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Rated: 13+ · Other · History · #1296118
Malcolm's jealousy begins to drive him to the edge.
 Magic and Malice Part 1  (13+)
A greedy 17th century magician is struck with jealousy when he meets his equal.
#1296116 by LightningandIce

The first stars of the night twinkled on in the sky. A pale orange haze filled the sky to the west. It would have looked nice behind the skyline of London, but the amateur architecture of Leicester looked like an uninspired, force painting done for monetary value rather than for the art. Malcolm ran through his routines in his head, trying to decide on which one would be the most impressive. He was the royal magician, he had many.

Gavriil pulled a deck of cards from his robe and handed it over to Malcolm. It had been a long time since Malcolm had performed an actual magic trick with cards, but he was constantly honing his abilities in gambling. He was surprised that the King had yet to pick up on his cheating habit, as he had probably scammed him out of a half-dozen pounds in his lifetime.

"Ah," said Gavriil, tapping Malcolm. "That man looks unoccupied. Why don't we approach him?"

Malcolm looked at the man. He was young, but looked old. Dirt was crusted in the lines on his face. His clothes were tattered and had probably not been changed in days. This was a man who had probably missed his last bi-yearly bath. And he was not somebody Malcolm wanted to perform for. He was the royal illusionist of England, after all. His spectators were barons and kings, not dirty peasants with nought a penny to their name.

"Salutations!" Gavriil greeted before Malcolm had the chance to object. The man looked up solemnly. "Pleased to meet you, I am Gavriil the magician."

The man smiled. Malcolm swore he could see flakes of dirty falling from his face as he did. "I heard about you."

"Did you see the show?" asked Gavriil.

"No, I didn't have the money." That came as no surprise to Malcolm.

Gavriil smiled warmly. "Then I guess we'll have to bring the show to you. This is my friend Malcolm, the royal illusionist of England."

The man's eyes widened. He bowed down graciously. Malcolm smirked. That was what he liked. People bowing before his greatness. As stuck up as that sounded, he deserved praise. He worked hard to become what he was. The first illusionist to the King, the greatest magician in the world, and he deserved respect.

"Would you like to see something that will boggle your mind?" asked Gavriil.

The man stood up and nodded. "Certainly!"

Malcolm took Gavriil's cards and spread them between his hands. It was good to start simple. And this was the perfect opportunity to get into a person's head. "Take one."

The man plucked a single piece of paper from Malcolm's hands. He looked at it and put it back. Malcolm squared the cards and shuffled them thoroughly. It didn't matter. He had something better. He handed the cards back to Gavriil and looked at the man.

"My eyes," said Malcolm. "Look into my eyes."

The man looked at him. Malcolm stared back. There were a thousand reasons for this. The main reason was to "read his mind." But there was so much more than that. It was a subtle way of establishing dominance. He was the master. The man was his puppet. He could get inside of him and do whatever he wanted. If he wanted the man dead, then he could kill him. If he wanted that man to give up his wife and daughter to him, then he could make him do it. Forget James, he was the King. He was Malcolm, and he was inside your mind.

"Charlemagne," said Malcolm. "The King of Hearts."

The man broke the gaze. Malcolm could almost hear the man's heart skip. It was exactly what he wanted. The man looked around helplessly. His face turned pale beneath the black grime smeared across his visage.

"You read my mind," he muttered. "You read my mind!"

A small group of people walking by stopped and looked at them. Malcolm smiled. That's right, he thought. I read your mind, because I am better than you.

"Gavriil!" cried one of the people who had gathered. It was a young lady, slightly better off than the man as far as money went. She wore a long blue gown with a single gold necklace. But her hair betrayed her look. It fell straight to her neck, free of any style that a noble lady would wear. "Gavriil, I saw you perform! You were amazing!"

Gavriil smiled. "Would you like to see something that will boggle your mind?"

The girl blushed. "I already have, but yes."

Gavriil spread the cards between his hands. Malcolm couldn't help but notice that Gavriil's spread was longer than his own. "Choose one if you will."

The girl reached out her hand and hovered it over the cards. Gavriil smiled at her patiently. It was a little rude for him to steal the spotlight so quickly after his conclusion, Malcolm thought. He had not yet finished basking in the glory of destroying the man's sense of reality before Gavriil started his own trick. But that didn't matter. He would just add it to Gavriil's tab.

The young lady picked a card and showed it to the people around her. They nodded and she slid it back in between two cards. Gavriil closed the spread promptly and began to shuffle the cards. He had large hands. It had to be easy to cover his deceptions with whammers like those. They were enormous. Malcolm jingled the coins in his pocket.

Gavriil looked the young lady in the face. "Charlemagne, the King of Hearts."

Malcolm stepped back. He was stunned. There was no way that Gavriil would have done that. No magician, regardless of how amateur, would ever do something that stupid.

"No," said the girl. Malcolm breathed a sigh of relief. Gavriil had messed it up. He had tried to imitate Malcolm and failed. It was a breath of sweet satisfaction into Malcolm's already-jaded lungs. Gavriil the great had messed up.

"Then it must have been the Devil's Bedpost," said Gavriil. His voice was completely unphased by his failure to identify the card. "The Four of Clubs."

The girl smiled shyly, regretting that she had proven Gavriil wrong. "No."

"Ah, I see. Then what card was it, may I ask?"

"The Seven of Spades."

"Ah," said Gavriil, raising his chin. "The Humming Bird Card."

The girl cocked her head. "The Humming Bird Card? I've never heard that nickname before." Nor had Malcolm. Gavriil had proven himself so well during the stage show. It was a shame (almost) to see that he was falling apart right here on his first trick. And even more, he had no idea of the true names for the cards. The Seven of Spades was the Seven of Spades, it had no nickname, and there was no such thing as the Humming Bird Card.

"Yes," said Gavriil. "The Humming Bird Card, because it flies."

He flicked his wrist. A single card shot from the deck and into the air-and stayed there. It sat suspended before them, spinning like a top in the middle of nothing. No hands. No wires. Just a single card hovering and spinning in the middle of a circle of people. Their eyes bulged and their mouths dropped open. The crowd was beginning to grow. About ten people had accumulated into a large audience on all sides of the two performers and were staring at the spinning, floating card before them.

It darted backward without warning. The people gasped. The loud sound of their combined inhale stopped a few more people walking by and drew them into the audience. The card circled around Gavriil's entire body. It spun and darted, moving quickly and precisely, just like a humming bird. It rounded Gavriil's side and stopped again directly in front of him. He held his hand out straight and wiggled his fingers. The card rose, slowly and delicately, still spinning at one thousand rotations per second. It lifted into his hand and he grasped it ever so gently.

He held it up. It was the Seven of Spades.

The crowd gasped. It seemed to Malcolm as though they were trying to suck up all the oxygen in the world. It was impressive, but not that impressive. The crowd applauded wildly. Gavriil handed the card to the girl. She stared at it as though it were a piece of Noah's Ark. Malcolm watched her turn it over and scan it. It was a card. That's all it was. A simple magician's prop. They were blowing the entire thing completely out of proportion. At least, that was what Malcolm thought. It would have been different if he had gotten that reaction.

Malcolm stepped into the center of the circle. It was his turn now. He'd had enough playing around. It was time for him to establish his dominance, shock the spectators, and get his damn money. He tapped Gavriil on the shoulder benevolently. He did not dare show his contempt. If he was to gain superiority, he had to do it through his abilities. He could show no malice.

"You're truly blessed, Gavriil," said Malcolm, forcing a smile that almost made him sick.

"Thank you Malcolm," Gavriil answered sincerely. He sounded genuinely grateful, like he was truly accepting a compliment from a close friend. Malcolm hated him even more for it. The man was already a thorn in his side. He just wanted Gavriil to disappear. Not a magic trick kind of vanish, either.

"My friends," said Gavriil, addressing the crowd. It had already grown enormous and was beginning to block the street. "This is Malcolm, the royal magician of England. He has been honored by King James himself. Pay attention to him, for he will wow you more than even I could."

Flattery will get you nowhere, thought Malcolm. He hated that man for thinking that Malcolm could ever be his friend. But it was the opportunity he needed.

He stepped forward elegantly. "My friends, magic is a sacred art so unique that it has no metaphor. It is an art devoted to making the impossible, possible. For generations, magicians have learned to enchant everything from playing cards, as you have seen, to insects, to the human mind. Does anyone here have a schilling?"

He stopped in front of a man and looked at him. The man felt inside of his pockets and came out with a small silver coin. It was not a terribly high amount of money, but it would be enough to buy a small meal. Malcolm took it in his hand and immediately began rolling it across his fingers. He loved the way it felt. The cold, heavy metal. It was not even the value at this point. It was the power.

He held it up. He should have said something. A story, a word, something. But he was engrossed by the sheer brilliance of the opportunity. It was his chance to take control of Gavriil. The entire prospect was breathtaking. It felt like his very first time on stage. He stared at the coin.


He rubbed it gently as he stared at it. His own face was as awestruck by its beauty as the faces of the people watching. He wrapped his fingers around it and squeezed it and rubbed it. A simple little prop, so trivial to him, and yet so important. A key. A key to power. He moved is finger around the sides of the coin and squeezed it and rubbed it as though trying to rub it into tiny specs of silver. He cupped it in his hand. He squeezed. He rubbed. He opened his hand.

The audience gaped at his empty palm. It was gone, vanished into thin air by a little pressure of the fingers. A short wave of shock ran through the people. There was no way he had taken a schilling-the precious piece of currency that was so rare these days-and ripped it from existence. It was not just the ability that surprised them. It was the guts.

He held up his empty hands and the people clapped. Malcolm could not help but notice the disappointed look on the face of the man he had taken it from. As sadistic as it was, he loved being the cause of that grief. He was superior, especially to the Londoner-wannabes like this man. And it was damn time he showed it.

Gavriil stepped forward to congratulate him. He shook Malcolm's hand openly.

"Malcolm, I can see that the king favors you," said Gavriil. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a schilling of his own. "Money is a valuable thing. For one to have enough wealth and wit to make it disappear, well, you have to be very successful. I commend you."

He raised the schilling to his mouth and bit it in half.

Malcolm's face fell numb. His eyes opened. His pupils dilated. His mouth opened. He had no control over his face. The expression put itself there.

He bit the coin in half. He bit the coin in half. It was impossible. There was no way.

Gavriil spit half of coin out of his mouth. In the blink of an eye it shot through the air to the half in his hand. It touched the metal and melted back into it along the break. The crack sealed flush. In one split second Gavriil had bit the coin. And in even less time, and right in front of everyone, he had restored it to perfect condition.

He handed it to the man in the front who had lost his own coin to Malcolm. The man examined it carefully. It was whole. Completely whole. There was not a single trace that anything had been done to it. He dropped it into his pocket with a puzzled look.

Malcolm could hear his heart beating in he ears. There was no way. Malcolm himself had been contemplating such a thing for ages. He had been meditated on the idea of manipulating the physical properties of coinage for weeks. He did not even know where to start. It was an incomprehensible problem. And yet Gavriil had done it. And not only had he done it, but he had done it simply and easily and without a second thought. He had not even presented it. He just did it.

Malcolm's skin sizzled in the evening air. The shock was disappearing, being replaced by anger. Anger at Gavriil for doing that. For being able to do that. Anger at the spectators for appreciating it. Anger at himself for failing. Failing. He had failed. He had failed to twist Gavriil around his finger. He had failed to capture the crowd the way he had. And he had failed to bite a coin in half.

No. He had not failed. He would not fail. He had to do this.

"May I please have the cards?" asked Malcolm plainly. His voice was drained of emotion. He didn't want friendship. He didn't want to present. He just wanted to do a damned trick that was better than Gavriil's.

He took the deck into his hands and started to shuffle it. Card over card. He did not know what he wanted to do. He hated cards, but it was what he was the most experienced with. He could not go wrong with them. But his mind was completely blank. He could not remember a single trick. The years of practice-sleepless nights from studying books, bleeding fingertips, strained eyes from staring at cards, everything-had vanished like the coin before. It was a situation he had not been in since he had first began magic all those years ago.

And there was another feeling, too. He was nervous. He was not just nervous. He was downright scared. He was vulnerable. For the first time in years, he was vulnerable. He was not in control. Or perhaps he had never been in control and was only now realizing it. He was fighting a losing battle against Gavriil that the other party did not even know what happening.

He shuffled. Card over card. He wondered if this was what a champion jouster felt like after taking a lance to the stomach. He could not be defeated. He had been in denial long enough. This new internal declaration was a sort of self-comfort. A way to keep him from panicking. He could not be defeated.

He shuffled. Card over card. How easily Gavriil had bitten the coin and spit it back together. How easily he had manipulated the people at the theater. How easily he had overshadowed Malcolm, the greatest performer in the country. A small ball of anger was starting to surface again. A tiny bubble of rage floating to the top of the lake of disappointment.

It wasn't like he wasn't dedicated to his art. He had spent years-literally, years-learning what he had. He had learned tricks inside and out. Memorized lines. Refined methods. Invented his own little miracle. Decades of his life had been dedicated to learning how to deceive. So why was it that this man was so much-dare he say it?-better than he was. And in his own country. Where he was king, at least of the magic realm. This stranger had come and overthrown him. Malcolm hated that man. He hated him with all of his guts.

He shuffled. Card over card over card. Over card. He was furious. Over card. He wanted Gavriil to fail. Over card. The skin on his face began to tighten over his brow. Over card. It was all he could think about. The anger. The hatred.

He brought a packet of cards down into his hand and missed. Thirty-two small rectangular pieces of paper fell from his grip and fluttered to the ground. His heart sank in his chest. His entire body went numb, including his fingers, allowing the remaining cards to fall into a pile.

The crowd gasped and covered their mouths. Malcolm fell to his knees and immediately began picking them up. His skin dyed itself red from embarrassment. There was no way. There was no way this could be happening to him. What mortal sin had made his Holy Father wish to punish him so? He was defeated. There was nothing he could do. There was no redemption from this. He shamefully gathered the cards into a pile. It was the worst humiliation of his entire life. He wanted to crawl under a rock.

Gavriil stepped forward and patted him on the back. "Accidents happen," he said reassuringly, addressing the audience as much as Malcolm.

"The cards don't matter," he continued. He held up a fist. A fat hand with short stubby fingers curled into a ball. "The magic is never in the cards. The magic is in the magician."

He reached into his fist and pulled on something. A long, thin, green object emerged, pinched between his fingers. He stretched it the length of a few inches before opening his hand. The long green thing was a stem, and on the end rested a plump red rose. Its petals curled outward delicately. It was a lovely shade of scarlet. The smooth curves were more gorgeous than the curves a woman.

Malcolm looked up at it from the cards. He had to admit that it was the most beautiful thing had seen all day. And he hated it.

"I wish I could offer you a drinking partner," said Gavriil, "but I really must be setting off for London."

"Don't worry about it," said Malcolm, trying to pretend that he cared.

"I prefer to travel at night," said Gavriil. "I can sleep in the carriage during the journey without missing anything. And arriving in the morning gives me the whole day to enjoy the city before I have to set up for the show."

"Well," said Malcolm, "I travel during the day."

His eyes were plastered to his feet. He could not bare to look at Gavriil after his miserable failure. The cabby bounced up and down on the cobble stones as they approached the inn. The humming bird card. The coin bite. The rose. That had been enough for Malcolm. He did not perform another single trick for the rest of the night. He stayed back, blending in with the spectators and watching Gavriil astonish them all. The things he did on the street were twice the effects he had done in the theater. They were all well thought out and perfectly executed.

"My next show is at the Globe Theater tomorrow," said Gavriil. "I do hope you will be attending."

"Of course." He did not care. He did not want to go back and watch Gavriil overwhelm the people with his impossibilities. He did not want to be shown up.

"I look forward to it," said Gavriil. "Maybe afterward we can perform together again. I am so sorry for your little mishap earlier."

Malcolm turned his head up to Gavriil for the first time since they had entered the carriage. "Don't worry about it."

The cabby pulled to the side of the road and the horses stopped galloping. Malcolm stood up and hopped over the side.

"It was nice to meet you," said Gavriil, extending his hand. "I hope I'll see you tomorrow."

Malcolm placed his hand in Gavriil's and let him shake it. There was no movement on his own part. He merely let his arm go limp and allowed his acquaintance to do all the work. It was not even worth it.


Gavriil released his hand and Malcolm turned toward the inn without another word. He walked in the door and up the stairs and pulled out his key. He was happy that Gavriil was leaving. He did not want a drinking partner. He needed a drink, but certainly did not want to drink with Gavriil. Not after the mess this evening. Besides that, he needed to sleep. He needed to let his mind flush itself of the events of the day while he was unconscious.

He let his coat fall to the floor behind him in a pile. There were no bedtime preparations for him tonight. He stripped off his clothes carelessly and left them in a heap beside his bed.

What bothered him the most was not even his little screw-up. He had done worse things, albeit a long time ago. But they had happened. It was the coin. How he had meditated on such a trick for weeks and how Gavriil had pulled it off so simply. He did not even know how Gavriil had done it. He had too much pride to ask. The man had bit the coin and spit it back together. No presentation, no preparation, just bing-bang-boom. Done.

He blew out the lamp and settled into the bed. It was hard and lumpy. Far from the suite that he would have preferred. But he was in no mood to complain or to get a new room. He just wanted to disappear into the comfort of slumber.

And the way Gavriil had brushed off everything. "The magic is not in the cards, it's in the magician." My ass thought Malcolm. The man was right, but it was the way he had said it. So calmly. Surely he was only trying to cover up for Malcolm, but that was not what had happened. Gavriil had said that and then produced a rose, a gorgeous rose, which he then handed off to the pretty girl in the front row. All it did was make Malcolm look worse. And the spontaneity of the bitten coin. It had stolen the luster from Malcolm's own trick.

The man was better than Malcolm. Damnit, he was. He had even tried to help, but all he did was prove it more. How dare he. It was not even about the money anymore. That though had left Malcolm's mind hours ago. It was about pride and ability. Malcolm could have no equal. He was the royal illusionist. The royal damn illusionist! And now he looked like a fool.

He wanted Gavriil to pay. He wanted him to pay dearly for the injury he had caused Malcolm. This had never happened before. Never ever. He did not want Gavriil to pay with money. He didn't give a rat's ass about money anymore. He wanted Gavriil to be humiliated in front of hundreds of people. He wanted Gavriil to experience his own feelings from earlier that night tenfold. He wanted him to be in fear and in pain. He wanted him to suffer.

Malcolm blinked. His mind jerked itself, shocked into reality by a sudden realization. He was not defeated yet. He could still win. He might not be the greatest magician in England at the moment, but that would not be the case for very long. He could do something about this. Something dirty, sadistic, and unscrupulous. Something downright sinister.

Something that would make him the best again.


"All rise!" announced the sentry. The people turned and cheered as King James waved his hand over the railing of the balcony. He grinned at them. They were his people. They could be annoying and overbearing at times, but hey, he loved them. They were like a pet. He had to feed and take care of them and keep them happy, but he had to make sure to hit them on the nose if they got too rowdy.

He lowered his hand and stepped back, the signal for everyone to resume watching the stage. He lowered himself into his royal seat and waited for the bustle below to settle. He had no qualms about watching a good magic show. It fascinated him. The idea of making it seem as though you could do the impossible. The trickery of it all. It was like a good play, only better. If he were not King, he might have taken up the craft himself.

No, it was an art, he reminded himself. An art, not a craft. That was something not to be confused. The art of magic. The craft of witchery. They had to be distinguished between. That was what Malcolm was for.

A short, skinny man in bright clothing stepped onto the stage. His tunic was a bright yellow. James had no complaints about the modern trends in peasant's apparel, but the tone of this man's shirt was a bit radical for his taste.

"Ladies and gentlemen, let me welcome you to the Globe Theater," he projected. The crowd began to hush for him. "For those of you who have not attended an even at the Globe before, allow me to point out the exits for you."

King James turned around in his seat. He knew the locations of the exits quite well. He was looking for someone else. He reached over the tapped the gauntlet of one of his guards.

"Yes sir?" asked the tall figure.

"Have you seen Malcolm?" King James inquired. He wanted to see the show, but watching it without his royal illusionist made him a little uneasy. He felt insecure about the whole thing. He would not know what was real and what wasn't.

"No, sir, I haven't seen him."

The King leaned back in his chair. It was probably no big deal. Malcolm had gone to check the man out the day before. If something was wrong, he would have shown up and gotten the authorities involved by now.

"And so, at this time," the man in the yellow continued. "Please welcome Gavriil the Great!"

A short, bald man in brown robes pushed past the curtains and walked onto center stage. The people clapped promptly as the man in yellow disappeared and the man in brown bowed.

"Thank you ever so much," said Gavriil. "It is truly an honor to be here. To perform for all of you splendid Londoners in the world renowned Globe Theater. And in front of the fair King of England, no less!"

The people clapped. King James shifted in his seat. He was really starting to feel apprehensive. This man could just be trying to butter him up. To get on his good side to throw him off of his real activities.

"When I arrived in London this morning, I got a good feeling. I get feelings a lot, you see. I can feel things. People. Places. Thoughts. It sounds weird, but I can actually feel them, and I'd like to give you a demonstration."

King James brought his hand to his mouth. The man could feel things? What did that mean? King James himself was feeling something at the moment. Something bad. He already didn't like Gavriil.

"At this time, would everyone be so kind as to think of a number between one and ten?"

The entire theater fell hush. King James picked one out in his own mind.

"Now, let's do a little math," said Gavriil. "I find that doing math both stimulates the mind and relaxes it at the same time. Everyone please multiply your number by nine, and then take the number that you get and add the two digits together."

He paused to allow the audience to do the problem in their heads. "Now subtract five."

King James did the math, but he didn't feel very relaxed. His paranoia was very possibly the result of Malcolm's absence. Not that he couldn't handle the situation himself, but he felt safer with Malcolm. It was like an adolescent going to a gathering without his parents for the first time. He knew what he was doing, but there was just a twinge of uncertainty that prevented entertainment.

"Now," said Gavriil, "find the letter of the alphabet that corresponds with your number. Not the letter that your number starts with, but that it corresponds with. If your number was one, your letter would be A. If your number was two, your letter would be B, and so on and so forth."

King James wondered what Gavriil was doing. The man was making them think of things. Confusing them. This could not be healthy for the mind. If Gavriil was a witch, the people would be vulnerable.

"Think of a country that starts with that letter. Then, take the second letter of the name of that country, and think of an animal that starts with that letter."

Exactly where was Malcolm, anyway?

"Picture that animal," said Gavriil. His voice growing more tense. He was getting serious. "Really focus on that animal. Especially the color. Really focus in on the color."

King James thought about the color.

"On the count of three, I would like everyone in the theater to please say the name of the color you are thinking of. One."

He was counting now. Even more fodder for the people to comprehend. Could it be a type of hypnotism, perhaps?


Or maybe it wasn't. It could be just a trick. There was no evidence that any of this was real. Just James' own paranoia.



It was one word, just one word, spoken by hundreds of mouths at the same time, all in unison. The two guards on either side of King James looked at each other. They had both spoken the word, too. James' eyes widened. He had not said it, but it was the same word that had played in his own head. Gray. That was his color. Gray gray gray. That was what he thought of. That was what every person-every man, woman, child, lord, lady, peasant, guard, and rat-that was what every person in the theater had thought of.

Silence befell the audience. Just for a moment as each person sat and comprehended what had just happened. The man had made them all think the exact same thing. The color gray. Somehow the man had synthesized their minds to picture the same color. No matter what their number, what their country, what their animal, it all came down to the color gray.

In unison-the same unison that the people had called out the name of their color-the entire audience broke into applause. King James clapped weakly. He was impressed, there was no denying that. But he did not know if he should be impressed. His own paranoia was catching up to him. There was probably nothing to it, but without Malcolm, he felt vulnerable.

Gavriil raised his arms and bowed. A light from the high-hanging chandelier glistened off of his clean head. He stayed at the bottom of his gesture briefly and stood back up into his full stature. There was a wide grin plastered on his face. King James could make out from the balcony that the man was indeed smiling, but could not see his manner. It could have been sincere, but it could have been devilish. He was uneasy. He was trying hard not to jump to conclusions, but there was never any way to be sure about things like this.

The applause began to die down. King James rested his hands at his sides.

Slam. A loud banging rocked the balcony. King James spun around in his seat. The door had been flung open. A scraggly, tired looking Malcolm in ragged black clothes bounded onto the balcony. His hair was tossed about and unkempt. His face was dotted with tiny specks of black hair just starting to poke through the skin on his cheeks. The skin below his eyes hung down almost to his nose and had been tainted an ugly purple.

His clothes were dirty and wrinkled. If memory served the king, it was the same outfit he had worn the day before. From a commoner he could expect such a thing, but Malcolm was a fanatic about cleanliness. With the exception of his long black cloak, he never wore an outfit more than one day in a row.

"Malcolm!" cried King James.

Malcolm stumbled up to the King and stopped. "Your majesty!"

"What kept you?" asked King James. "And why do you look so tired?"

Malcolm stood up and pointed over the railing at Gavriil. "That man is no magician, he's a witch!"

James' heart skipped. He inhaled sharply. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead. He knew it. There was no way a man could get hundreds of people to think the same thing. There had to be some kind of intervention from the dark side.

And the man had gotten into his own head. He had somehow controlled the mind of the man who was in control of the entire kingdom. Imagine what this man could do. No, he was not even a man. He was demon. A servant of Satan. A witch. A witch!

Heart pounding, King James stood up. "Guards!"

His voice boomed throughout the entire theater. Gavriil stopped and looked up at him. The people in the seats and on the floor all stopped and looked up at him. Malcolm raised his eyebrows. As easy as the man was, Malcolm had to admit that he knew how to control an audience.

"Arrest this man!" commanded King James. "He is a witch!"

Gavriil's look of pride instantly melted into an expression of pure dread. That was impossible. He was no witch. He was a magician. A performer. The stuff was not real, it was far from real. A sense of panic hit him. He did not know what to do. Run? His feet were frozen to the stage. He was too much in shock to move a muscle.

A group of guards ran toward Gavriil from five different directions. Two plowed through the crowd and jumped onto the stage in a single leap. Four more came at him from the sides. Two on his left and two on his right. Another pushed through the curtain and stepped up behind Gavriil with a long, sharp sword poking into his back.

Two of the guards forced Gavriil's arms behind his back and started to tie his wrists together. The people in the audience booed him. Voices that only seconds before were cheering him on were now spewing hatred. A tomato flew from inside of the crowd and splattered against Gavriil's chest.

Malcolm smiled to himself. The whole thing was a pleasure to the senses. The sight of this man who had made a fool of him getting punished. The sound of his pleas and of the people shouting their disapproval. The smell of Gavriil's fear, of King James' power, of the people's rage. The feeling of satisfaction and optimism. All that was missing was taste. Malcolm smiled to himself. Maybe after he had a bath he would go buy some chocolate.

"No, no, I'm innocent!" Gavriil gasped desperately.

"Shut up, witch," shouted one of the guards. He smacked Gavriil across the face hard enough for the sound to echo despite the noise.

An electric sting swept across Gavriil's cheek. It was like a slap of reality. He was being arrested for witchcraft. The king thought he was a servant of Lucifer. That was not true. But he could not cry out. That just made the people hate him more. He would have to wait until the hysterics calmed and try to talk himself out of this with the authorities. He hung his head and let the guards walk him off stage.

The spectators cleared a path for Gavriil and the guards. They continued to yell their disapproval. Gavriil's eyes darted from face to face as he walked.


"Burn, cursed demon!"

"You'll regret your sins, you ugly bastard!"

He could hardly look. He felt shame. Pure shame. What could he do? There was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

King James and Malcolm watched from the balcony. It was an epic scene. The crowd clearing the way for the heroic guards to take the evil fugitive to jail. Malcolm loved it.

King James put his hand on Malcolm's shoulder. "Good job, Malcolm. I will see to it that you are handsomely rewarded for this."

"Thank you, sir," said Malcolm, smiling even wider. The reward would be nice, but it didn't mean anything. He was back in control.

The tension sat thick in the air as dawn broke over London. The people were up bright and early that morning, but it was not for work, nor for play. It was for a celebration. Of sorts. Town square had been cleared away. A large wooden platform stood in the middle. Guards were stationed along the outside to hold the people back. The crowd was rows thick with every class of Londoner. Some peasants had dressed themselves in nice clothing for the occasion, while others had crawled out of bed with barely anything at all.

A tall wooden spire stood arrow straight in the center of the platform. It was a tall, menacing spike which stared down at the people sinisterly. Hay and brush had been piled at the bottom. Under normal conditions it would be food for the horses. But not today. Today it was for tinder. It was the starting point for the destruction that would follow. It was the flint of a gun, the tip of a sword, the first word of a death warrant.

A glowing orange hemisphere peaked over the eastern horizon. King James stepped out from the crowd. He was done up well that morning. As king, he was never not done up well, but today was a special occasion. His hair and beard were groomed neatly. His robes were washed and pressed. He had chosen a dark green for the day, for no particular reason. It just seemed to him that it would look nice.

The crowd clapped and cheered its king. The patient silence disappeared as soon as King James touched the top step of the platform. He raised his arms and quieted them. Unlike them, he wanted to get this over with. He wanted to make the world just a tad bit safer as soon as he could.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the king spoke as the final words died around him. "I needn't remind you why we are all gathered here today."

His voice was gravely serious. His face was even more so. His eyes were open, his mouth a thin straight line. There was no joking about this. Every person gathered around considered this to be a fun, entertaining event social event. They were truly ignorant of exactly what kind of situation this was.

"We are here to witness the execution of a servant of the devil himself! This man who will soon be brought before us has been convicted of witchcraft."

He paused and nodded at Malcolm. Malcolm nodded back from the front row directly in front of the platform. It was no challenge to make his face look so serious. Over the years of acting through his magic, Malcolm could fake dread as easily as he could blink. There was no real dread. Only relief and impatience: relief that he would be number one again, and impatience because he to hurry up and be it.

"I needn't remind you that witchcraft is not only a crime against this country, but a crime against God Himself," continued King James in his all important, only business tone of voice. It only made Malcolm more impatient. "It is in the text of Leviticus that God says, 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' Today, we let him suffer no longer. Bring him out."

The people erupted in a fit umpteen times the volume of the ruckus that was thrown when Gavriil was first arrested. In the Globe, only the theater goers had the chance to denounce him then. But today, all of London and half of the surrounding area was crowded around the platform. Executions were social events.

King James made eye contact with Malcolm again. Malcolm nodded unblinkingly. He had mixed feelings about the noise. It was loud and irritating. It hurt his ears and was giving him a headache. But at the same time it was a pleasant sound. It was a thousand voices throwing curses and death wishes at the man who had embarrassed Malcolm. He loved it.

King James shifted his gaze from Malcolm to the back of the crowd. Malcolm followed his stare to Gavriil. More yells and boos rang out all around him. The people hated Gavriil even more than Malcolm did. Malcolm's abhorrence stemmed from pride. From the people, it was treachery, but even more so, fear.

Malcolm looked at Gavriil. He had never seen the man's body before under all of the robes, but he could tell by the face that he was losing weight. He had probably not eaten a crumb since he was arrested five days prior. His body was covered in bruises from head to foot. The mark on his shoulder was brilliant enough to be mistaken for the stain from a blueberry. His bald head was ringed with a crown of scabs. Scabs which, if this man was not going to be killed, would eventually have turned into deep, hideous scars. He vaguely resembled Jesus Christ on the way to his crucifixion, wearing nothing but a loin cloth, hanging on his own body weight and barely able to walk. There was something inside of Malcolm, something deep down, that loved to see him suffer.

The two guards on either side of Gavriil dragged him through the crowd. His eyes were plastered to the ground. Perhaps it was shame, or maybe he was just too weak to hold his head up. Malcolm couldn't tell. Gavriil's legs buckled and stumbled forward onto the stones. One of the guards punched him in the back of the head and forced him onto his feet. More words of hate pummeled Gavriil from all sides. It was a grueling trek, but he had to make it. There was no choice.

The guards dragged him up the steps of the platform. King James stepped back. His eyes never left Gavriil. He bore a look of power into the vanquished man's skull. Or at least, that was how it appeared. Malcolm knew better. It was from fear. King James dared not take his eyes from Gavriil for fear that he would cast a spell. Foolish King. Foolish magician.

One of the guards pressed Gavriil up against the pole in the center of the stage. The other walked behind him and forced his hands behind his back. King James handed the guard a long, thick rope. The guard wrapped it around Gavriil's wrists and pulled. Tightly, then even tighter. There was no mercy. If there was rub-burn it was good. If it cut the circulation, even better. A raw tomato was thrown from the crowd and splattered against Gavriil's face. The red juice ran down his cheeks and chin. It looked like blood.

King James stepped forward again. "Servant of Satan, today your blasphemous deeds bring you death!"

The crowd cheered as a rock came hurdling from within and impacted Gavriil in the stomach with a loud thud.

"You have been judged here on Earth, but I assure you, we have been merciful compared to the judgement you will receive hereafter!" shouted King James. "Do you have any last words?"

Gavriil raised his head weakly. "I am not a witch," he asserted. Sooner than the words were out his head was hanging again.

"Liar!" shouted King James.

Gavriil's eyes scanned the crowd. There were countless faces, each and every one with a frown painted on it. Every person here wanted him dead, and he knew it. They hated him. They hated him more than anything at that very moment.

His eyes stopped on Malcolm in the front row.

"Malcolm, my friend!" Gavriil cried. His voice was pathetically tired. Malcolm had seen less effort in men who were lifting elephants. "Tell them! Tell them that I am but a magician like you!"

The city fell quiet. All the noise ceased. Every voice silenced. The heads turned toward Malcolm. They were watching him now, waiting for his reply. And he loved it. He loved the attention being back on him. He loved that they were all hanging on his word. King James waited expectantly for a reply. It was Malcolm's word that would decide Gavriil's fate. A ye and the flame was lite, a ne and the ropes were cut. But a no would mean a ton of explaining to the King as to why Malcolm lied to him to begin with.

Malcolm looked at Gavriil's large, pleading eyes. They were helpless, completely and totally helpless. They were begging Malcolm to let him go, and Malcolm loved it. He loved all of it. He was the most important thing right then. Gavriil owed him everything; his entire life centered around Malcolm's next word. He was begging Malcolm to save him, the same way he had saved Malcolm when Malcolm dropped his deck of cards all over the ground. Sorry, Gavriil, you weren't such a bad guy, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to stay on top.

Malcolm raised his hand into the air with his pinky and index fingers extended outward and the rest curled toward his palm. It was actually an Italian thing, the sign of the Evil Eye. But it just seemed right in that situation.

He leered at Gavriil. "Witch!"

"No!" shouted Gavriil. He opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by another explosion from the crowd.

King James nodded at a tall man in the dark hood. The executioner lifted a torch high over his head for the people to admire and for Gavriil to fear. He lowered it into the pile of hay at Gavriil's feet.

No, thought Gavriil. It wasn't possible. His adrenaline was on overdrive. It could not be. It just could not be. These could not be the last seconds of his life. He was not ready to die. He had come to London to entertain, and here he was, about to be robbed of his entire being. It was the worst and last thing he ever felt. He was not ready. He was not ready to take the moment when life met death. He was not ready to die. Die. Death. It was upon him. Without notice, it was there, about to kiss him and steal his soul to the afterlife.

The hay ignited instantly. A bright orange flame ate the straw. It was hot, ever so hot, ever so painful. It singed the hair off of Gavriil's legs. It swallowed up his feet whole. It was hot hot hot. So hot it felt cold. Gavriil opened his mouth to plead, but threw his head back and screamed. Nothing came out but a scream. A shriek of agony. He closed his eyes and yelled his soul into the sky. Maybe if he projected it with enough effort, it would reach heaven.

Smoke drifted into his face. It burned his eyes and nose and throat as much as the fire itself did. Burning. Burning burning burning burning burning. He opened his mouth and sucked more in. It hurt, but it might make the process go faster. He did not want to die, but death was much better than this pain. He closed his mouth and swallowed. A sick feeling washed over him. It was good. It was excruciatingly painful but it was good. The faster the better.

The fire crept up his shanks and nipped at his groin. That was a feeling of torture. The smoke in his lungs was a feeling of death. It hurt but it was a good death. It would save him. Save him from the burning burning burning burning. It was hot. It was cold. It was hotcold and coldhot. It was fire and ice and pain and smoke and death and fire. He threw his head back and howled again.

King James looked away from the burning man before him. He looked at all the people of his country. All the people whose lives were being saved. He hated the sound of dying man's screams, but it meant the safety of hundreds more.

His eyes met with Malcolm's. He nodded, and Malcolm nodded back. They had the same grave looks of severity on their faces, but only one was real. Only the King's was real. Malcolm knew the truth.

He turned from the human bonfire and let his lips break into a grin. It was such a good feeling. He remembered as a child, getting gifts he had wanted for a long time. He had the same feeling now that he had at night after those days. The feeling of content. The sensation of knowing that he had what he had wanted so badly. Gavriil was dying. He was back on top.

Malcolm wove his way through the people around him. He wanted a nice hot bath and change of clothes. A grooming and shave would be nice, too. He wanted to look good for the day. He was going to perform. For the fun of it. For the first time in years, he was going to perform for the fun of it. Not for money or power or fame, but for the fun of it.

His smile widened. He already knew that it was going to be great day.

 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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