Fiction Friday: The Fallen World Chronicle

Mage: The Awakening

This week we take a trip back to the post-war period as a couple of mages get down to a little detective work in Eddy Webb’s Crimson Lips, from The Fallen World Chronicle for Mage: The Awakening 2nd Edition.

They took Rick’s Buick, partially because it had an auxiliary heater, and mostly because Early didn’t have a car. Traffic in Detroit was usually bad in the winter, but for now the roads were clear and they were making good time.

“Why does a mage need to live in a mansion?” Early asked, pulling his scarf down as the car warmed up.

Rick winced a little at the word mage. “Can we have this conversation a little more discreetly?” he said, a cigarette between his fingers while he gripped the wheel.

“Why? There a Guardian hidden in your heater I should know about? You got a Sleeper in the back seat that might run screaming into the night?”

“It just bugs me.”

“And that’s why I do it.”

Rick smiled while he took a drag. “You’re an asshole.”

“And you’re not answering my question. Why a mansion? If you can control reality, why do you also need to be rich?”

“Not everyone thinks they should live on the streets, getting by on their wits and their magic alone.”

Early grunted and wiped the fog off the windows. “World would be a better place if they did. That’s what Rosie thought, at least.”

They pulled up to a closed iron gate in front of a well-plowed driveway that curled up to a big house on the hill. Some poor guard was standing by it, bundled up for an Arctic expedition. Rick rolled down the window and gave his name, and the guard moved his arm as much as he could to indicate they should go in.

“That’s convenient,” Early said.

“The Council are paying me to do a job. They made sure to put me on the guest list.”

“Next you’ll be lining up to join an Order.”

“No need to be vulgar.”

Rick pulled up to the front door, and the two men got out. The front door was large enough to let the Buick in for a tune-up if they wanted. Over it was a stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor, helping out a woman tied to a tree. She didn’t have any clothes, but she did have some very convenient hair. Rick rang the bell and stomped on his cigarette before they were met by a butler named Wilkins. He took Rick’s hat and tried to take Early’s before whisking them down hallways that were two stories tall, and through a couple of French doors. On the other side was a man lying in a bed three times too big, and his pajamas looked almost as sharp as Early’s suit. The way he kept giggling and drooling on himself made Wilkins nervous, and with a quick “Mr. Francis Evans,” they were alone.

Early walked around the bed, looking at the man. Mr. Evans watched back with wide eyes and a rictus grin stretching his face so wide it almost snapped. Rick looked at Mr. Evans himself, using his Mage Sight to see anything unusual, but his sight fell away same as with the others, like throwing a nickel down a wishing well. Frustrated, he looked at Early. “See anything?”

The older mage walked back, absently pulling on his beard. “Not much. Mr. Francis Evans was a Mastigos of the Silver Ladder, and used to be quite a good Mind mage. He made a lot of money and a lot of friends investing in war bonds, which means everyone looks the other way when he goes off to see other men in hotel rooms.”

“You said he was a Mastigos. Why the past tense?”

Early knelt down to look into Mr. Evans’ eyes. Rick could see his hands shaking. “Because he ain’t a mage no more.”

“You mean something took his magic?”

“No, it’s more…” Early waved his hands vaguely, as if he could pluck the explanation from the air. “Magic is a fire inside of us, right? Something that we kindle with new knowledge. It’s not all lucky lottery tickets and convenient car crashes. It’s about finding things out, and using that knowledge to make ourselves stronger, and maybe make the world better.” He stood back up. “But that’s gone now. That desire, that drive to know and do, it’s just missing.”

Rick nodded. That connected with what the Guardians had told him. He started searching the room, hoping that maybe there was something in the bedridden man’s effects that would tell them something new. He hated being Watson, but that was the role Fate assigned him, so he played along. “So you’ve seen this before?”

“Nope.” Early reached behind Mr. Evans’ ear, and pulled out a penny. The bedridden man smiled at that, and drooled some more.

“Penny!” Both men looked, surprised at the bedridden man’s outburst. He put a hand on Early’s suit and looked into his eyes. “Need penny!”

Rick snorted, looking inside a shaving kit. “Man wants money even when he’s brain-dead.”

“Told you no good comes from being rich.” Early handed Mr. Evans the penny, and the bedridden man snatched it hungrily. “Penny for your thoughts,” Early said, watching the man carefully for any tick, any insight.

“Lips,” he said, as he carefully studied the penny in his hand.

Rick closed the lid of the shaving kit and looked over. “Lips?”

“That’s what the man said,” Early muttered, still watching the bedridden man. “I need more than that, Mr. Evans. A penny don’t go far these days, but it goes further than that.”

“Crimson,” the man said. “Crimson lips. At the club.” His eyes grew sad, and he wiped at his chin, leaving a smear on the sleeve of his expensive pajamas. “Before the end.”

“Great,” Rick said, opening a dresser drawer. “All we have to do is find out which club he went to. Maybe he has a matchbook or something.”

Early stood up. “You read too many crime magazines. Look at his fingers. No nicotine stains. And there wasn’t a single ashtray on our way up here. Why would he have a matchbook? Just go ask one of the servants.”

Rick closed the drawer. “Are you too good to talk to the servants?”

“Nah, you’re just prettier than me.” Early handed Mr. Evans another penny, and the bedridden mage squealed with delight. “But I’ll come with you if you need help with the bigger words.”

They found Wilkins in the study, dusting the books. At first, he claimed he didn’t know how his master got in his condition, and Mr. Evans certainly didn’t go out to nightclubs.

But Rick ?ashed his movie-star smile. “Don’t worry. We know.”

“Know, sir?” Wilkins asked. He sounded like he was trying on the English accent, but it didn’t fit him right.

“He has a secret life,” Early said, looking at the books.

“We won’t tell anyone,” Rick added. “We just want to know where he goes.”

Wilkins looked at the feather duster in his hand. “I understand that Mr. Evans sometimes does… dangerous things. And I hate seeing him in this condition.” He looked back up at the two men. “Will you find out who did this to him?”

Rick looked at Early, who nodded. “We’ll try,” Rick said to Wilkins.

The butler nodded. “He sometimes goes to the El Dorado. I don’t know who he sees there, but once in a while he doesn’t come home until morning. He never says anything, but, well, one notices these things.”

“Yes,” Early said dryly, pulling a book from the shelf. “One does.”

Rick ignored him. “Did Mr. Evans talk about a woman in his life? One that might have worn lipstick?”

“Certainly not!” Wilkins said.

“Wouldn’t be proper being seen alone with a woman,” Early said.

“Quite right,” Wilkins agreed, sailing past Early’s barb.

Early turned to look at the butler for the first time. He had the open book in one hand, and a letter in the other. “Which means this love letter you got from ‘Dearest Jeanine’ probably belongs to you.”

Wilkins snatched the letter from Early’s grasp. “If you are quite finished, I would ask you both to leave now.”

Rick put his hands up in mock surrender. “We’re leaving. Thank you for your time.”

Early tipped his hat at Wilkins, Rick took his back, and they walked back to the Buick.

“What was the point of that, Early?” Rick asked as he drove back down the driveway. “He was helping us.”

“Man had secrets,” Early said over his scarf.

“Maybe some secrets should stay secret.”

Early rubbed the fog off the windows again. “Nothing stays secret from me. That’s what you wanted, ain’t it? The man who asks all the questions? The one who can see everyone’s secrets?”

Rick stopped at the gate and stole a glance at Early while it opened. “Can’t you just keep them to yourself once in a while?”

Early ignored the question. Instead, he opened up the glove compartment. “You still got your gun in here?”

“Sure,” Rick said. “I got papers for it, too.”

Early closed the compartment again. “Good. I got a feeling we’ll need it.”

What’s causing Evans’ illness? What connection does it have to the woman with the crimson lips? Find out in The Fallen World Chronicle, now available from DriveThruFiction in ebook and print.