Monday, Monday, Monday! Welcome to Monday in the darkest jungles of Appalachia! I’ve had a busy busy morning, so I’m going to pass on the niceties. I’ve got another installment of the adventures of Paul and Ellie for you. When last we left our hapless heroes, they had descended into a secret sub-basement under The Monument in London, to find the elusive mage, Miss Perdue, before Nazi infiltrators can find and kill her, or worse. They narrowly evade the bad guys, and find Miss Perdue. But she’s not quite what they were expecting….
by AJ Clarkson
Ellie turned back to Amelia, half expecting to see a dragon or something similar. But no, it was still just a kid. Amelia kicked off the afghan covering her legs and rose from the sofa, walking toward Paul and Ellie. A plump little doll with a porcelain head and hands and wearing a long dress was tucked under her arm. Amelia’s nightgown reached halfway down her calves, the hem a little ragged with wear. She wore matching pink woolly socks; one of them had slid down and now bunched into floppy folds around her left ankle, exposing the creamy flesh of her calf.
Amelia met Paul’s starting gaze with a wide eyed of expression of innocence that looked like it belonged on a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover. She took a step forward, and Paul, his movements jerky and panicky, took a stumbling step backward, pulling Ellie with him. Amelia turned to look at Ellie as she stumbled, trying to keep her balance at the sudden movement. Ellie met Amelia’s gaze, confused. What was going on? Slowly, the left corner of Amelia’s mouth curled up into a smirk, and she winked.
Ellie shivered. In that instant, she understood: the appearance of innocent childhood was just that: appearance. A mask that Amelia was wearing. “Paul,” she said, her voice dropping to a mere whisper. “What’s going on?”
“Just stay close,” said Paul.
“Mr. Richmond doesn’t want to tell you,” said Amelia. “He thinks if he doesn’t say it out loud, then he won’t have to admit the truth. He won’t have to accept that sometimes the nightmares are real.”
“I don’t understand,” said Ellie.
Paul took a deep breath. Not once had he looked away from Amelia. Even now, he was as tense as if he were expecting an attack at any moment. “Most peop–” he started. But his voice cracked mid-word. He swallowed, took a deep breath and began again. “Most people who…. who are like me. With the magic. We have to study. It takes years of learning and practice and … it takes a long time to become an adept.” Paul’s hesitating words scared Ellie more than the Nazis and this odd little girl combined. Nothing ever shook Paul’s English public school aplomb.
“So this little girl….?” Ellie said, letting the words trail off.
“There are rumors. Stories,” Paul continued, his voice a little steadier. “Sometimes a child is born with the knowledge already present. They are born mages, with all the powers of chaos at their fingertips.”
“So?” said Ellie. “So she’s you. Okay, younger and you and shorter than you, and I doubt you’d look good in that shade of pink, but still just another mage.”
“Not just another mage,” said Paul. “Imagine the difference between a dance-hall girl and Rudolph Nureyev, the ballet prodigy. I’m a skilled mage. She’s Mozart. And being so young makes her more dangerous. Unpredictable. She’s like unstable gelignite.”
“I don’t understand. She’s a kid. Kids aren’t dangerous.”
“Unless you hand them a loaded pistol,” said Paul. “Remember how naïve young children are; they don’t understand the consequences of their actions, they don’t understand that what they want and what they need aren’t always the same thing. They don’t understand that punishments and limits are for their own good and their parents are trying to teach them, not hurt them. How would one of these children react to being denied a sweet? All you or I could do was throw a tantrum. These children, if they exist at all, their tantrums could kill people, destroy whole cities. And who could stop them?”
“Damn!” said Ellie. What could she have done with that kind of power at four years old? Five? When her brothers teased her, as older brothers have always done with little sisters, what would she have done? Dropped a boulder on them? Set them afire just with a thought? Ellie pushed the thoughts from her mind. “I may not be magical, but I’ve been moving in the secret circles since I was sixteen years old. Surely I’d have heard of these children by now.”
“Supposedly they are very rare, once in a generation. Most believe it’s a myth,” said Paul. He had not taken his eyes from Amelia’s face.
“Oh, I’m no myth,” Amelia said. “And there are four others besides me right now.”
“Four more mage children? Really?” said Ellie.
Amelia nodded. “Uh-huh. Me. And Georgie. He lives in the United States, in San Antonio. He’s only five. And then there’s Ngawang, who lives in Lhasa; he talks funny, like in riddles all the time. He says that’s the way the men in the monastery talk. He lives in a monastery, isn’t that strange? I don’t think I’d like to live in a monastery all the time.”
“Me, neither,” said Ellie, not really understanding all of it, but wanting to reassure Amelia that she was still listening. “You said four. That’s only three, besides you.”
“Right. There’s also Liesl. She lived in Poland until the Nazis came. Then they made her wear a yellow star sewed onto all her clothes,” said Amelia, frowning. “After a while, they took her to a place that I can’t pronounce. Aus-wicks. Ow-shwicks? Something like that. It was bad. She showed me.”
“How could she show you?” said Paul.
Amelia grinned suddenly, and tapped the side of her nose. Ellie had been in the UK long enough to know that meant “I’ve got a secret and I’m not telling.” “Is she still in the bad place you can’t pronounce?” said Ellie.
Amelia’s eyes flickered back to Ellie. “No. The soldiers put her into a room with a bunch of other naked people. The soldiers said they all had lice and were going to get a shower. But hot water didn’t come out; it was a funny smelling gas, and everybody started crying and screaming. So Liesl made it stop; she told the gas to go back to the soldiers. And it did. After that, the soldiers came and took her out of the bad place I can’t pronounce. They gave her a nice room and clean clothes and lots of food. And they ask her to do things for them, and when she does them, she gets treats.”
“What sort of things?” said Paul softly.
Amelia shrugged in the overly-broad way that little children sometimes do, turning her hands up in an exaggerated gesture. “I don’t know. Like making a big dome over this building so that no bombs can come in. Like making people disappear.” Amelia smiled brightly. “Liesl said she made this one man disappear in a big puff of purple smoke that scared everbody around him. Purple’s her favorite color.”
Paul swore under his breath. “Adrian Olmsted,” he breathed.
“What?” said Ellie.
“Adrian Olmsted,” Paul repeated, turning to look at Ellie. “He works for the S.O.E., our division. He is a powerful mage; he trained me. He disappeared from a conference two months ago, in front of ten people, military, magical, and members of Parliament who needed to be kept informed of progress on some of our projects. There was a flash of light, a boom, and an explosion of purplish smoke. At first we thought it was a trick, or a backfiring spell.” He turned back to Amelia. “Only you’re saying the Nazis did it. They used one of you to assassinate him.”
“No,” said Amelia. “She didn’t kill him. She just sent him Away.”
“Away where?” said Ellie. A deep weight seemed to fall on her chest, a dread that she knew the answer and didn’t want it articulated.
Amelia gave another exaggerated shrug. “Away. She said she sent him to the place where power comes from and he can’t find his way back and he won’t die while he’s there, no matter how long he stays.”
“Eternity in the maelstrom of primordial chaos,” Paul said, shuddering. He looked to Ellie. “The Nazis have one of these legendary children and are using her against us. And you work for us, yes? That’s why Mr. Llewelyn was in London so much; he looks after you, keeps you happy, so you would continue to help. Or he did, until tonight.”
“Mr. Llewelyn was my friend,” said Amelia. Her face darkened. “He gave me Petunia.” She held the porcelain-headed doll up so Ellie and Paul could see.
“She’s beautiful,” said Ellie. Sometimes Amelia acted and talked like any little girl. And sometimes she sounded eons older. It was disorienting. “Did Mr. Llewelyn tell you why those men would want to hurt him? Or you?”
Amelia shrugged again, and hugged Petunia to her chest, caressing it as thought to comfort it.
“They already have one of these legendary children,” said Paul, his tone thoughtful. Ellie looked up at him to find that the white panicky terror had faded from his features. “That’s dangerous enough. But if they can abduct Miss Perdue, they would have two, and deprive the S.O.E of her talent at the same time.”
Just then, as if in punctuation to Paul’s statement, there was an enormous thud! at the door, as if somebody had thrown themselves bodily against it. Both Paul and Ellie jumped and turned at the sound. Paul turned back to Amelia. “What took them so long?”
“The stairs were longer for them than it was for you,” Amelia said simply. Ellie turned around at that. Holy crap! If this girl could do that, what else could she do?
“We need to get you out of harm’s way. Is there another way out of here?” said Paul.
“There are other rooms. But the only way to the street is through that door,” said Amelia, pointing at the door Paul and Ellie had come through.
“That’s it? Damn it!” said Ellie. “We can’t make a stand here.”
“We don’t have a choice,” said Paul.
Okay, that’s it for today! I hope you enjoyed. If you did, please do take a moment to comment here, or on Facebook, or contact me directly at the email listed on my About AJ page. I’ll be back here on Wednesday. If you want to showcase your work, or call attention to something you’ve enjoyed in the Steampunk, Dieselpunk or New Pulp world, send them to me. I’m delighted to share the coolness! Later, guys!