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Rated: 13+ · Novella · History · #1296116
A greedy 17th century magician is struck with jealousy when he meets his equal.
"All rise!" commanded the sentry. A thousand spectators rose from their seats and turned toward the balcony of the Globe Theatre. Two thousand hats were lifted from heads and held to chests in respect. Three thousand voices rang out as King James waved his hand over the railing. He waved and the people clapped and bowed for him. It was a pleasant cacophony, one of honor, and yet not too loud. To be too loud was disrespectful. He was the king, the closest thing on earth to God.

Malcolm scoffed inwardly at the thought. King James I of England was a paranoid fool. He would run from a kitten if it's fur was black. But no complaints along with the criticism. If not for the King's own paranoia, Malcolm would be out of a job. Or at least quite a bit lower on the food chain.

"Malcolm, join me," said King James. Malcolm stepped closer to the railing and waved nonchalantly at the people below. The hubbub below remained constant. Those who knew him recognized him instantly, even at this distance, from his unique attire. But they could not acknowledge it. To show him more recognition than the king was disrespectful.

King James lowered his hand and stepped back into the balcony. Malcolm took his seat beside the king. The crowd below them hushed. Malcolm reached into his pocket and fingered his golden coins. He was probably the richest person in the entire theatre, save King James himself. And by the end of the night, he would be even more so.

A single man in a green vest and white blouse stepped onto the stage. He removed his hat and held it to his bosom.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" he spoke into the crowd. "Please watch and be amazed by the wonders that you shall behold tonight. This man was born in Venice and has trained and traveled for years. He has entertained nobles and peasants alike with his feats of ability beyond the comprehension of the average human. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Dario the Magician!"

The man held out his arm and walked backward. No sooner was he out of the way when a puff of dark gray smoke filled the air in the center of stage. It diffused into the atmosphere around it, leaving behind a young man in blue robes. The audience gasped. Dario bowed. Malcolm rolled his eyes. They were smoke pellets. The eastern militaries used them for stealth. Anyone with a penny could get a bag full from a Chinese merchant.

"Thank you," said Dario with a smile. "You are all too kind."

He took a long step to the side. "For a long time I have had a fascination with birds. Birds are marvelous creatures, don't you think?"

"Absolutely," said King James from beside Malcolm. "Don't you agree, my boy?"

"Yes, sir," said Malcolm. "Boy" was one of the King's favorite names for him, and he hated it. Malcolm himself was far from a boy. He was younger than King James by only a couple of years.

"It's a true wonder how birds can stay in the air the way they do," Dario continued. "It is an act which no other creature of the earth can do. Not horse, nor dog, nor man. Until now."

He stuck his arms out beside himself and tilted his head back. Malcolm could feel the apprehension in the air. The King shifted in his seat. The people below hushed completely. Dario's feet lifted from the ground. He bent his knees and stared into the sky. He hung in the air, several inches above the ground, touching nothing. He simply sat in the void over the stage, unmoving.

He rose higher into the air. The entire venue stiffened in disbelief. Malcolm could almost feel the air around him begin to harden. Even the knights that stood guard behind he and King James were opening their eyes.

"Malcolm," King James gasped. "How does he do that?"

"Forgive me, your majesty, but I cannot break the magician's code," said Malcolm.

King James glanced at him desperately, not wanting to take his gaze from the floating man before them. "But, it is just an illusion, right? I mean, surely he cannot really float off the ground, can he?"

Malcolm covered his mouth with his hand and stared at Dario, attempting to look as though he were thinking. "I think I'll have to pay him a visit after the show," said Malcolm. He silently reached into his pocket of coins. It would be full by the end of the night.

Malcolm stepped into the Globe Theatre's green room. He was not unfamiliar with the theater, as he had performed there himself numerous times. It had been a long time since he set foot on the stage, but he still ventured backstage quite often. Occasionally he worked back there as a consultant for plays. He helped the actors to incorporate small magic tricks to put an extra kick into their performances. But more often he went back there for another purpose.

He spotted Dario and an assistant carrying a large wooden chest through the room. A trick chest, one with a trap door, no doubt. Dario spotted him and dropped his side of the chest. It crashed to the floor and fell out of the grip of his assistant. Dario hurried over to Malcolm, clasping his hands around Malcolm's arms and trying to turn him around.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you can't be back here."

Malcolm broke free of Dario's grip and waved his hand as though Dario's concern was a moth that Malcolm could wave away. "Don't worry about it, your tricks are nothing I don't already know."

He turned his back to Dario and took two steps forward. The way Dario had reacted sparked something in the back of Malcolm's mind. He could already tell that Dario would be easy to manipulate.

"Sir..." Dario started again.

Malcolm raised his hand to stop him. "Before you go on, allow me to introduce myself. I am Malcolm, the Royal Illusionist and first magician to King James the first." He laid his arm across his stomach and bowed before Dario. "You have nothing to hide from me because we are in the same business."

Dario took a step back and eyed Malcolm up and down. He could already tell that there was something different about him from his attire. Malcolm's breeches were long and loose, stretching all the way to his ankles. His shirt was covered by a long, black coat. His buttons were silver, as was the rest of jewelry, including the buckles on his shoes. His hair was dark and curly and his beard was short and unkempt.

"Well then, it's a pleasure to meet you," said Dario. He bowed in return. He sounded reassured but unconfident. It was music to Malcolm's ears. "To what do I owe the honor?"

"Just routine inspection," said Malcolm matter-of-factly. He moseyed slowly toward the chest on the floor without even looking at Dario. It was his favorite way to toy with his victims.

"Inspection?" asked Dario quizzically. He hurried forward to catch up with Malcolm, but Malcolm ignored him.

"Yes," said Malcolm. He looked up and Dario and made eye contact with him for the first time. His eyes were the shade of the sky. But it was not a welcoming color. It was a mean color, one that did not shout evil, but whispered it softly.

Dario stepped back. "What kind of inspection?"

"Oh," said Malcolm, "just the routine stuff. Making sure your tricks are tricks, is all."

Dario scratched his head in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"

Malcolm slanted is eyebrows and looked at Dario, as if surprised by his ignorance. He had done it a thousand times before. Intimidate them, make them feel inferior and ignorant. That was the best way. Manipulate his victim's mind. It was no different from a magic trick.

"Dario, surely you are familiar with the story of the plagues from the Old Testament?"

Dario nodded.

Malcolm banged on the side of the chest. "When Moses went to Egypt and began unleashing the plagues on the land, the Pharaoh gathered magicians to investigate Moses' powers to see if he really was the prophet of God, or if he was just an illusionist like you or I."

He opened the chest and tapped the inside before glancing at Dario. "As the royal illusionist to King James, my duty is similar to the magicians of Egypt. Figure out how it works."

Dario raised his eyebrows unconsciously. He looked appalled. "Sir, you would not reveal my secrets, would you? That would violate the code on which our entire art is based!"

Malcolm kicked the side of the box and a secret door fell open. He could hear Dario beginning to panic. His plan was working perfectly. Intimidation was the key. With the proper manipulation, anyone could get anyone to do anything.

"King James is a very superstitious person," said Malcolm calmly. "He has quite the interest in witchcraft. But he cannot tell the difference between sorcery and illusion. Only I know that."

Dario's eyes widened. His heart skipped a beat. The sound of that one word-witchcraft-sucked the air from his lungs. "His royal highness knows that this is just a show, right?"

Malcolm closed his eyes and shook his head from side to side. "I am the magician. He only knows what I tell him."

Dario's heart pounded against his ribs. He could feel his pores beginning to open up. "You will tell him that I am not a witch, right?"

Malcolm rubbed his chin. "I would have to explain your tricks to him."

Dario punched his own chest. His breathing was starting to get faster and shallower. The dew on his skin was beginning to accumulate. A single drop of sweat was running down his cheek. It tickled him like an insect making its way down his face. He wanted to wipe it away. But he did not dare. He did not dare move in Malcolm's presence. How could one man be so cruel? And a fellow magician, at that! It was a sacred art, one of honor and brotherhood. How could one man be so...

The answer occurred to him even before the question had taken shape. "You want money, don't you?"

Malcolm let his lips curve into the smile he had been fighting back since he first set foot in the room. There was no more hiding it now. That was exactly what he wanted, and that was what he was going to get. "You're not as stupid as you look."

Dario trembled. Malcolm's eyes burned like fire despite the blue. His smile was wide and sharp and looked as though it could be painted on the face of the devil himself. Dario reached into his pocket. "Please. I will give you three shillings."

Malcolm snorted. He stepped closer to Dario, purposely violating his space and forcing him to step back. "I could pickpocket more than that from you."

Malcolm stepped closer to Dario again. He was reduced to the status of a child now. He was a young child surrounded by pirates. Vulnerable, undefendable. There was nothing he could do except pay Malcolm off. Dario backed up subconsciously. "How much?"

"Three crowns."

"Three crowns!" shouted Dario. Malcolm stepped forward. "Are you mad? I haven't got three crowns to give!"

"Three crowns," said Malcolm slowly, stepping forward again. He lowered his voice. It sounded deep and evil. He loomed over Dario menacingly. He was at least a head taller than him, possible more. His shadow fell over the young Italian man like a veil. Dario attempted to step back, but found himself pinned to the wall. Malcolm leaned forward. Dario could feel Malcolm's hot breath on his nose. "Three crowns, witch."

Dario's knees shook. He let out a deep breath. Malcolm was one sadistic man. He was dishonorable to threaten him in a such away. Malcolm was blackmailing him. But there was no way around it. Malcolm was right. King James was highly superstitious and had hanged and burned countless witches. All Malcolm had to do was say the word and Dario was hanging from a tree.

He reached into his pocket and drew out a fistful of coins. "One crown. I have more."

Malcolm held out his hand and received the pile of metal. He picked out a small silver coin and mindlessly added the rest to his pocket. He examined the coin. It was small and a little tarnished. He very much preferred new, polished silver. But hey, it was still money. He put the coin on his knuckle and began to roll it back and forth across his fingers. It was his favorite habit. There was nothing magical about it. But it showed off his dexterity. There were few people who could do it, and he loved to. To most people it was a talent. To him, it was a confirmation that he was better than everyone else.

Dario stalked toward the door in the back of the room. He felt defeated. There was no getting around Malcolm's cruelty. And now he was out three crowns. It was like being robbed. He worked hard for his money. Even a profession as glorious as a magician paid low in these days. And now his money was being taken from him.

He turned around before walking out the door. "Mr. Malcolm, I'll have you know that because of you, I will never be performing in England again."

Malcolm kept his gaze on the coin walking across his digits. He didn't care. In fact, it was better that way. The fewer magicians, the more glory for him.

Malcolm paced through the rooms of the castle. He had already forgotten where he was going. He was just walking, staring at the small circular coin on his knuckles. That was how he thought. He wandered and rolled. His eyes seemed to shut down in this state. He had tunnel vision. He saw nothing that was around him. It was as though his body became a machine programmed to detect barriers, and that his brain had no ties with his actions.

He was contemplating a trick. The idea had come to him three days before as he was leaving the Globe Theater upon collecting his dues from Dario. It was like dominoes, the way the idea came to him. It had started with Dario's comment about refusing to perform in England. It was all the better to him. Malcolm was the illusionist. The man, the myth, the magician. He could do things that no other could. Without wannabes like Dario around, Malcolm got more credit.

That was what the meetings were really about. Authority. Intimidation. Malcolm was number one. In such a unique art, he wanted to be the only one. It was not about the money. He wanted them all to be sure that none of them were as good as he. He was the royal magician. He was the best. Money was dirt to him. He could throw it on the ground, step on it, bury it in feces. Glory made him rich, money was worthless. If he could he would snap a coin in two.

And that was how it started. The destruction of money. Something so sacred and so strong. What a trick it would be to bend it and shape it and manipulate it in any way he wanted. And to hand it out to show that nobody else could do it. That was a trick he wanted to learn.

He pushed open a large wooden door and stepped into the next room. He neither knew nor cared which room he was in. His thoughts were fixed on the money. He could consult with silversmith. But that would mean that his secret would be shared with another. One mind knowing his secret was far too much. He could study the craft himself. But he had neither the time nor the patience to learn an entire vocation for the purpose of one trick. There had to be a way to change money. There just had to.

"Malcolm, what a pleasant surprise!" The King's voice snapped him out of his daydream. He dropped the coin into his palm and looked around. In the course of his wanderings he had inadvertently ventured into the king's entertainment room. He sat at a small circular table with angels and cherubs carved into its wood. The King was dressed in long, elaborate, purple robes. His wavy brown hair and pointy beard had been carefully groomed for his two guests.

He was seated with two other men in red robes. They were each covered in gold and jewels, with hair styled in ways that no peasant would think to emulate. They were diplomats, no doubt, perhaps from Spain or France. The three men were holding playing cards, with large piles of coins pushed into the center of the table.

"My dear friends, this is Malcolm, my royal magician," King James introduced. Malcolm bowed instinctively. "He is a close friend of mine. Malcolm, meet Lord David of Ireland and Sir Isaac of the Netherlands."

"How do you do?" answered Malcolm, not really caring.

"Pleased to meet you, Malcolm," said Sir Isaac. David nodded at him.

King James adjusted his seat. "Malcolm, would you care to join our game?"

"Sure," said Malcolm, taking a seat. He hated cards. He had spent ten years of his life studying them and learning how to manipulate them. He hated them. Cards were all he studied for the first ten years of his career. It was like eating the exact same meal every day for ten years. He never wanted to see them again.

But as much as he hated cards, he loved money. And what a better source than three of the most powerful men in their respective countries?

"Would you like to deal?" asked the King, handing him the cards. Malcolm took them in his hand and sprung them twice before starting the shuffle.

"Malcolm is my royal illusionist and advisor on the subject of witchcraft," said the King. "He knows his stuff. With all the sinners and witchcraft these days, it's hard to distinguish the real from the fake. But not with Malcolm. He makes sure the entertainers are spared and evil are brought to justice."

King James clapped Malcolm on the back Malcolm fanned the cards. They were old and did not spread very well, but that didn't matter. It gave Malcolm what he wanted-a glance at the faces of the cards. He closed the fan and began to deal the cards.

"Malcolm, have you ever worked with a magician named Gavriil?" asked Sir Isaac.

"No," said Malcolm, second-dealing him a card. "I've never heard of him."

"Aye," said David. "I saw advertisements for him on the way here. He's going to be performing at the Globe in a week, and I was thinking of seeing him."

Malcolm dealt himself a card from the bottom of the deck. "Maybe I'll check him out."

"I wish you would," said Isaac. "I saw him back in Amsterdam a few weeks ago. I have seen illusionists before, but never one like him. His powers almost seem too real. I would not be surprised one bit if he really was a witch."

King James pushed a pile of coins into the middle of the table and picked up his cards. "Malcolm, maybe you should look into him a little sooner. If he really is a witch, I don't want him anywhere near London."

Malcolm pushed his own bets into the middle of the table. He could almost feel the light gleaming off the coins and into his eyes. To leave town to check out magician early meant a big pay off. Not just from the magician, but from the King. He would be rolling in the dough.

"Your highness, if you can find out where he is performing, I will happily ride out to see his shows," said Malcolm with a wide smile.

King James touched his shoulder. "Thank you, Malcolm. I really appreciate your loyalty." He turned back to the table and laid down his cards.

Malcolm looked at his cards. He had no loyalty to the King, when you got right down to it. His loyalty was to himself. He did what was in his own best interest, it just so happened to be the country's best interest as well.

"I fold," said David, laying down his cards.

"I have a straight," said the King.

"Me too," said Sir Isaac.

Malcolm smiled and dropped his cards face up onto the table. "Full house."

Malcolm stepped out of the black carriage and onto the cobblestone street of Leicester. He yawned and stretched and wiped the water from his eyes. Contrary to most people, Malcolm loved long carriage rides. It gave him time to collect his thoughts, and to sleep. He cracked his neck and then his knuckles and looked around. The city was far inferior to London. The buildings were smaller, the scenery uglier, and the people poorer. That wasn't a bad thing though-it made him look better.

"Thank you," said Malcolm. He tossed the driver a penny and started down the road. He had asked the driver to drop him off a couple blocks from the theater so that he could stretch his legs with a good walk before the show. As much as he loved long rides, he could not get out of the carriage and go and sit back down for another hour show.

He took the time to concentrate on his idea of destroying money. It would be the ultimate symbol of his greatness. The ability-hell, the nerve-to take something so sacred and destroy it without a second thought. The idea to him was like a steak before a dog. He had to figure out a way to jump up and grab that steak.

He climbed up the steps to the Leicester Theater. Other people were piling in around him. He walked to the usher and dropped two shillings into his palms. "Your finest seat, if you please."

The usher's eyes widened. He pocketed the change and took Malcolm's arm. "Right this way, sir."

The usher led him past the crowd and up a stairway. Malcom could hear the commotion behind them. With a reputation like Gavriil's, there was no doubt that this was a popular show. But the floor was only so big, and most of the people were too poor to afford anything else. The usher sat him in the high balcony. It was a splendid view. He could see the entire stage and all of the pathetic, dirty little peasants crawling around on the floor.

His mind wandered back to the money. Perhaps the best solution to his conundrum of manipulating change would be to figure out exactly what he wanted to do and then figure out how to do it. Could he break it? It would be a good show, but not quite magic. There were many a sideshow freak who could snap a silver coin in two if he wanted. Perhaps bending and twisting it would be better suited to his desire.

A man in blue robes walked out onto the stage. He raised his arms and the crowd below fell silent.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the man announced. "It is the great honor of the Leicester Theater to present to you a man whose talents have stumped both layman and magician alike for years."

Malcolm chuckled to himself. We'll see about that, he thought.

The announcer continued. "Please welcome Gavriil!"

The peasants cheered and clapped. The announcer walked off stage. Malcolm waited for the puff of smoke. But there was no puff of smoke. Gavriil moseyed out onto the stage. There was no grand entrance. No sudden appearance from smoke, no transforming from a tiger. He just walked onto stage. He was a short, bald man. He was clothed in plain brown robes somewhat reminiscent of a monk's attire. His build was not huge, but he appeared to be bigger than the average man.

"Welcome!" said Gavriil. His thick eastern accent reverberated throughout the theater. "Is there a Michael somewhere on the floor here today?"

The people in the pit looked around curiously. It was an odd question. One man stepped closer to the stage. "My name is Michael."

Gavriil nodded. "Michael, could you join me on stage for a moment?"

Michael shrugged and climbed up on stage. Gavriil gave him a hand. He stepped backward and put some distance between them. It was not the first time Malcolm had seen somebody invite a spectator on stage, but the manner in which it had always been done was different. Usually the magician played around first. But this time it was the first trick.

"Michael," said Gavriil. "I would like you to do me a favor. I would like you to think of something. An object of some sort, a large object. Can you do that for me, please?"

Michael hesitated for a second, then nodded. "Okay, I have one."

Gavriil turned and stared at Michael. He forced eye contact with him. "Think of your object," said Gavriil. "Picture it in your head, and send that picture to me. Send it. Put it in my head."

Michael looked at him curiously. "How?"

"Just concentrate," said Gavriil. "I'll do the hard part."

He stared at Michael. The entire theater fell silent. Malcolm waited. The guy was Gavriil's assistant. It was obvious. They had discussed the whole thing ahead of time. It was that simple.

"I'm seeing a square. Is the object a little square?"

"Yes," said Michael. He sounded a little on edge.

"And is there a triangular shaped thing, too?" asked Gavriil.

"You jest!" shouted Michael. "The roof is triangular! I was thinking of a house!"

"Really?" said Gavriil. "Because I was seeing a house. Were you really thinking of a house?"

"Yes!" cried Michael. Malcolm raised his eyebrows. He had to give him credit. The guy was a good actor. If he didn't know any better, he might have guessed that Michael had nothing to do with the act. The crowd clapped loudly. Malcolm clapped, too, but not for Gavriil. He was genuinely impressed by Michael's acting.

Gavriil raised his arms to hush the crowd. "I cannot lead you on," said Gavriil. "I did not really read your mind. You see, your mother told me that you were probably thinking of a house."

Michael stepped back, flabbergasted. "My mother has been dead for years!"

Gavriil smiled and nodded. "I know."

The audience erupted. Malcolm folded his arms. The people were cheering and screaming their approval. Malcolm hated that. Despite his abilities, he only rarely got reactions as good as that. And to get one with a trick that required nothing more than a friend was almost insulting to the art. Gavriil helped a dumbfounded Michael back onto the floor. Suddenly Malcolm no longer liked his acting skills. He wished, for one second, that he had a bow and arrow.

Gavriil stepped back and raised his arms again. "The spirts are all around us," he said. Malcolm shook his head. Was this man trying to sound like a witch? Getting money from this chump was going to be a piece of cake.

"I'm hearing an M," Gavriil addressed to the crowd. "A... Margaret, perhaps? Or a Maggie? Does that name apply to anyone in here?"

"Margaret was my wife's name!" cried a man in the center of the floor. The crowd began to part to let him get closer to the stage.

Gavriil nodded. "And she died at a young age?"

"Yes," said the man slowly.

"It was a very tragic death, was it not?" asked Gavriil.

"Yes," said the man. His voice was beginning to break. Malcolm had to hand it to Gavriil. He hired some good actors. The man had said only seven words, but Malcolm could already hear the abilities in the man's voice.

Gavrill stared at the man. "There was a problem in her mid-section? A pain in the heart or lungs?"

"Lungs," said the man. His voice was cracking slightly.

"She could not breathe," said Gavriil. "There was a problem with her breathing."

"She drowned," said the man. He sounded sad. Actually sad. Even the best actors in the world could not act as well as that. Malcolm knew he was good.

"She says that she loves you very much," said Gavriil. The crowd cheered again, but Gavriil quieted them quickly. "You see?" said Gavriil. "The spirits are all around us. They watch over us. They protect us. They... shut up, Glorpy."

Malcolm slanted his eyebrows. What had he said?

"Glorpy!" said Gavriil. "You're interrupting the show!"

The audience mumbled in curiosity. Malcolm leaned forward to see if something else was going on. Gavriil was good. He had to hand it to him. The man was really good.

"I apologize," said Gavriil. "Glorpy is this annoying little spirit that follows me around and bothers me because he has nothing better to do. Be quiet, Glorpy."

Malcolm watched intently. He had never seen this done before. He had seen people employ actors before, but the Glorpy thing was new. He was wondering where Gavriil was going with this.

"Glorpy, please leave me alone," said Gavriil. "Please... now Glorpy don't use that tone with me! Glorpy! Damnit, Glorpy!"

He flicked his wrist and small cloth appeared in his hand. He waved it around in the air as if he were trying to hit something. To Malcolm it was amusing almost in a comedic manner. He was curious as to what was going to happen, but was enjoying watching Gavriil make a fool out of himself. There was a twinge of jealousy inside of him as a result of Malcolm's good reaction from the spirit talking trick.

Gavriil waved the cloth again. And it stopped. It froze in mid air as if caught on an invisible hook. Gavriil snatched the other side and yanked the cloth down. There was a lump in the middle of the cloth staying in the air, as though an invisible bird was caught underneath it. The cloth twitched and moved by itself. The ball wiggled and darted upward, trying desperately to escape its blanket.

It darted and moved and pushed and tugged against the cloth. It was like a bird was under the handkerchief trying to fly away. The audience gasped. Dozens of hands shot up to cover mouths in shock. There it was, right before their eyes. A spirit trapped under a cloth, writhing and poking and trying its hardest to escape. There was no way it could be real. A true spirit-Glorpy-before their very eyes?

Gavriil shook the cloth and it fell limp. There was nothing there. No bird, no string, nothing. Just a plain old cloth, obeying gravity like normal. Gavriil held it out and turned it around. There was nothing there. Nothing at all. Malcolm's jaw fell open by itself. There was no way. He knew there was no real ghost, but exactly how did he do that?

Malcolm stepped inside of the green room. His manner was different from the usual. He was all business now. He hadn't the will to play with his victim. He wanted to get in there, ravish Gavriil of all of his money, and leave him poor. The man had fooled him. It took a lot to admit it to himself, but there was no hiding it. He had no clue how Gavriil had done those things. Of course, nobody would have thought any different of him if he did not know how they were done. He fooled everyone else, after all. But it was a personal defeat for Malcolm. He knew he had been fooled, and that was all that mattered.

"Excuse me," said Malcolm as he approached Gavriil.

The short bald man across the room turned around. "Ah, welcome! To whom do I owe this honor?"

Malcolm almost winced at the comment. It was completely out of the ordinary. It was normal for a magician to keep people away from the backstage. Malcolm expected to be turned and rushed out of the room hastily. But this had never happened to him before. Gavriil walked toward Malcolm with open arms and wide grin on his face. Gavriil's entire manner was a surprise blow to him, like entering a fist fight with your dukes up only to get kicked in the knee.

"Uh, my name is Malcolm," he uttered through genuine surprise.

"Malcolm," said Gavriil. "A strong English name. Welcome to the theatre. Did you enjoy the show?"

"Actually," said Malcolm, forcing himself to regain his composure, "I am the royal illusionist and first magician to King James the first."

Gavriil's face lit up. Malcolm could see his features quite well in person. His head was perfectly round with a wide nose sculpted in the center. He had large eyes that vaguely reminded Malcolm of a puppy, with thin lips that could have been painted on. His face was in high contrast to Malcolm's own narrow features. Malcolm had inherited his father's long, lanky body and head, and standing next to Gavriil only made him look skinnier.

"Ah, an insider," said Gavriil heartily. His smile changed from wide and welcoming to spare and sly. He stepped aside to give Malcolm a clear view of the room. "Pleased to meet you, Malcolm. What can I do for you?"

Malcolm stepped further into the room. There were a couple of people carrying small props here and there, but there was no big equipment.

"Just doing a routine inspection," said Malcolm. He was calm and cool again. His voice had taken on its usual tone of casual gall. The plan had only suffered a minor setback. He was on his way to moneyville again. "King James is a very superstitious person, you see."

"So I've heard," Gavriil spoke up. "It's foolish to believe in such things as witchcraft. Nobody can match the good Lord. But I guess if nobody believed in that, you and I would be out of jobs."

Malcolm lifted his shoulders subtly. He knew that very well, but had never heard it coming from somebody else. He glanced out of the corner of his eye. Gavriil was walking forward, eyes plastered straight ahead. He did not care that Malcolm was not looking at him like most of the other magicians. Gavriil was definitely different. He was not only a skilled illusionist, he was also going to be a much harder safe to crack.

Malcolm looked around the room. There was something fishy even to him. Something seemed like it was missing, something big. "The King likes me to come to these shows. You see, he fears witches and doesn't want any of them to come to England under the guise of..."

He trailed off and looked around. "Where are your confederates?"

Gavriil chuckled. "Mr. Malcolm, I don't use confederates."

A cold sweat washed over Malcolm. Gavriil had to be lying. Confederates were the things that could have made the "spirit conjuring" routine possible. There had to be insiders, there was no other way.

"You do have confederates," Malcolm insisted. "Michael, and Margaret's husband."

Gavriil looked at Malcolm. Their eyes met, and Malcolm swallowed hard. He had broken his own golden rule. Never make eye contact unless during intimidation. Gavriil was smiling widely. His eyes had thinned to two tiny lines.

He pulled Malcolm closer and leaned in toward his ear. "I don't like to say, but since you are an insider, I will share my secret with you." His tone was hushed, yet happy. Malcolm could hear the excitement in his voice.

"It's a revolutionary new method I've been working on," Gavriil continued. "Quite remarkable. The secret is all in the wording of the questions."

Malcolm glanced at him in curiosity.

"Michael is a very common name in this country. There had to be at least one person in the theater named Michael. As for Margaret, I mentioned the name, but did not say what the name was. It could have been a spectator's name, the name of a loved one, a pet, a place, anything. The trick is, I ask the questions in such a way that the spectators answer the questions themselves, while it looks like I did it."

Malcolm nodded. It was an interesting concept, he had to admit. He had to give the man credit (but not too much credit-he had outsmarted Malcolm, after all.) Malcolm subconsciously reached into his pocket and started fingering his coins. He had to take a different approach now. The threatening manner was somehow failing. He would never get the cash if he did not take control of the situation.

"Mr. Gavriil, your reasoning is superb, I admit. But I have a duty to perform. You see..."

"Mr. Malcolm, why are you in such a hurry?" asked Gavriil. "Do you have somewhere to be?"

"No," said Malcolm, squinting and looking around. That was an offbeat question. "I don't have anything to do..."

"Then why are you so intent on finishing your duty? Let's socialize first, get to know each other a little better," Gavriil said happily, clapping Malcolm on the back. "After a show I always like to walk the streets and perform close up for the passersby. Would you care to join me?"

Malcolm let go of the coin and pulled his hand out of his pocket. Yes. Yes he did. It would give him the opportunity to get what he wanted. To learn how Gavriil worked, to twist him around, and as an added bonus, to show him up in their art.

"Yes," said Malcolm, smiling (although not at the thought of performing-he smiled at the thought of manipulating Gavriil.) "I would be happy to join you."

 Magic and Malice Part 2  (13+)
Malcolm's jealousy begins to drive him to the edge.
#1296118 by LightningandIce

 Magic and Malice Part 3  (13+)
Malcolm's world is turned upside-down in a surreal act of poetic justice.
#1296121 by LightningandIce
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