Tomas' Sacrifice was written many years ago. It is the name of both the first short story of the series and the series itself. The series consists of four short stories: Tomas' Sacrifice, Veronica's Balance, Adriel's Burden and Caitlin's Paradox. Only the first two are contained herein. My archived copy of Adriel is truncated, and Caitlin has some intellectual property constraints that make it not suitable for posting.
This was written both out of admiration, and to address some irritations I found in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. It is not a derivative work, but it does have magic users walking side-by-side with unknowing mundanes.
Both Tomas and Veronica are 'mirrored bookend' stories. Each starts with a scene that happens at the end of the story. This is in media res but because the scene is only a quick glimpse, my intention is to build back up to it so the reader is invested in the characters by the time the scene is re-read.
The mourners file past the grave site. Tomas Baxter clutches the note. As he nears the hallowed ground, he wraps it tightly around the rose. He steps up to pay his last respects, squeezes, and feels the pinprick as the thorn pokes through the parchment and into his palm. His blood wells around the rose, wetting the paper, giving power to the words inscribed.
His flower lands in the pile. The small square of paper, impaled on the thorn, starts to turn brown, then black. No one notices as more flowers drift into the pit. Everyone is lost in their own thoughts. Veronica Stansbury lived a full, if brief, life. The many mourners each have their memories of her, and every memory is strong.
"Please hurry, Tom! They're everywhere!" Ronnie's voice was hushed and desperate.
"Kennedy Park? I'll be right there." Tomas grabbed his gloves and jacket, mounting his motorcycle.
As he raced downtown, he wondered about her. The Ancients forbid us Fledglings to use magic around Mundanes, and yet she does exactly that! Tomas shook his head and fumed.
Fortunately the clubs and bars were just letting out, so downtown wasn't completely deserted. Tomas parked his bike at the edge of park and ran for the pay phone.
Ronnie darted out from the bushes and threw herself into his arms. "Thank you!" she whispered in his ear. She kissed him on his cheek, but backed off when she felt him tense up.
Across the clearing strode five figures, their palms glowing red. Squinting, Tomas saw two of them had light streaming out from wounds in their foreheads. Stigmatii. He grabbed Ronnie's hand and started to back away.
She tapped Tomas. He turned his head just long enough to see two other figures standing on either side of his bike. Where the hell did they come from?
One of the Stigmatii motioned with his hand. The red circle hung in the air for a second before fading. "I see that you too have sold your soul to the Prince of Darkness," he said. "Come with us and be freed of that curse." As one, the Stigmatii all stepped forward.
Tomas felt Ronnie's back against his. He turned his head to whisper to her, "Whatever you're doing, I hope it's worth this."
"Mm-hm." She nodded, the back of her head rubbing against his neck.
In unison, the five Stigmatii held out their arms and bolts of red energy shot from the wounds in their palms.
Tomas clapped his hands together and whispered the word of power. He felt warmth surge from the ground, course through him, and expand with his clap. As if the sound itself were a solid thing, the streaks of red bounced off to burn grass and trees. Behind him, he heard Ronnie as she let fly one spell after another.
"Shit! Why won't you fall!" she swore under her breath.
He turned quickly, then back to face his opponents. Tomas was doubly amazed. Ronnie's endurance was astounding. He knew he couldn't volley spells so quickly. However, he saw that Ronnie's spells passed right though the two flanking his bike, as if they weren't there. Back in front of him, the five Stigmatii continued to advance. Two of them stepped into the pool of streetlight. Of the pair, one didn't cast a shadow. Nor did the grass bend under his foot.
Tomas invoked another word of power and swept his hand in front of him, his fingers dancing. The blast wave knocked back three of the figures, but not the one without a shadow. He and the one other attacker still standing were frozen in place. The three on the ground coughed and gasped, winded. Tomas was winded, too. That incantation used almost all of his reserves. But he was still standing, while the three foes that mattered were down and stunned.
"Quick!" he yelled, turning and grabbing Ronnie's hand. "Run for my bike!"
"But what about-"
"They're illusions! They can't hurt us!" He proved it by pulling her through the nearest one.
They climbed on his motorcycle, and roared off.
"Dez!" Ronnie rose from the bistro table and flung herself at the handsome High Adept.
"Veronica! What a pleasant surprise! Oh, and hello, Baxter." Desmond Sinclair blinded them with his smile.
"Hi, Desmond. What brings you out among these parts?" Tomas forced a smile as he spoke.
"Nothing I can talk about, I'm afraid. Assembly business, you know." Desmond smirked.
"Yeah. I know." Tomas nodded, then let his gaze fall so Desmond wouldn't see his eyes. Desmond was always insufferably smug, but when the Assembly selected him as an Investigator, his ego swelled beyond anyone's imagination.
"Seeing as you two are here, I may as well start. A few nights ago, there was an unauthorized use of magic at Kennedy Park. You two know anything about it?" Desmond sneered.
Tomas felt his collar tighten. "No, I wasn't there."
"Oh really? How do you know which night I was talking about," Desmond purred.
"He didn't have to. We've been otherwise occupied." Ronnie purred back as she slid her arm over Tomas' shoulder.
"Bah, I knew asking you was a waste of my time, Baxter." Desmond said and strode away.
Tomas was taken aback, in part by Desmond's vehemence. But mostly, Ronnie's hands and words were what kept him frozen to the chair. He knew Ronnie since childhood, and had always longed for her. The closer a friend he grew to her, the worse he felt were his chances to woo her. Now, he saw hope's beacon.
"Oh, don't worry about it. Dez has been falling all over me since middle school." Laughter spiced her words.
He's not the only one! Tomas thought. "And, uh ... this?" He smiled as he patted her arm.
"Oh!" She quickly moved her arm off his shoulder. "That was just to piss him off so he'd leave." Again, that melodious laugh. This time, it felt somehow colder.
"Tom, listen. You're far too good a friend for me to do that to you."
Oh. "Well, at least you and I do have that. You don't give Desmond the time of day, right?"
She placed her finger over his lips. "Hush, Tom. I'm giving you the true me. That's something I don't share with anyone else, 'kay? Promise."
The High Court was stiff and formal, stiflingly so. Tomas stood before the Judges, his Advocate by his side. Most of the city's Mages were in attendance. Few trials required a full Panel of Judges.
"Tomas Kincaid Baxter, you face the charges of public display of power, of unauthorized magical combat, and, most serious of all, of illegal use of Blood Magic. How do you plead?" The Head Judge's cowl obscured his face, and a cantrip distorted his voice. It could be anyone from the Assembly, male or female. Anonymous justice is equal justice.
Tomas turned and looked around. Instantly, he spotted Ronnie, as always, in the same chair during the week-long trial. She tried to encourage him with a smile, but her furrowed brow belied her hope. Beside her, he saw Desmond. His breath came in as a hiss. Desmond was smiling, too, but his smile carried many other sentiments, apparent among them were triumph, gloating and pride.
Tomas turned back to face the panel of Judges. "Guilty, my Lords." He heard a faint gasp. He knew without turning back who made it. Ronnie. I don't see any other way. Desmond wouldn't give up, and sooner or later, he would have found us both out. He bowed his head.
"The last charge is extremely serious, Tomas Baxter. We will pronounce sentencing in the morn. Until then, this panel is dismissed." The gong rang out. The people rose and bowed as the five Judges filed out.
Later that day, Tomas faced Ronnie in a windowless visiting room. The door, the table and chairs were metal, as were the bands around his wrist. They weren't joined, but restrained him just the same. Metal disrupted magic. A powerful mage might be able to overcome the effect, but Tomas and Ronnie were merely Low Adepts. Even together, they wouldn't be able to force the door.
Still, Ronnie was unrestrained, so she could still cast spells within the room, but only those that didn't affect it. She stood and described an arch with her hand, her mouth whispering and her fingers waving. Then she sat, face flushed. "It's okay. They won't be able to overhear us now." She smiled and slumped back into her chair.
Tomas nodded, noting how the air was stilled and the dust hung motionless in the harsh light. "Thanks. You okay? You look really wasted," he said.
"Well, I've had this problem sleeping, you see ..." she said with a smile.
He wasn't buying into it. "Yeah, about that night we ran into the Stigmatii. what were you doing out there by yourself, anyhow?"
She looked at her immaculate nails. "Exorcising?" She tried to make it another joke.
"Ghosts, Tom. I release the dead. So many of them are stuck here. They should move on, but they're somehow bound here."
"So?" He slammed the table. "They're Mundanes, and worse, they're dead Mundanes! Why in the Nine Hells are you helping them?"
She tried to meet his gaze, but fell back to looking at her hands. "I can see them. I can free them. Principle of Exchanges. Can you imagine being like that for -"
"I say, let them rot. They're the ones hunting us, remember? They -"
"Tom, stop sounding like one of the Ancients. Not every Mundane is a Stigmatii."
"No, but they believe the same things! Suffer not a witch to live. They donate to the Stigmatii churches! So they're not shooting at us. The Mundanes will take one look and make laws against us. They'll make it illegal to be a mage. That's what you're risking." Tomas finally had to stop, if only to inhale.
"But don't you see? The people you're describing aren't the ones I'm helping. Ghosts don't like the Stigmatii any more than you do, Tom. Do you know what they do with ghosts? At least we can fight back, or run away. They banish ghosts, Tom."
He scoffed. "So? How's that different than what you're doing?"
At this, she snapped her head up and met his glare. "I set them free, Tom! The Stigmatii think they're evil spirits and banish them. They call it sending them back, butyou and I both know what that means. You know where they go, right?"
He nodded. Being a mage meant knowing of greater evils and worse fates than most people could even imagine. They knew the Nine Hells weren't just an oath. Their eyes drifted apart again.
If only to break the uneasy ensuing silence, Tomas asked, "You feeling better?"
"Blood Magic. That's how you were able to get off so many spells that night." Tomas said softly.
Ronnie nodded again.
"Thy powers shalt not be used to draw blood, nor shall blood be used to draw thine power. How did you learn it?"
"It's better you didn't know."
"Mm." Tom grunted.
Silence, made all the more oppressive by Ronnie's spell, surrounded them. Their breathing grew to fill their ears. Ronnie's eyes were closed, fighting back tears. Unaware of his actions, Tomas rose out of his chair. He cupped her chin, tilting her face upwards to receive his lips. His other hand slid under her long raven hair to snug against the nape of her neck.
They kissed. Her arms rose and draped themselves over his neck. For as long as they held one another, he felt at peace, no matter what happened tomorrow. All too soon, her arms moved around his shoulder to touch his chest, where they gently urged him away. The moment escaped.
"Tom, you're like a brother to me. I love you too much to risk it."
Just then, the jailer knocked on the door. Just as well, Tomas thought ruefully.
Tomas dreamed of freedom, as he had for much of the past year. Life in the prison was boring, as bad as he imagined the life of a Mundane. Rise, eat, hygiene, then work at menial labor until a break for food, more work, eat one last time, hygiene and finally, lights-out. No magic, no creativity, nothing.
The jailer's heavy tread sounded down the hall. Tomas looked at the clock through the bars. Still half an hour until rousting time, he thought. Why is he coming around early?
"Get up," The jailer rattled the cell door. "His Lordship is waiting."
What? Tomas shook his head, but the mental fog remained. He hurriedly tried to pull the wrinkles out of his prison uniform and slicked his ratty hair into some semblance of order. He saw the Judge's dark robe and bowed.
"Rise." This time, the Judge did not distort her voice.
He stood upright, but still kept his eyes lowered.
She held out her hand, palm-up. "We of the Assembly owe you an apology. You are a free man."
He was shocked, and it showed. Here, he quickly learned to keep his face stony, but this was too much. His hand grasped hers, again out of unguarded reflex. "What ..." was all he managed to form.
"We re-examined your case, and found some discrepancies. We found we didn't have enough evidence to charge you with Blood Magic, and we believe your other powers were used in alignment with the defense of self stricture." She put her other hand over his.
He couldn't believe her words. "So ... I'm free to go?"
"Yes. All the charges are dropped, and you're free to leave, in exchange for a promise of indemnity."
Tomas was taken aback. "Wait a second ... indemnity? For what? Against what? Who am I going to demand compensation from, the Assembly?"
"All that matters is you are free, Tomas Baxter, yes?"
He drew his hand back. "If you're worried about indemnity and compensation, then no, I don't think that's all that matters. If you're hiding something, I'll make you -"
"Watch your tongue, Low Adept!" she snarled.
"We are bound to Order and Light, my Lord. Or so I thought until you sentenced me here."
"I was not the Lord Judge on that day."
"No, but we're taught to respect the position of the Lord Judges, not the people in the roles. You're wearing the Lord Judge's robes. You're in his position. To me, you are the Lord Judge, the same one as on that day."
She sighed, and the formality dropped from her voice. "You wouldn't believe how much has changed since then."
"I wouldn't know. I've been in here remember?"
She drew herself up stiffly again. "And that is what brings me here today, Tomas Baxter. Your freedom. Will you waive any claims to compensation?"
"No! Hide not the truth, seek not the dark, and long will be your days. I want the truth damn you!"
She didn't react at first, then answered slowly. "If that is all you seek, then you won't need to demand compensation. When we have some privacy, I will answer all of your questions. If that is what you seek, I will give it to you. You have my word. Do I have your word on indemnity?"
Tomas blinked, dumbstruck. He looked down. Her hand was still outstretched. He took it again.
Scholar Mayfield met him as he emerged from the cellar in the remote estate that served as the Assembly's prison. She held out her hand. He took it, and was not surprised in the least to find the grasp familiar.
The drive back was uncomfortably silent. After a bit, she spoke. "The Stigmatii have become much more powerful, Tomas."
"Mm." He didn't care.
They rode in silence some more. "We know you lied to the Lord Judge."
"Hide not the truth, Tomas. Your guilty plea was a lie."
He blinked, not knowing how to respond.
She continued, "Mind you, yours was not the only lie that night. But, all the wrongs have been made right." She paused. "More or less."
He inhaled deeply. "I bind you by your promise, Scholar Mayfield. The truth."
She sighed and nodded, her eyes never leaving the road. "I will abide by it. The truth. Ask."
"Why did I yield my right to compensation?"
"For your freedom. You know -"
"No, I want the truth Scholar. You have your indemnity. I want the truth."
"The truth is that the investigation was tainted, and with it, the trial and the sentencing."
"What do you mean? That I wasted a year of my life for nothing? I could be a High Adept by now!" I could have spent that time with Ronnie!
"It was the Investigator's first time as lead. He had a personal interest in the case. He should have disqualified himself, let someone else, someone unbiased, do the duties."
Who was the Investigator? Oh, that's right. Desmond. Desmond Sinclair. Aloud, Tomas said, "And I have no options here?"
"No. That's why we needed the indemnity. He's been relieved of duties and fined. It caused a big row among the Judges, Advocates and Archivists, believe me. We can't have it open before the whole of the Assembly. Many Fledglings already resent the Investigators and Judges. If we give them a reason to, they may rebel openly."
Tomas nodded, even though he thought, but I'm a Fledgling, too!
She glanced at him and took his nodding as agreement. She continued. "I know it may not mean much, but the whole affair is under seal. It's as if it never happened."
Tomas couldn't believe her words. "It never happened? It never happened? Ithappened, I can assure you! I spent a year in there! That happened!" He pounded the dashboard. "How much was Desmond fined?"
"I can't say. I'm bound to other oaths as well, Tomas. I won't lie to you, but I must respect all of my obligations."
At this, he fumed. "Was it a year of his life?"
"I said, was it a year of his life?"
"Tomas, you know we don't use aging curses as punishment anymore."
"No, you use jails. Big difference. So, let's have him sit in there for a year."
"Look, I know you're angry. Stars, you have good reason to be. But that won't help. It will poison you and your spells. Every smith's tools must be true. Our tools are our consciousness, our concentration. You still are a mage, aren't you?"
He had no answer. He only nodded. The miles passed. Finally, he spoke.
"What do you know about that night?"
Her words were slow, her tone was guarded. "We know that you weren't alone. We know that you didn't invoke any Blood Magic. We know who did."
Stars! Ronnie! They know about Ronnie! Tomas' heart seized. "Do you?"
Tomas couldn't think for some time. Finally, he softly asked, "And?"
At this, she turned to look at him. "And?"
"What will happen to her?"
She stopped the car. "There's something you need to know. I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but Veronica Stansbury killed herself Tuesday night. I'm sorry, Tomas."
Two days before her funeral, Tomas let himself into her home. Her effects were strewn about, likely a result of the Assembly Inspectors looking for anything that risked exposing their existence. That's odd, he thought. They can scry for magic. Why did they tear this place apart? They left her landlord to dispose of the rest. He started to clean up the mess. I don't want the Mundanes to think she lived like this.
When he was nearly finished late that evening, he found her diary. Like its owner, it was unconventional. It was neither frilly nor ornate. Instead, it was a series of lab notebooks, bound composition books with marble print covers and graph paper instead of lined. She simply titled them "Me," followed by the span of years each one covered. His belly rumbled. He had not eaten since breakfast. He took them and looked for someplace open so late at night.
Over his food, he read. The most recent volume started three years ago, with an entry every few days. Some were back-to-back. Other times, she didn't write for over a fortnight. She wrote about her frustration with the Assembly, their politics and policies. She wrote about her hopes for somehow using magic to help the Mundanes, to ease their fears, to prove the xenophobic Ancients wrong.
Some entries in her diary read like a thaumaturgical text. Tomas was amazed at how learned and studied she was. She wrote at length on the Codex, the absolute axioms of magic. The Principle of Exchanges, how the Stars never give, never take, only barter. The Chains of Power, on the unbreakable correlation between power and obligation. Lifespanning, the perpetual quest for eternal life.
There, what Tomas read struck him dumb. She wasn't seeking immortality! He thought every mage wanted it. It was the ultimate power. Those who learned its secret eventually became one of the Ancients. Their word was the unquestioned law in the Assembly. Yet there it was, in her rounded hand - Eternal life is such an awesome burden, I don't think I can do enough good to justify asking the Stars for it. I'd rather die after a complete life than spend all time in a half-life. At worst, I want to leave life as I entered, with the scales level.
He swallowed and turned to the last written page. Her final entry pained him even to look at it. It's finished. Dez is demoted, and Tom will soon be free. I don't know how I can face him. I should have been there, not him. All this time, it should have been me. I hope this makes up for it. I think so. For the first time since the trial, I feel peace. I don't feel the Stars weighing on me. My life is in balance, finally. Maybe this is the time.
He blinked. Somewhere in the restaurant, a watch chirped, heralding a new day. His eyes filled with tears, and her words swam in them. They turned into swirls of black, mixing and contorting. Then they changed into something entirely different. Runes and glyphs and diagrams arcane.
Her grimoire. That's what they were looking for.
Tomas exhaled. Her apartment - no, the apartment was in order again. Finally. Two hours of driving himself, using ways both menial and magical, and the apartment was finally presentable again. It looks so easy in the movies, he thought ruefully. He looked at his key to her home. Shaking his head, he corrected himself, one more time on top of countless others. This isn't her place any more.
As he was contemplating what to do with it, the knob rattled. Desmond entered, key in hand. He snapped a glare at Tomas. "Why are you here?"
"Cleaning up. And you?"
"I was passing by and saw her light on."
She's dead, you moron! This isn't her place anymore! He kept his voice calm. "And why do you have her key, Desmond?"
"And if I told you she and I were lovers, Baxter?"
Tomas' balled his fists. He felt his energy start to collect and focus.
His opponent snickered. "You want to go to jail for unauthorized magical combat again? Just give me a reason, any reason."
Through gritted teeth, Tomas said, "You and I both know that was self defense. Even the Judges said so."
"Some of the Judges said so. The rest of us wanted you to rot in there for obstructing an investigation and harboring a rogue mage."
"Oh, and you're a Judge now, M'Lord?"
"Don't you dare mock the title, Low Adept. I'm an Investigator, but someday I will be a Judge. You might have set me back, but that is my path!"
"Really. I'm sure your investigation was perfect."
"I swore to it, and I still stand by it, yes."
"Then why am I free?"
"You shouldn't be. If Scholar Mayfield hadn't pushed for you, you'd still be in there. So you didn't cast Blood Magic. Lying about it is almost as bad."
"And what about her?"
Desmond stopped short. "Huh? What about her?"
"What if the high-and-mighty Lead Investigator found the real Bloodmage?" Tomas felt an evil pleasure in seeing his rival tense at the mention of his demotion. "Would you have delivered her to the Judges?"
"Of course! It doesn't-"
"She was defending herself, you fool!"
"With Blood Magic, you ass! That's not a defense."
"The Advocates say it is."
Desmond sneered. "Bunch of spineless wet-nurses, them. She was invoking Blood Magic. She should have faced the Judges. As mages, it is The Law."
"No, those are our laws, ones we made for ourselves. They aren't part of the Codex. Principle of Exchanges, The Great Curve, Chains of Power, Flame of Truth. As mages,that is The Law."
"Those were her words. Exactly." He looked at him oddly. "Did she ever visit you in jail?"
"No." Why didn't you, Ronnie?
"Did she ever mail you anything?"
"Why are you asking me this?"
"Because I'm an Investigator, that's why!"
"She's dead. She killed herself. In fact, she killed herself in Judiciary custody. What's to investigate? Why'd you tear this place apart anyhow?"
"Because I -" Desmond caught himself, drew himself up. He continued stiffly, "Sorry, that's Assembly business. Now answer the question. Did she ever send you anything? I bind you -"
"Stop the theatrics. You don't need to remind me of my oaths. She never visited, called, or sent me squat while I was in there."
Desmond didn't answer. Instead, he cupped one hand and covered his left eye with it. The air crackled as he looked Tomas up and down with his other eye.
Tomas said, "I didn't know being an Investigator gave you license to scry at will. That's pretty damned rude of you."
Desmond grabbed Tomas' collar and pulled him close. His breath made Tomas gag. "It's a different world, Baxter. You Fledglings need to know your place. The Stigmatii are growing, and we can't afford to be out of harmony." He pushed him away. "I scried you to see if you took anything. This is still an Investigation scene. Now, get out of here, you've already disrupted things enough."
Downstairs, Tomas patted his motorcycle's tank bag. He felt the notebooks under his hand. Looking for these, Desmond?
Tomas yawned and stretched. This was his second night studying her books. They were charmed to only exist as grimoire between midnight and dawn. All other hours, they Transfigured back into her diary. The contents were fascinating - Ronnie was delving into the forgotten Colleges of Blood, Body and Essence. Internal magic, not showy expenditures of power. Integral magic, not separate disciplines.
He kept reading, fighting the late hour. College of the Body - she was further along in Lifespanning than any of us! With this, she could have discovered immortality, Tomas realized. She wasn't just talking what-if. He could only understand a small part of her writings, but still felt compelled to plow through the book. She wasn't an Adept at all. She was more at the level of Crafter or maybe even a Scholar!
In a page devoted to the College of the Essence, he found The Release of the Spirit. Exorcism. That's what she was doing! His interest piqued, he reread the entry. That lead to The Calling of the Spirit from the College of the Body. That entry was dense. It went on for pages and pages. Tomas could discern the purpose - to summon the dead - but he knew he could not even begin to cast so advanced a spell. However, it pointed him to The Binding of the Spirit from the College of Blood. This one he grasped, and studied intently.
Hours later, the indigo sky was yielding to the sun. Tomas reached for a square of parchment. With a shaking hand, he painstakingly copied the words of power from the grimoire. He had barely finished double-checking when dawn's glory triggered the Transfiguration charm on the volume. That's it, then. For good or for bad, that was my only chance. He stretched, yawned, and rose to get a shower.
Then, he rode his motorcycle to Ronnie's funeral.
The mourners file past the grave site. Tomas clutches the note. As he nears the hallowed ground, he wraps it tightly around the rose. He steps up to pay his last respects, squeezes, and feels the pinprick as the thorn pokes through the parchment and into his palm. His blood wells around the rose, wetting the paper, giving power to the words inscribed.
His flower lands in the pile. The small square of paper, impaled on the thorn, starts to turn brown, then black.
Come back, Ronnie. Come back to me.