Hero’s Curse-Chapter 6
Chapter 6: Pig Latin
Aidan got up and went over to a large safe in the corner of the room. He opened it revealing a large kite shaped medieval knight’s shield and longsword. Both were made of polished silver metal that glowed. The illusion I was talking to Santa grew stronger as he chortled. “Victor, you don’t hide your emotions well. I can see you’re not impressed with traditional weaponry.”
He held up his hand, to hold off my response. I could tell he thought I was making a mistake. “Before you make up your mind you should know the shield and sword will come to your hand instantaneously whenever you want them. They will also return to whatever storage place you choose. I’d recommend storing them in this safe. They can never be broken and do not require any care. Nothing on Earth can penetrate the shield. No creature is immune to blows from either sword or shield. Once a week the shield can be used to heal you of all your wounds and the sword will cut through steel like cardboard. While you are alive, no one else can touch your sword and shield without permission.”
If I had a choice there was no way I was going to look like a geek at a Renaissance Fair. I couldn’t believe in this day and age, the best a Holy Warrior could do was a sword and shield. “Look man, I’m really not into suiting up like Prince Valiant. Do I have any other options? You know something a little more modern?”
Cahill looked slightly offended. “In the 600 plus years I’ve been an armorer for paladins, I’ve never had one turn down the traditional shield and sword. I’ve heard of one paladin in the early 1800’s who changed his gifts to a breastplate and spear. It’s more common to make minor changes to the grip, hilt, or length.”
“But, if I wanted, I could change the sword to a gun?”
“Yes…as long as you knew exactly what you wanted and could hold a vision of the gun in your head.” I could see him get lost in thought. The worry and the hesitation I had previously seen on his face disappeared.
“How would the magical sharpness doohickey work on a firearm?”
Aidan was clearly a gear-head. He loved talking, thinking, and messing about with gear. He became more animated, his brogue more pronounced. “You can change the magic spell on your gear. There was a time a few thousand years ago when a flaming sword was popular but over the millennia, it’s become obvious what spells work best for a sword and shield. Hmmm, I don’t think anyone’s ever thought much about the best spell for a gun. I can tell you though what won’t work—endless bullets. Conservation of mass and energy applies to magic too. Maintaining super sharpness doesn’t require much energy so it’s constant. The flaming sword could light up for less than an hour a day. Converting energy into mass takes a lot of juice. We could probably get you a magic reload of de novo ammo…say once a week, maybe longer.
“It’d be easier to magically transport ammo from one location to another. We could dump a bunch of ammo in one location and magically call it to another. The mechanism behind transportation is non-intuitive but it takes less energy to transfer through the ether than to try to create them out of thin air. It works on the basis of quantum entanglement.”
He peered up at me to see if I knew what he was talking about. When a subatomic particle like a photon is split into two equal photons of opposite polarity, they are ‘entangled’—what happens to one photon is inexplicably replicated by the other. In 1993 Charles Bennet and others proposed the idea of teleporting light using this process. In 1997, a group from Innsbruck proved that this could be done; this experiment had been repeated successfully multiple times. Theoretically any subatomic particle could be teleported. A science fiction author once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It was looking like he was right.
I nodded to show him I understood and went off topic, “How about the ability to shoot silently?”
“A magical suppressor?” Aidan got up and paced back and forth behind his desk as he thought. “Yes, that would work but again conservation of energy applies. Converting sound to heat is easy. Speaking off the cuff without any calculations, firearms get hot anyway after multiple rounds are fired. Your weapon could get really hot, maybe to the point of needing heatproof gloves. The sound suppression would only work while the rounds were still in the barrel so it wouldn’t be completely silent. There would still be noise. The decibel level would depend on the size and shape of round and whether its speed was supersonic.”
“Could we sink the heat into the ammo?”
Aidan beamed at me. He clearly liked intelligent questions. “Lead has a pretty low melting point. If we did that there’s a chance that it could change the shape of the bullet which would mess up the stabilizing spin.”
I flashed a quick grin, “I’m thinking about a shotgun.”
Aidan guffawed, “Faith and Begorrah, wouldn’t that be a sight to see, a silenced shotgun shooting molten lead shot. What kind of shotgun are you thinking of?”
“You have internet access? I can show you.” Aidan sat again, pulled a laptop out of one his desk drawers and turned it on. “Look up Military Police Systems AA-12 Assault Combat Shotgun.”
He muttered quietly to himself as he used two fingers to slowly type in a Google search. He then started reading out loud, “The AA-12 has a pistol grip and shoulder stock and can fire from a detachable 10 round box magazine or a 20- or 32-round ammunition drum attaining a rate-of-fire of up to 300 rounds-per-minute while having almost no muzzle climb and a dampened recoil effect. The operation is via a simple blowback mechanism. To reduce recoil the firing pin is built into the bolt causing the firing pin to extend and ignite the round prior to bolt closure. The long recoil system allows the bolt to travel back further than most weapon systems decreasing the perceived recoil. The AA-12 comes with a muzzle extension that allows it to be pressed firmly against an object like a door and still be fired.” He whistled. “That’s some shotgun. I can see why you’d prefer one over a sword.
“I’m embarrassed. I can’t believe I haven’t thought of a magic firearm before now.”
Cahill had mentioned he’d been an armorer for over 600 years. It’s easy to develop routines and patterns of thought over time. Guns came into common use 150 years ago. To him they must still be new-fangled. After hundreds of years in the same career, I could see how hard it would be to think outside the box. It was easy to tell when it came to magic weapons, he thought he was hot shit; I sensed rightfully so. Any expert who was open to an amateur’s idea was someone I could respect.
From what B had said, most paladins started training from a very young age. It’s hard to break patterns of thought that have been engrained since childhood. If I’d been training with a sword and shield since I was a kid, it was possible I wouldn’t want a gun.
I could tell his mind was still focused on my shotgun when he asked with a distracted expression, “What are you thinking about the shield? Do you want to turn it into a breastplate?”
There’s always a risk with unarmed combat. Every time you punch or kick, there’s a chance you will hurt yourself more than the person you hit. A boxer’s fracture is so common, it has its own name. Martial artists routinely get stress fractures on their feet and broken toes are frequently seen in tournaments. “Can the shield be turned into leather boots and if it can be, would it still provide the same protection?”
“It can turn into whatever material you want. Your two paladin gifts aren’t actually material. They’re a miniscule part of Jehovah’s will made manifest. Think of them as a hologram you can touch. I’ve never heard of a paladin wanting boots but magic boots are common. There’s no reason why the shield couldn’t be turned into a pair of boots but…What spell would you like? You can keep the once a week healing or there’s long-striding, high jumping, walking on water, light stepping (that’s not leaving tracks or sound when you walk), and wall climbing. I’m sorry but there isn’t enough juice to power flying shoes. You can only have one spell and the boots will only protect what they cover. If you give up the shield, you’ll lose a lot of protection.”
I’d done fine without a shield my entire life. I was ok with the downsides of not getting one. The ability to heal myself could certainly be useful but now that I had access to magic, I asked about something I’ve wanted to do since I saw my first movie action hero run up a wall. “Tell me more about wall climbing.”
“The name says it all.” He grinned and used the fingers of his right hand on his other palm to demonstrate. “You can go up walls with them and as long as the surface is strong enough hold you upside down from a ceiling. I suggest boots that come up to just below the knee and are so snugly fit they can only be taken off or put on by magic. You can put them on by calling them to you and take them off by sending them back into storage.
“It’s an interesting coincidence you would want boots. The Redcaps wear iron boots and use iron spears. Even the spear shafts are made out of iron. They use a style of fighting called Speachóireacht. Gaelic dancing and their martial art have the same roots; both use straight legged powerful kicks. I’m assuming you want to use your boots as weapons too?”
“The material of the boots is indestructible but if they’re made to look like leather, they will flex and give the same way. If you kicked an iron breast plate, your boot would be fine but your toes inside the boot could be crushed. We would want to put a metal cap in the toes, at the heels, and over your entire shin to provide more protection…” Aidan got lost in his head for a few seconds and then noticeably focused back on me. His face was serious. “Vic, we don’t have much time. If we wait past this afternoon there’s a good chance Tim, myself, and three others will be forced to battle the Redcaps without the ability to make conscious choices. Are you sure you don’t want the sword and shield as is? I promise you these are amazing weapons.”
I’m a loner by nature. I don’t like explaining myself to others. I liked Aidan but it was going to be a problem if he kept on trying to second guess me. I tried to keep my tone reasonable as I replied, “Aidan, I understand the need for speed. I’m sure if I knew how to use either one of these things, I’d be jumping up and down with joy. If I’m going into a life or death fight, I need weapons I trust. I know shotguns and I’ve been using my feet as weapons for years.”
Mini-Santa sighed, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He looked tired. “I’m sorry, but to make your shotgun and your boots work, I’m going to have to spend a couple hours researching and making calculations. Remember you only get one shot at changing your gifts. You’re sure these are what you want?” He looked at me anxiously, like his life depended on my answer.
I made direct eye contact with him. “I’m positive.”
Cahill looked up to the ceiling. He looked like he was complaining to Jehovah. It seemed to make him feel better. He had a resigned smile on his face when he turned his gaze back to me “I’m going to have Tim come down and answer the rest of your questions. You also need to learn two spells as soon as possible. He can help you with those too. I’ll show you to his office. Let’s move, we don’t have much time.”
Aidan escorted me to an office a couple doors down and asked me to wait. I considered looking at the previous paladin’s journal but I decided I’d be better off researching Redcaps. I used my phone to surf the web. According to a Gaelic/Celtic mythology website, they were commonly called the fae, elves, or fairies. Like Cahill said, they wore woolen caps soaked in the blood of humans, used iron spears and wore iron shoes. They apparently looked like little, old, ugly men. It was frustrating not knowing if I could trust this site. I decided to look at as many different references as possible.
Before I could get any further, Tim Hardy entered the room grabbed at my hand and started speaking as fast as a machine gun, “Mr. Paladin, I can’t tell you how happy I am you’re here. I was certain the last of Salt Lake Brotherhood would die today. Oh my God…”
I interrupted before he could go on any further. “Tim, let’s pretend I have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s the Brotherhood?’
He looked taken aback, took a few seconds and said, “Anyone who performs enough magic takes the Hero’s Oath.” He looked apologetic, “Otherwise known as the Hero’s Curse. Develop angelic powers and you are automatically enrolled in the Oath Brotherhood. We’re organized in different chapters based on the cities where we live. When the previous paladin died last August, there were over a hundred of us. After he was killed, the brotherhood had to take over his responsibilities until a new paladin arrived.
“People who are fascinated by magic are almost never athletic. Our best fighters weren’t very good. The Brotherhood’s been able to keep Salt Lake City safe but we’ve been losing members right and left. There are just five of us left.”
“Is that because you’re the best fighters?”
Tim’s face twisted like he was about to start crying, “No, because we’re the worst. No, let me take that back. I don’t know how good Aidan is at fighting. I know he’s over a thousand years old and anyone who has lived that long has to have some skills but Sidhe are, to a large degree, fixed in their natures and Leprechauns have never been known for their fighting skills. They’re known for being great at running and hiding. He’s our armorer. We all knew we needed his skills. I’m his apprentice so I was allowed to stay back too.” He motioned toward his body and gave a limp smile, “And as you can see, I’m a lover not a fighter. Believe it or not, the three other Brothers left are worse than me. They’re 3 Carmelite Nuns in their late 70’s and early 80’s. The nuns know how to heal and that’s about it. In the past their main job was to help orient new Brotherhood members.
“God works in mysterious ways, Mr. Paladin. We knew sooner or later we’d get a new paladin and the people of Salt Lake City would stay protected but He also likes martyrs. He’s collected quite a few of us this last year.”
I hadn’t been in a good mood before and dealing with Tim wasn’t helping. I was afraid if I asked the wrong question he would break down and start weeping. “Um, Aidan wanted you to teach me something?”
He blew his nose in a tissue he pulled from his pocket and visibly pulled himself together. “Oh yes, I’ve been told you haven’t had any training at all in magic? With the power I can feel coming from you that’s amazing. The first thing you need is a surge protector—a protective field that stops a backwash of energy from burning out the synapses all over your body if a spell goes wrong.” He pulled out an iPad and opened up a document and passed it over to me. “You need to memorize this incantation. Your will and intent is the most important part of any spell. It’s almost impossible to have the right focus if you don’t know the cantrip by heart.”
“So why is it in Latin?”
“It’s dangerous to say spells in your native tongue or any language that doesn’t take a conscious effort to use; otherwise a random thought, or if you are powerful enough even a dream, could result in a spell. You can use any language you want; Latin is the most common spell casting language.”
I don’t know how to speak Latin. Anyone who spends enough time reading nonfiction learns a few phrases and a couple hundred words. I got a kind of a gist of what the spell was trying to do. “Tim is there any reason why I can’t use Pig Latin to cast spells?”
“Uh, did you just say Pig Latin? Ok, um, yeah I guess.”
Tim looked so incredulous, I couldn’t help but smile, “Why don’t you write down a translation of this spell in English, so I can say it in Pig Latin.”
He reluctantly took the iPad back. He slowly poked away on the tablet, and kept looking at me every few seconds like he thought I was crazy. Finally, he handed it back.
“So do I have to wave my hands, sprinkle some weeds, burn incense, get out a stuffed animal?”
He ignored my sarcasm and gave me a straight answer, “Magic users create elaborate rituals to focus their minds. Beginners use all the tricks, perfectly memorized incantations, hand gestures, and various ingredients. If you don’t know the true basis of magic, there’s a placebo benefit to thinking that each phrase, movement, or herb has specific power or meaning, but it really doesn’t.
Tim nervously wiped sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. “To tell you the truth, I’d really feel more comfortable if you’d just go back to the tried and true Latin incantation. I can show you the proper gestures and light the usual incense candles if you think they will help you focus?”
It was hard to tell because he was already such an emotional wreck but he did look more jittery. “So what’s the downside of me using Pig Latin instead?”
“The amount of power you have is entirely dependent on how close your genetic makeup is to an angel. On a scale of 0 to 100 with 0 being a man without any angel genes and a hundred being your typical angel, I’m level 8. The worst that would happen if I did a spell like this without a surge protector field is all the synapses in my brain would burn out. My brain wouldn’t know how to keep me breathing. You ever hear about spontaneous human combustion? They’re levels 10 to 20. To be a paladin you need a rating of at least 25.” Tim became visibly more confident as he talked about magic. Despite his general goofiness, it looked like he knew what he was talking about. “I’d bet you’re in the mid 40’s. If something goes wrong when you say your first spell, and if you aren’t in a shielded room, you’ll explode with enough force to level this entire block.”
“So what happens if I’m in a shielded room?”
Tim lost all the confidence he had gained. He gulped nervously. “You still blow up but the explosion is contained inside the room.”
I considered doing it Tim’s way. Ever since that fricking troll, I’ve had surprise after surprise, crisis after crisis, slap me in the face. If I had the potential to be a powerful magic user, I wanted access to that power now. If I had a year, even a few months, I could learn enough Latin to handle whatever came my way—to know for sure what the spell said and why I was saying it. I didn’t have that kind of time. There’s a difference between necessary and unnecessary risks. Using Pig Latin for spells was a necessary risk. “Where can we get a shielded room?”
“You’re in one now. All our rooms down here are shielded, but if you don’t mind I’ll have you move to another room. Some of the stuff I have in here is impossible to replace.” Tim got up and escorted me through a blast door at the far end of the hall and, after another two flights of stairs down, to another blast door. The door led into a large long room about 20 feet wide and 40 feet long. “This is the room we test distance weapons and things that explode. It’s actually under Broadway. The street’s about 20 feet above us. If you don’t mind I’ll wait upstairs while you try your spell.” With that he turned and fled out the door.
I’d only been with Tim for a few minutes but I was already missing Aidan. Tim had a binary solution set to stressful situations. He was either calm or completely freaked out; there were no gradations in-between. I couldn’t tell if Tim was just being Tim or if I was making a stupid decision. With Aidan, I would have gotten a better read on the situation. I went over my options again. I wondered if I was doing the right thing, if it was worth taking the time to find Aidan and get his input.
“The hell with it.’ I started the incantation.
“I-ay lace-pay his-tay rotection-pay upon-ay yself-may.
“I-ay ill-way ot-nay use-ay agic-may ithout-way onscious-cay intent-ay.
“A-ay iscast-may pell-say annot-cay urt-hay e-may.
“Instead-ay he-tay energy-ay ill-way issipate-day
“ithout-way arm-hay o-tay yself-may or-ay others-ay.”
Nothing happened. I stood and waited for minute. Nothing happened again. It was one of the most anticlimactic moments of my life. I went to look for Tim. He was waiting for me just outside the blast door, at the top of the stairs. Before I could say a word, he hugged me and started crying—burying his head into my shoulder. I could feel his snot and tears soak through my shirt. “Mr. Paladin, I was so worried about you.” It was awkward. I was really starting to hate this job.
Eventually it dawned on Tim we didn’t look at all heterosexual. He let go of me and had the decency to look embarrassed. He took out a handful of tissues and blew his nose. “Oh man, I’m glad you survived.”
I’d had enough of him. “Are we done?”
“You need one more spell. You need to hide your aura. Anyone who knows what they’re doing can sense you from a couple hundred feet away. Definitely not a good idea when you’re looking for Redcaps. You need protection from scrying spells.” Tim pulled out a pair of reading glasses from his shirt pocket and put them on and scanned me carefully starting from my head and going down to my feet. “Your surge protector looks great. There’s no chance of you blowing yourself up and your soul looks like it could handle another major spell.”
“Why are you talking about my soul?”
Tim perked up. Like a lot of nerds, his favorite pastime was talking about his obsessions. “Scientists and philosophers have been arguing back and forth about what makes up the human mind for a very long time. Most neurophysiologists believe the brain and the mind are exactly the same things. In their worldview, souls don’t exist. You only have to meet one angel to know they’re wrong.
“The brain is an essential organ but it’s just the receptacle for our minds. Destroy a brain you still have an afterlife. Burn out a mind, you don’t. Souls and minds are the same. Our minds make up our souls, they are everything that makes us individuals. When we use magic, our souls touch the Universe. The analogy of a volcano to describe the Universal energy is accurate. Whenever our souls touch the molten lava, a part of it is burned off. The more energy you try to siphon, the more of your soul you lose. Lose too much and you die the final death. After a strong spell, your memory and your ability to think clearly will be downgraded. Lucky for us, souls are renewable. I could talk for hours about what kind of spells are worst on your soul and what helps your mind regenerate but we really don’t have the time.
“You probably don’t realize it but you just did something amazing. Unless you have the expertise of someone like Aidan Cahill, you NEVER want to make changes to a major cantrip without an active surge suppressor. Now that you have one, using Pig Latin for your next spell won’t be nearly as dangerous. Let’s go back to my office and I’ll show you what we have to do next.”
I realized how much of a risk I had just taken. It had worked out. There wasn’t much point crying over milk especially when it hadn’t spilled. I promised myself, however, the next time I was tempted to get Aidan’s take on something to follow through and actually talk to him. When we got back to Tim’s office, he turned on his computer, spent a few minutes typing and printed out two pages. “I’ve printed up two copies of your anti-scrying spell, the first in plain English and the second in Pig Latin.”
I’d been bothered by the thought of B watching everything I did. “Tim, after I put this spell on myself, will I be able to stop angels from watching me?”
“Hmm, well it would depend on how much juice the angel had, a low level angel shouldn’t be able to see you—unless of course he or she got dispensation from above. An archangel wouldn’t have any problems breaking through and, of course, Jehovah sees everything. The jotunn that killed our previous paladin shouldn’t be able to track you.
“I want to warn you after this next spell, you’re going to be wiped and it would probably be best for you to get some sleep. Why don’t you study the incantation while I set up a cot for you in one of the other rooms?”
It took awhile to get over the disappointment I felt about the limits of the anti-scrying spell. I told myself I should have expected as much but it didn’t matter. I hadn’t realized how much I had prized my solitude and anonymity until I had lost them. I was still trying and failing to focus on the incantation in front of me when Tim returned.
A thought occurred to me, “Tim, why am I placing these spells on myself? Why couldn’t you or Aidan do it?”
“You’re too powerful for a protection spell to stick if it’s cast by someone you don’t absolutely trust. Placing a spell on you is the equivalent of touching your soul. You don’t know me and Mr. Cahill well enough to really trust us. You would instinctively resist.
“The cot’s ready in another room. It’s probably best for you to go there now so you don’t have to travel as far after the incantation.”
The room with a cot was just two doors down. It was empty except for a small canvas camping cot. Tim walked into the room and stood there looking expectantly at me.
“Tim, do you have to be here?”
“Umm, no.” He shook his head and gave me a questioning look.
I stared at him until he started to squirm. “I’d like some privacy.”
“Oh, sure. Ok, I’ll be going, Mr. Paladin”
After he left, I looked again at the papers Tim had printed out. The spell was only a few lines. It didn’t take long to memorize. After I said the incantation I felt a wave of weakness rush over me. I almost fell. My mind fogged up like I was drunk. I lowered myself onto the cot and fell instantly asleep.