Nathaniel Verone is the last True Mage.
Once upon a time, Verone was just a somewhat average chaos magician who fancied themselves a occult expert. Now, with a mystery before him that must be solved, he finds his world ripped apart and a whole new level of reality revealed.
00:1: Death Day and the Space In-Between
“Indeed, I have found, that the universe is much stranger than anyone believes. Out in the depths of the many realities lie the truths of the Mythics, the ancient beings of power. Banished by the Accords, the birth of the last True Mage would mean their return.” – The Alice Tapes
Verone stood in the humid mid-day sun of Tennessee in the summer, tending to his vegetable garden.
It was idyllic and surreal. The birds sang a melody that wove with the hot breeze. The do-rag on his head absorbed his outpouring of sweat and work, keeping his forehead cool. Pulling the weeds from the ground was a therapeutic exercise. He wore faded blue jeans with patches and always went barefoot. He liked to feel the Earth under his toes.
He stopped his work, pulled off his gloves, and marched to the front porch. He grabbed the cold can of PBR in the ‘chaos coozy’ he got from his friend Johnny and turned it up.
The phone buzzed in his pocket.
He grabbed it and took a look at the number. It was an old one that he hadn’t expected to see again.
The single line text read, “I need you. See you soon.”
The marker had been called.
Verone looked to the west and saw the darkened sky. There was a storm on the horizon.
The field of wheat had grown tall as Anton stared out across it.
He leaned against his scythe, tall frame almost matching his height, and examined the field. He nodded, raised the scythe high, and came down in a sweeping motion.
A large swathe of the wheat was laid low as he stepped subtly forward, switching directions with the sharp blade. It sliced through the air, a silent killer, only a whisk and the sound of falling wheat to let anyone know that something had occurred.
Anton reaped his field. He continued until his hands bled. Continued still until his blood ran thick on the scythe and painted the fallen wheat red. The whisk-whisk of the scythe, mechanical like a metronome, played a murderous melody in the air.
“Minister McVeigh?” asked a voice behind him.
His work halted and Anton turned. A waif of a boy stood before him.
“Yes, little one,” said Anton, his voice melodious. “What may I do for you?”
The boy stared at the blood dripping from the man’s hands, shocked. “Papa said you had a message at the compound. Said you’d want to know. About a threat to the Order.”
“Ah,” said Anton. “I was wondering when this day would come. Lead on, my child.”
Anton followed the boy, slow strides, with the scythe matching his stride as a walking cane.
Death was being called upon to do work, thought Anton. There was no higher a calling.
It had been a long time since Verone had walked on the streets of Phoenix. The heat shimmered off the pavement, reaching up to greet him like the touch of the devil himself.
He’d landed at Phoenix International and grabbed a cab to the only lodging he would be caught dead in, the Starlite Motel. He’d received another text shortly after he arrived.
“Meet me at the hipster coffee shop. Two hours,” it read.
He unpacked, took a shower, and got dressed. A quick online jaunt scheduled his cab. He stepped outside, locking the door behind him.
“Gods dammit,” he said, putting a cigarette in his mouth and lighting it. He blew out a cloud of smoke. “It’s deadly hot in this fucking town.”
An old man, sitting outside his room in a chair with his cane in hand, laughed.
“Ain’t you heard, boy?” asked the old man. “Out here we live in hell and call it home.”
Verone smiled. “Sounds like I’m in the right place then.”
His cab pulled up and he got in.
Sierra sat on the porch of the old house, hating how long she had suffered her path, bringing her there. The House of Only was a blessing and a curse. The knowledge she had gained was impossible to place a price tag on but the price she had paid had been too much to ask.
But something was happening. She could feel it. Her guides were talking to her. Something was coming.
The wind picked up and she could hear a name.
“Verone,” it said to her, a whisper of warning.
She smiled. A new True Mage would arrive soon, as would the possibility of her escape.
East Valley, Phoenix
He walked into the coffee shop in the gentrified part of the city where the message had told him to go. He was an oddball here. Standing just under six foot, blonde mohawk, goatee, and pale skin, he was hard not to notice. His blue eyes pierced the crowd.
He saw his appointment for the day: Ivy.
His memory was on playback as he recalled the last few years of his life. Ivy had played a large part of that life until she had decided that they simply weren’t compatible. Verone had, he suspected, been too much of a disturbance in her life. She had moved on and so had he, back to his ancestral home in Tennessee.
“Hey there,” he said, as he sat down at the table.
She smiled, polite but not inviting. “Hey.”
He sat down and grabbed a menu.
“So,” he said, thumbing through the menu disinterested. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“You remember Alice?” she asked, clipped and to the point. “She was the one we met for dinner once. Hung out a few times with her. She made music, claimed to know some pretty important people, and we kinda wrote her off.”
Verone ordered a mocha latte from the waitress. He thought back on the various things they had done as a couple.
“Yeah, I remember Alice,” he said. “Talked about how she split her personalities across multiple dimensions. Some kinda trippy astral projection. I got the feeling she wasn’t really comfortable in her own skin. Seemed like a bit of a flake.”
“Alice isn’t a flake…she’s dead.”
The words rumbled at Verone and hit him like a bullet to the chest. He’d discussed spell work and business plans with Alice for a short time on social media. While he hadn’t known her well, it was still hard to fathom this person he remembered, who had been full of life, now dead to this world. She had traveled in many of the same circles as he did, a fellow mage, and they had made tentative plans to work a ritual together at some point.
“She died in her sleep,” Ivy continued as she sipped her coffee. “They think it was a drug imbalance. She’d been put on new meds.”
Verone’s eyebrows raised. “You don’t sound convinced. What do you think happened?”
Ivy stopped, her eyes distant, her mind searching for an answer.
“I’m not sure what happened,” she said. “I know she had plans, though. This was not a suicide.”
He recalled that Alice had been intuitive in so many areas, an adept technomage. Needless to say, this was strange. She had no reason to kill herself. It wasn’t a sacrifice she would have made without a good reason.
“What makes you think it wasn’t planned?”
She pulled out her phone, unlocked the screen, and handed it to him. There was a message on the screen…from Alice.
“I’m tired of humaning. I want to break the fifth wall again and speak with like twelve avatars simultaneously. It has happened before, but how do I get there 24/7? This game isn’t that fun anymore. I know it is training or w/e, but these PVP reality servers suck.”
“Some journalists from Turkey were interested in her,” said Ivy. “They sent her a message: Yâr olsaydı kalırdı. Yaraydı, geçti.”
He had absolutely no idea what it meant.
“Loosely translated,” she said, seeing his confusion. “It means ‘If it were alive, it would stay. It was, it passed.'”
He rolled the information in his brain. There was a good likelihood that this could all be rationally explained via an official investigation. Alice had been a friend but how involved did he really want to be? This was not his problem.
He handed the phone back. “Sounds like maybe she killed herself.”
Ivy slammed her cup on the table. “For fuck sake, Verone. When have you ever known me to be wrong about something like this?”
She was right, of course. Rarely had her intuition failed when it came to matters of life and death. She was a powerful magick worker in her own right.
“Okay, okay…I hear ya,” he said, hands up defensively, slowing his speech into his deep southern drawl. “Why are you telling me all this? I haven’t spoken to Alice in a whole minute.”
“You’re lucky. Gifted. Your talent has always been to find things,” said Ivy, with no attempt to hide her disgust with him. “Also, according to your website, you’re a professional ‘occultist’ now. Her sister told me that there are strange things happening. They won’t let them into her apartment. There’s a lockdown. They won’t even let them see the body. I’m asking you because you’ve never given a shit about the rules. You’ll find out what is going on.”
Verone smiled. “I get it. I’m a good dog and I can find the answers you want.”
Ivy rolled her eyes. “Yeah.”
He reached over the table and placed his hand on hers. “What’s in it for me if I succeed?”
She smiled back, eyes dead and serious. “For starters, I’m going to let you keep your hand.”
His smile dropped and he pulled away from her, leaning back in the coffee shop booth.
“You used to like me,” he said.
“You used to be a decent human,” she said in return. “Get it done, Verone. Please.”
“Sure,” he said. “Whatever you want.”
She started collecting her things to leave. Verone watched her, longing in his eyes.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Sure.”
“You haven’t spoken to me in months,” he said. “Why now? What’s so special about Alice dying?”
She stared at him, through him. “I’m pretty sure she did something that should be impossible. I want the details. You may be able to get them.”
“Why can’t you get them?” he asked.
“Because it’s dangerous and you fucking owe me,” she said.
He shrugged. “Fair enough.”
Ivy walked out of the coffee shop, leaving him there alone. Now, a mystery had been laid upon him. He didn’t know if he could solve it.
He paid and walked outside. The city was noisy, as usual, and the thin layer of perspiration felt like a grease slick on the face of the planet, before turning to dust and leaving his skin. Phoenix and the outlying areas shouldn’t have even been there. The resources it takes to power the city are easily disrupted. It was a land constantly teetering on the apocalypse and most of the people didn’t even grasp it. It was still the Wild West with the taint of the now. He felt the city call to him, it’s power intoxicating and chaotic, sick and twisted. Its magick was coarse and tasted like tar in his mouth. The city remembered him.
He ordered another cab to take him back to his house. He also saw that Ivy had already sent a file to his email. It was loaded with images and data from Alice’s online presence for the last year.
His driver pulled up. The rear passenger door popped open for him and he climbed into the vehicle.