to tell the whole truth…

Being the prideful youth she is, instead of consulting with him first, she turns to face the family as he remains bent over the boy. She addresses the boy’s mother in a soft voice, “Madame, this is a situation in which we have much expertise. If you will only give Brother Poverty a moment, he will be able to help your son. But I must ask you to please give him room to work and not to approach the boy, no matter what.” She looks meaningfully at the woman.

Manipulation + Subterfuge + specialty (Misdirection) – the target’s Composure, and not a single success.

The man – the boys father, she assumes – steps forward, clearly concerned. “I will not be told to stay away from my own son.”

She gives a meaningful look to Brother Poverty, clearly asking for assistance, even though she knows she shouldn’t have acted out of pride in the first place. Brother Poverty takes a deep breath and looks at the man.

“You may assist – hold his shoulders, but keep yourself away from his mouth at all costs.”

The friar pulls the rosary beads free of his robe with one hand and puts the other on the boy’s chest. He begins chanting – Latin, Madeleine recognizes, though she doesn’t understand enough to make sense of what he is saying; it seems to be what the man and woman were expecting though.

The younger mage feels the swell of magic as Brother Poverty forms a spell in his mind. She assists the friar in his attempt as he begins to cast, Bestowing Exceptional Luck on him and his efforts.

Tons of dice but not a single 9 or 10. Thankfully, three 8’s means that the disease is gone no problem.

The man and woman look as if they’re expecting something dramatic – light from heaven, or the emergence of a demon from their son. The friar simply smiles and stands up.

“The boy is safe now.”

The young boy’s color turns from an alternating red and pale to a more natural tone, and his labored breathing slows. As his eyes flutter open, his father sweeps him into his arms. Both adults are crying; the woman showers gratitude on Brother Poverty.

Madeleine steps back, abashed, mostly because she wasn’t able to coerce the parents in the first place, and waits for the friar to give the indication to leave. Brother Poverty’s cheeks turn slightly red as he silently listens. As the woman turns back to to her family, he makes the sign of the cross in their direction and walks back to the handcart.

“You asked some time ago about what your purpose would be after you complete your studies, how you could help. This may not be your calling, but this is how I help – I can only hope that you choose a cause as worthy.”

She smiles warmly to him as they walk back to the cart, and nods. “I shall consider it of course. I am still having a difficulty understanding everything. Obviously I will learn more over time, and I have become more comfortable already.” She smiles again. “I just need time with thinking.”

“To grow in wisdom over time is all we can ask of this life – and as Awakened, we have a chance at greater knowledge than any others. May we not waste this opportunity.”

The master and apprentice walk the empty cart back to the church as the mid-day sun burns through the fog, spreading warmth across their bodies and souls.

FIN

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TJP

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