Kyle passed his Greek test. That won him the right to stand outside, late at night, in the enclosed court-yard of the mansion. It was surprisingly cold, and Kyle was learning that staying awake late at night because you had to and not because you were working or celebrating, was hard.
At least it was fairly bright out. There was a full moon directly overhead. Actually, that was the point of the whole exercise. It cast enough light to see clearly by. Kyle was fairly certain he would have been able to read by it if he’d had anything to read.
He could make out the thick black lines of the Wheel of Hecate drawn on the ground below them, and he could see the three fat black candles set in it. A small digital chirp sounded startling Kyle out of his contemplation of the shape.
Charles silenced the sound, his alarm, and then asked in a cheery tone, “Ready for some necromancy?”
“What! Death magic?” Kyle knew what they were planning to do and he hadn’t thought it had anything to do with death.
Charles gave a disgusted sigh. “Honestly, Thomas might have had the right idea about apprentices. ‘Mancy’ from the Old French ‘mancie’ from Latin ‘mantia” from Greek ‘manteia’. Which you should know!”
Kyle thought about that for a moment. It was a little better. Maybe. “Death divination? I thought we were going to prepare my familiar.”
Kyle looked over at the slightly scrawny white and grey cat working its way through several large cans of premium cat food at the center of Hecate’s Wheel. Charles had procured the animal from a local shelter the preceding week. Kyle’d had been surprised familures were even real. He knew, of course, there were old casting traditions that included animals in various capacities, usually bloody ones, but it had been a surprise to learn the Archmagi still used animals and in a considerably more humane way.
However, it made sense once Charles explained; anything that could process data could focus, and even use, magic. As such, animals could focus magic, and they could act as fuzzy little four-legged batteries holding spells in place while their masters were otherwise occupied.
Several spells known to the Archmage had been placed on the cat. They would make it healthier, longer lived, somewhat more obedient, and have it continuously focusing magic. Tonight’s spell would make it smarter, which would allow it to handle more magic.
“Yes, we’re going to prepare it by casting a spell the cult of Hecate believed summoned a spirit from the underworld to grant insight and knowledge of the future.”
“Sure, I guess I just hadn’t put it together like that.”
Charles’s voice took on a tone he seemed to use whenever he was delivering a lesson. “By which you mean you thought about it as a ‘smart spell’ because that’s how we’re using it. You can’t do that! Magic changes reality. That means your intuition is useless, and you can’t even be certain of understanding a spell objectively. You have to think about it, at least some of the time, in the same terms as the original discoverers. I think you’ll get something of a feel for why tonight. Anyway, we need to get started. We’re passing lunar apogee already, and we’ll lose our trigger if we don’t hurry. I’ll start us off.”
Without further conversation, Charles started off singing. He had a great voice: a rich powerful bass that Kyle could feel slightly in his own chest. When Kyle had complemented the older man on it, Charles had shrugged it off explaining that before radio people used to sing for entertainment. Still he’d seemed pleased.
Kyle joined in with his own wavering tenor. His voice wasn’t nearly so good as Charles, but he was hitting all of the notes of the spell; or at least passing them by on his way to being slightly sharp or flat. At least he hoped that was the case. Charles would probably have stopped him if he weren’t; after all, getting the song wrong would be fatal for both of them.
The spell they were performing had been discovered well over a thousand years before the Grand Magical Compact was joined. As such, the cult of Hecate had followed a common strategy for protecting their intellectual property. They had actually developed two spells, one of them summoned the spirit from the underworld, one of them killed the casters. The trigger words for both spells were the same, and the cult had allowed those words to be common knowledge. The difference was in the tune to which the words were sung. If the words were sung to the correct tune, a closely guarded secret of the cult, then Hecate would be pleased. She’d then bring forth a spirit from the underworld. If the spell was sung to any other tune, chanted, or simply spoken, then Hecate would know her followers were not present. That would trigger the killing spell.
At least that was how the cult had understood it, and their understanding was what was important to the triggers.
The idea was to make sure magical thieves only tried once, and then pass their death’s off as the vengeance of Hecate. It was a simple system, but Kyle imagined it must have been effective. He knew he had the right trigger and he was still scared.
As the two men sang they walked around the Wheel. When either one reached a candle, they lit it. When they’d rehearsed this, it hadn’t taken long to complete a single circuit, get all the candles lit, and complete the short song. That remained true as they cast it for real. Kyle’s heart was beating pretty rapidly as he reached the last, sustained, note of the song and he felt sweat form on his brow despite the cool of the night air. He met Charles’s eyes. There might still be enough time for him to drop all the magic he’d gathered if either of them had screwed up the song. The other man seemed confident.
In tune, they finished.