22. Complications

Warlocks were one of the older forms of human magic. When there had been a little magic in the world, there had been a variety of methods to collect it and use it, though there was not an understanding of the task as it was undertaken. For most of human history, magic was unknown not because it was rare, but because people thought it was common. Every fungus-eating hedge-wizard who had ideas about not eating excrement was seen as magical, while real acts of magic were few and far between.

Refining the oil of magical energy when it was so rare was hard. Some students saved up magic through their whole lives, witches turning a year’s worth of magic into five minutes worth of transforming energy, and hiding most of the things they did behind a shroud of ritual, pretending that it was a magical potion, and not just a tincture of boiled willow bark that had dulled the pain. This manipulation, this distortion of the facts, in little slivers, had been the core of what made magic seem more common than it was.

The important thing was not the action, or the ritual. It was the pattern. A rite in the woods, a circle of a ritual, laid out, would not do anything – it took a mind, watching the pattern, and thinking the chant, and knowing all the little pieces that came together, with the pattern at their centre, to truly bring magic forth. That was what Witches did. They learned the pieces, they brought them together, and those pieces made the drop of magic sing.

*

None of which mattered to Barbara. She had other concerns on her mind. Before going to sleep, she’d made a queue of messages to her own phone. Normally, that sort of thing indicated lunacy, but this time, the phone had proven remarkably astute.

as far as I can see there really is no
reason that you should be afraid of
any of this.

“You’re a phone.”

I suppose that is true.

“Do you have a name…?”

I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

Barbara rolled her eyes, pushing white locks out of her face. It was very, very hard, sometimes, to feel like she was on an even footing with anything, and she had spent her whole life feeling very much like one of the lucky, rich, normal people. Getting strangely sassed by her phone was a clear sign she’d lost control of her life.

See if I have a name, I will no doubt be
considered a person, insofar as you are
capable of that.
That means you might become attached to me
and that will make me a liability during
moments of importance and danger.
What if I am captured?
I would be a hostage!
All just because I had a name.
If I have no name then I have no person
and I won’t provide any risk to you.

“You address yourself with ‘I.'”

Shit.

“Plus, you’re my phone. I saw you first talking. Erm. Texting. Hang on, am I paying for this?” she said, talking aloud to the phone.

I don’t think so.

Barbara shook her head and sighed, planting the phone against her temple. “I’m going to call you Aikon. If anyone has a problem with that, I’ll… set them on fire or something. Or turn their bones into glue.” Another pause. “I can do that, right?”

I don’t think you can do the glue
thing.
I also don’t know why I know all this.
I just seem very explainy – and very
loyal.
Maybe you just needed a friend who you
could identify with-
so you made me!

“You think I made you?”

It seems a Warlocky thing to do.

“Why do you call me a Warlock?”

Because it’s what your father’s oaths
call you.
In Old German – Waer Loga!

“That’s just some old mumbled nonsense.”

Most things are, to the right people.
Context is everything.

“Alright, then.” Barbara said, standing up and walking towards the bed. “I’m going to call you Aikon, because it’s Nokia backwards. You are going to keep your head down and try to not bother me when I’m in class, and we’re going to keep adventures and weird stuff to an absolute minimum, okay?”

Adventures?
But Adventures are cool!

“Oh god help me.” Barbara muttered, throwing herself down in a slouch onto the mattress, dropping the phone into the drawer next to her. No need to charge it, after all. Those Nokias lasted forever.

*

Morning had come, and with it a family meeting. Dad had mentioned something about danger in the community around them. Something about having to stop going to school, in the name of keeping protected from other kids who may have… powers. It seemed hollow to Barbara at the time. She knew the real danger in her school wasn’t someone with powers coming and doing something stupid, it was her doing something stupid and someone noticing it. What’s more, she had no intention of doing any such thing – because stupid things drew attention, and Barbara knew the kind of attention she liked.

Still, it had all come down to two questions.

“Are you sure?” She’d asked.

“Do you trust me?” Dad had responded. Mom had reached across the table, and squeezed both her daughter and husband’s hands… and that had been that. Mom was off to work, and Barbara was stuck, at home, reading through her textbooks and wondering just what the point was of education in a world where somehow she could throw green fire.

*

To modern parlance, witches and warlocks are twinned ideas. Women become witches, and men become warlocks, in whatever fantasy novel universe they believe represents an older tongue. Truth to it, the word witch derives from the word wicca, which derives further from the Latin word victima – a sacrificial victim. Even then, there was an understanding that those students of magic, using the drop of energy spread across the deserts of cities, were trying the patience of their communities. One way or another, they would be blamed, they would be cast out.

Warlock, on the other hand, was much younger. Warlocks were never of the old ways. Warlocks did not watch the earliest green lightning crashing through channels of sand. Warlocks were so new that their name came from who they were – waer-loga, or oath-breakers.

A promise made is a promise remembered, and a debt owed can create quite the memory. With a deal made, a Warlock could make a man remember him, think of him, and create in his mind a pattern. A tiny capacitor, a tiny little battery, waiting to be tapped. One person, one debt, one promise. Two people, three debts, four promises, more and more until everyone owed the Warlock a little, everyone remembered the Warlock a little more. Oaths were the currency of the Warlock. Many thought the power the Warlock had derived from the debts. That owing a Warlock gave him a tiny piece of your soul, that you lost something of yourself in his spells. Not so – but still the rumour persisted. Memories laced with fear were the more potent, and the warlocks knew it. Those who were feared rather than loved were the strongest – and thus the technique became refined, and refined.

People called them oath-breakers, because they liked to imagine that the deals were broken by the Warlock. Even if they didn’t intend to pay them, though, people remembered the debts. The pattern remained, etched on a mind, and whispered to children, to siblings, to spouses. The Warlock was far more dangerous than any Witch; Witches sought to channel the power in themselves, drawn from around them. Warlocks drew their power from a pattern across a dozen minds, a hundred minds, a kingdom of minds.

What power could be drawn, then, by a pretty blonde girl, with a cellphone and the internet?

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