Jessie listened carefully to the noises of the house for a long moment. She considered letting her combat spell out of its cage. It wouldn’t have been hard, she was plenty nervous, but she decided against that after a moment. What she wanted was better ears and the spell really couldn’t do that for her. It allowed her to get a bit more out of her existing senses, especially when it came to deciding what people were likely to do, but they didn’t really improve.
Instead she listened for a long moment and decided the house was really quite. She couldn’t hear any distant voices, creaking boards, or even the murmur of a TV. She hadn’t really spent much time focusing on the noises of the house during the brief time they’d been there but she thought there was normally more background noise.
Well, perhaps it made sense. Bob wouldn’t have talked to them unless the children were done with their discussion, and after that they’d probably all split off to de-stress in their own ways. From her brief exposure to them she rather doubted they shared coping techniques. More importantly, it didn’t seem like there was anyone else at their door waiting to come in and have a chat. Though, presumably, Alison would be along with their phones and the group’s verdict at some point.
She’d have to risk that. She fixed Kyle with a serious look and asked, “Can we talk?”
Kyle’s reaction was almost enough to make her giggle. His eyes got really wide and he darted a look at the door like he was considering running for it. It wasn’t a lot different than how he’d looked when Lynn proposed casting his truth spell, actually.
“Um, about what?”
“About how big my butt looks in this. No, geez, I mean,” she paused and darted obvious looks at the corners of the room as though something might be hiding there “Can. We. Talk?”
“Oh.” He sighed, “Sure, I mean, why not at this point. It’s pretty much all in the open now. Whatever that means. At least whatever that means aside from the fact that I suck as a spy.”
Jessie listened for sounds again and didn’t hear anything. “Alright, I didn’t include it in my text earlier because, well, because it was a text. But we do have evidence of a crime. They’re using mind control.”
“What? You mean Lynn, no that wasn’t…”
“Not Lynn.” She quickly related her experience watching Alison in the park then finished by asking, “That had to be mind control, right?”
“I don’t suppose you just forgot to look at the guy.” Jessie gave him a dirty look. “OK, yeah, I suppose one doesn’t just forget to look at the secret leader of a group they’re trying to spy on.” He reached up and swept a hand nervously through his hair messing it. Absently, Jessie noted he really needed a haircut. He was getting shaggy, and he didn’t wear it right for that to look cute.
“Is that as bad as I think it is?”
“Do you think it’s really bad?”
“Yeah,” Jessie answered.
“OK, then, yeah it’s probably as bad as you think it is.”
“But this spell was just, ‘Don’t look at me.’ Or maybe, ‘don’t remember me.’”
“There’s two problems with that. First, mind control really doesn’t have much of a legitimate use. Even if it was deployed to keep pedophiles away from kids, or addicts away from drugs you’d be totally stealing their free will to do it. You might as well just lock them up. It’s the same thing, and anyway, you couldn’t treat that many people that way: non-scalar law. Worse than that, once mind control is out of the box criminal justice and everything else just becomes problematic. Anyone, literally anyone, can claim they were mind controlled. Because of all that mind control spells are basically all illegal.”
Kyle continued, “The second problem is they act on a person’s brain. I mean how did it keep you from looking or remembering? Did it burn up neurons as the memories were forming or adjust your neurochemical levels to change your actions?”
“I hope not!”
“That’s kinda the point. You don’t want anyone messing with anything in your brain. It’s all sensitive. Mind control magic is almost never safe long term.” A very discouraged look crossed Kyle’s face, “You know, I honestly was starting to think they were better than this.”
“Well, it’s just the leader guy who was casting it, and things between him and Alison seemed pretty contentious.” Jessie found it sort of annoying to be giving Alison good press, but that was the truth.
“I wasn’t kidding when I said this was more like a cult than a terrorist group. It’s kind of a fine line if you think about it. Both kinds of group believe something very strongly and want to change society to line up with their beliefs, but cults think they can just sell their views, plus they’ve typically got a charismatic leader.”
Kyle nodded, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t look any less worried.
“So where does this leave us,” Jessie asked.
He shrugged, “I guess with a good reason to be doing what we’re doing. Oh, and a secret. We’ve got one of those again.”
* * *
The vote broke in their direction. Or, at the very least, the Children of Atlantis decided they should be allowed to stay. At first Kyle and Jessie thought that was what they wanted. After about half a week they were both feeling bored and considerably less certain that they’d won that vote.
Jessie’s assessment that the group was more like a cult than a terrorist cell seemed apt, at least with regards to what they did. There was the charity work. The soup kitchen wasn’t the only place they helped out. There were, in fact, about three engagements a week all of which allowed for some light use of magic to help out with the thrust of the effort. Growing out of that, was a loose network of people who sort of knew about the children’s cause and sort of sympathized to the extent they were familiar with the goals of the group. However, it definitely wasn’t the seed of a rebel army. There were some more homeless people, a few non-violent ex-cons, a cat lady or two, and some religious types.
The Children also made an effort to directly agitate to change how magic was used in society. If there was a march, any march really, for or against anything, they’d be there with a booth handing out pamphlets. Depending on the character of the rally sometimes people would be sympathetic to the idea of a vast conspiracy of Archmagi, and sometimes they’d get ignored. However, it was never violent or illegal. Mostly just boring.
Lynn had a video blog he updated about once a month. The less that was said about that, the better.
Finally, they did a lot of classic magic. As a group, they worked on learning dead languages, history, culture, and the latest developments in the field. Kyle and Jessie were included. The non magic users of the group basically left it there. Jessie actually made some progress bonding with Alexander and Murrow over how much the study sucked, but each of the magic users had their own obsession. Lynn continued trying to find an immortality spell. Bob, predictably, sought to reverse his condition.
Alison, Fern, and Jen had their own project, they kept quiet about what they were doing. Kyle didn’t press as he was still trying to gain their trust. He did, however, pay attention and he slowly came to the conclusion it was important. The studies of the group as a whole kept coming back to certain topics and whenever someone had an insight or new resource about certain things the women would pay extra attention. It took a while, but Kyle developed a theory about what they might be studying and why it might matter.
All the classic study was all great for Kyle’s greek, and he got to spend a lot of time working with the spells on Merv.
That probably probably wasn’t a good idea. Kyle had spent a few weeks doing charity work with the children and discussing philosophy before “breaking down” and telling Allison about Oritos as well as describing how the entire episode at the PSL had been faked in an effort to gain her trust again. The problem with revealing Oritos was it made communicating with Charles harder, but he got by. He also slipped a few messages to Richard and Amedeus. They were mostly all along the lines of, “I still know nothing.”
In the end, he was willing to take the risk because he decided he did trust her at least a bit. She wasn’t using her magic to build some sort of Enchanted army, poison the reservoir, bomb the dam, or tie damsels to train tracks. As far as he could tell she’d pretty much rejected violence after flirting with it back in college. He tried to talk to her about “anyone outside the organization who was committed to the cause” once or twice but she just shut him down and got cranky.
It was only the thought of the person Jessie had seen that kept Kyle from just declaring the op compromised, the group peaceful, and the case closed. That and there were some nagging details that didn’t quite fit.
The first problem was Pando. The Children of Atlantis had gathered a fairly powerful weapon there in the form of the tree’s sap. They claimed it had all been about the magical research they were doing . The group did have records of Native American magic using the sap, but it didn’t really match Jessie’s description of the night; they’d had the sap already, and the Children who’d been there that night certainly hadn’t acted like science lovers on a nature walk. For that matter, the Children who’d been captured were also a problem with the theory that the organization was nonviolent if somewhat cultish. The one who’d engaged in a literal fire fight with Jessie was still in jail, but the one she’d knocked out nearly instantly couldn’t be charged with anything beyond trespassing. He’d gotten out of jail pretty quickly and then vanished.
The theory was the group’s unknown benefactor had moved him to another location. The group’s benefactor was, of course, the final piece of the puzzle. He was the cult leader to the cult. He was calling the shots and if he advocated violence they’d probably follow even if some of them weren’t fully willing.
Still, Kyle had an idea on how to fully regain, or perhaps just gain, the Children’s trust.