The Lost City: A Special Place

This sixteen-chapter novel is a work of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series and the Lost City D&D module. I do not profit from it. It’s a story set prior to the events of the television seasons, before the boys met Eleven. If I learn that the Duffer Brothers or Wizards of the Coast do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if either of them order a cease-and-desist, I will pull the story down.

                                                  The Lost City — Chapter Five:

                                     A Special Place

 

“You really expect me to believe that you’re Demetrius Rhone?”

Will didn’t like the chief mage. But he was intrigued by him.

“I am Demetrius. Yes, my brother killed me last year. I was worried that might happen, so I made a dying wish: that my spirit live on. I knew where he was hiding and the rest of the Magi didn’t. None of you up here in the temple were equipped to take him on anyway. You’re still not. I waited for a body to possess. It took a long time but it happened today, and now Darius is dead. You’re welcome, by the way.”

The chief mage stared down from a seat that was too big for him. He didn’t seem thankful. “And how were you granted such a dying wish?”

“I was given a ring by Keldor, the chief mage at the time. It was a ring of three wishes and it had one left.”

“As I said before, Keldor is no longer with us.”

“And as you didn’t say before, what the hell happened to him?”

The mage kept smiling at Demetrius, but Will wasn’t fooled, and he doubted Demetrius was either. Auriga Sirkinos reeked of bad vibes. Just like the Auriga in Mike’s game.

“I have a better question,” said the mage. “How does this boy feel about you possessing his friend?”

“It’s only temporary,” said Will, wanting to diffuse hostilities. “He just needed to stop Darius.”

“Which he has done, according to you both,” said Auriga. “And yet your friend – Dustin, is it? – remains possessed. Tell me, priest, how that makes you any better than your brother.”

Demetrius scowled.

“As I thought,” said Auriga. “You know, I believe you actually are Demetrius. Selfish vengeance would be just like him. Not to mention -”

A chime sounded, and Auriga looked over their heads. Will and Demetrius turned as someone came through the temple door: a mage apprentice, wearing a rainbow colored robe and silver mask. The dress code of the Magi. The mask was a cherub, the sacred image of Usamigaras. Seeing that he was interrupting, the apprentice moved quickly towards a side door.

“Hold,” said Auriga. “Wait there, Shanti. We’ll be only a few minutes.”

“Or maybe more,” said Demetrius.

Maybe a lot more, thought Will.

They were in the Magi temple, which served the dual role of worship chamber and audience hall. At one end was a star-shaped altar, at the other a small dais with the huge ornamental chair. Tapestries hung on the walls: at the altar end they showed star constellations; at the audience end, silhouetted people with their hands in the air celebrating freedom. The Usamigarans were libertarians – mages and astrologers (the full members in charge of the temple), but also clerics (like Demetrius), thieves, and assassins – anyone who resisted the authoritarian leanings of the other cults. Auriga, however, was a power hungry sleaze. He spouted the libertarian rhetoric, but it was just that. Will knew this from Mike’s gaming module. Demetrius had apparently never trusted him.

“Auriga Sirkinos?” he had spat, unbelieving, when Mike told him who the chief mage was. They had left the party rooms on Tier 5 for the upper-tier temples.

“Yeah,” said Mike, as they climbed corridors. “In the game he’s a scumbag.” He and Lucas were struggling to keep up. They had eaten the piggy pink mushrooms and come down hard from the beserker drug. Their bodies were pulverized with exhaustion. Mike’s back wound had barely healed from Demetrius’s cure spell. They needed a bath; they had tried to clean their faces but still wore bits of Darius’s brains.

“He always struck me that way,” agreed the cleric. “And he’s not leadership material at all. What about Keldor? Is he down in the city now?”

“I don’t remember anyone in the module named Keldor,” said Mike.

“Well, shit.” Demetrius looked grim. “He was a good leader and friend.”

“Never mind Keldor,” said Lucas. “Just remember your promise. You get out of Dustin’s body as soon as you tell your people about Darius.”

Demetrius had gone silent at that point. They proceeded to Tier 3 and the revolving passage Will couldn’t wait to see. It was a corridor constructed on a turntable, made to revolve by a system of weights and counter-weights. On the wall next to each of the two doors inside the corridor was a column of eight buttons, each labelled by a hieroglyph. They matched the buttons on the walls of the eight surrounding halls. Pressing one of the buttons caused the end of the passage to rotate clockwise and line up with its corresponding hall. From the other direction, pressing the single hallway hieroglyphic caused the revolving passage to swing clockwise and line up with the door, so that the hallway door would open into the revolving passage. Will thought it was one of the coolest dungeon designs he’d ever played, and he wanted a ride.

They came up from Tier 4 into a corridor that led to the northern hallway, and at the door pressed the hieroglyph. Grinding noises indicated that the revolving passage was turning from wherever the last passenger had left it; when the noises stopped the door opened. Inside the corridor was the column of eight hieroglyphs; Demetrius knew what they all stood for and pressed the one for the Magi temple. The passage rumbled and the two doors disappeared; the hall rotated past two more doors, five times, before stopping at the door they needed.

“Cool ride,” said Will, who had wandered down to the other end during the rotation.

“Does it ever break down?” asked Mike. “Like an elevator?”

“I don’t know what an elevator is,” said Demetrius. “But this thing broke down twice in my lifetime. It wasn’t funny.” He looked down at the other side. “Come back, Will. That door goes to the Maidens. They’re man-hating bitches.”

“Yeah, they weren’t friendly to us in the game,” said Lucas.

“Neither were the Magi,” Mike pointed out.

“I have a feeling,” said Demetrius, “that I should do this alone.”

“What do you mean?” asked Will, walking back.

“I’ll see Auriga by myself. He’ll require delicate handling. You guys and your opinions about everything can have a wander. Push this button to the south hallway.” The cleric pointed at one of the eight hieroglyphs. “It leads to the top tiers. You’re familiar with what’s up there, Mike; you can go all the way up and outside. Relax and get some air. You two look deader than undead.”

“I can use some air,” admitted Lucas.

“Some dry, choking desert air,” said Mike. “Great, let’s go.”

“Go ahead,” said Will. “I’ll stay with Demetrius.”

“Oh, you will?” asked the cleric.

“I want to see the Magi. I won’t be a problem.”

The priest looked at him hard. “You’d better not be. Keep quiet and let me do the talking.”

And that’s how they had settled it. Mike and Lucas were exploring Tier 2. That meant the Brotherhood. The warriors of Gorm split their domain between the second and third tiers. Their temple was here on the third, their base quarters up on the second. As players in Mike’s game, Lucas, Dustin, and Will had allied with the Brotherhood against the Zargonites. But Will had had a soft spot for the Magi. Despite their entirely untrustworthy leader, Auriga Sirkonos.

“I’m glad you reported this to me, Demetrius.” Auriga was trying to end the audience. “The Magi will of course investigate your claim that Darius is dead.”

“There’s a big bloody mess where I told you,” said Demetrius.

“Yes, the party rooms,” said the chief mage, sounding amused. “Who would have thought?”

Demetrius cleared his throat. “Auriga, could you clear the room?”

Auriga frowned. The vast temple room was clear, save for the one apprentice. He looked over by the door. “Leave us, Shanti. And arrange food for our guests. And fix me my usual, but leave it in my chamber.”

“Yes, Auriga.” Shanti bowed low and then went through the door into the Magi quarters.

“Thank you,” said Demetrius.

Auriga was sour. “Why the need for privacy?”

“How have things been, Auriga?” countered the priest.

“What do you mean?”

“Darius had a network of spies going. Moles inside each of the cults, or at least according to rumors. Could any of the Magi be a problem?”

“Highly doubtful,” said Auriga. “What would a mole accomplish? We have a few spells that we keep secret, and a couple of minor artifacts, but not much else worth the espionage.”

“I doubt Darius cared about Magi spellbooks,” said Demetrius. “Sabotage was more likely his goal. Sowing dissension, spreading misinformation, that kind of thing.”

“Dissension?” asked Auriga. “Among the cults or within?”

“Both,” said Demetrius. “To a Zargonite it amounts to the same thing. Anything to weaken the gods who came before. You may want to keep a close eye on your apprentices.”

“I’ll certainly take that under advisement,” said Auriga. “But I’ve seen nothing suspicious with the Magi. Naturally, I can’t speak for the Brothers or the Maidens.”

“Of course,” said Demetrius.

“So tell me when you plan on departing from the body of this Dustin Henderson. You’re dead, and this man deserves his body back.”

“Soon,” said Demetrius. Will sensed he was annoyed by the question. “I want to see our people down in the city. And Raen.” Will didn’t know who Raen was, but he assumed he was the high priest of Usamigaras.

“So you can resume your post?” asked Auriga bluntly. “Shira is getting along fine without you.”

“She’s very capable,” said Demetrius, containing his fury over the insult.

“Indeed,” said Aurgia. “And of course, I have no say in how the stronghold is managed.” As chief mage Auriga was in charge of the temple, here in the pyramid. Down in the stronghold, the high priest led the Usamigaran community, and Will recalled Demetrius saying that he’d served under the high priest with the priestess Shira. “But it would be unseemly – and most unpriestly – for you to return as the community’s savior at the expense of an innocent man robbed of his life and free will.”

Will didn’t believe for a moment that Auriga cared for Dustin’s well being. Auriga didn’t care much for anyone but himself, and Dustin was an alien.

“I agree,” said Demetrius.

“I’m glad,” smiled Auriga.

“I agree that it’s none of your business, is what I meant.”

Auriga went cold.

Demetrius continued: “And while the management of this temple is likewise none of my own business – and though I hate to engage in pissing matches – I’ll remind you that I do outrank you, Auriga.”

“Yes, yes,” said the chief mage, waving his hand dismissively. “I know your power. And I agree that pissing matches are boring. Like this conversation.”

“I asked you about Keldor,” said the priest. “And I want a real answer.”

“Keldor had ideas,” said the chief mage. “Ideas that he evidently acted on. He wanted to explore the catacombs for some reason. Need I say more.” It wasn’t a question.

Will remembered from Mike’s campaign. The catacombs were down in the city and held terrible monsters of enchanted nature. He, Lucas, and Dustin had avoided them so he didn’t know the extent of the horrors.

Demetrius scoffed. “Keldor wouldn’t have gone into the catacombs. Certainly not alone.”

“Yet he remains vanished,” said Auriga. “After four months.”

“Did he leave anything in his chamber? Any letters or writings?”

“Nothing, I’m afraid.”

“Who took your bunk when you were promoted?”

“I haven’t replaced myself yet. We’re eleven Magi and still need a twelfth.” Auriga was eying Will as he said that.

“All right, then,” said Demetrius. He turned to Will. “We’d best be going.”

Will wanted to protest. What about dinner? He was hungry again. Demetrius had provided them a sumptuous lunch, but that was hours ago.

“The Magi are preparing a feast for you both,” said the chief mage. “An expensive dish. Or is our food not good enough for the great Demetrius Rhone?”

“I appreciate your hospitality, Auriga.” The priest’s tone said otherwise. “But I can’t linger. I need to collect Will’s friends and get down to the city.”

“Very well,” said Auriga. “But perhaps you could let Will stay. For dinner and overnight, as a guest of the Magi.”

Will felt jolted. Why would the chief mage be interested in him?

“Uh, why?” asked Demetrius.

“Will is from another world. To my knowledge, no one in Cynidicea has ever been exposed to an alien – let alone an alien who can fluently speak our language. We’re Magi. This needs studying.” Auriga smiled at them both. “I know he’s a child. I promise he will have my full protection as a guest. And we can put my old bunk to use.”

“Yes,” Will blurted out, before Demetrius could overrule him. “I’d like that… I mean, I’d be honored. Sir.”

“Very well.” Auriga clapped his hands. “It’s settled.”

Will could see that Demetrius wasn’t happy. But the cleric relented. “If Mike and Lucas are fine with this, then we’ll plan on picking you up tomorrow morning.”

“Yeah,” said Will. “Tell them I’ll be okay.” He could already see them hating the idea, but he didn’t care. He was going to meet the Magi, and he was going to do it alone.

Auriga got up from his chair and walked down the dais. “I’ll go find Shanti and have him show you around, Will. He’s our youngest apprentice. Just turned eighteen.”

“The food up here is still drug-free, right?” asked Demetrius.

“Of course,” said Auriga. “Supplies from the city twice a week. Food and water blessed by your priests. None of the Magi will turn into unwilling addicts on my watch.”

Demetrius nodded as the chief mage left the temple through the side door.

“Thanks, Demetrius,” Will said when he was gone. “And I mean it, I’ll be fine.”

“If I didn’t think that, you wouldn’t be staying,” said the priest. “Now come with me for a minute.” He led Will out the main door, to the corridor that connected with the revolving passage. In the hallway he stopped and faced Will. “No eavesdroppers out here. Now listen. Go ahead and stay for dinner, and have a nice evening. But be careful of Auriga. He’s a snake in the grass.”

“Why would he invite me like this?” asked Will.

“I’m not sure,” said Demetrius. “But don’t worry, he’s not the bird man.”

“What?” said Will, turning red. “What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t want to fuck you.”

Will turned redder – and got angry. “I didn’t… I never thought that.” Thinking of the bird man stirred nausea and shame inside him. He resented Demetrius for bringing it up.

“Auriga’s a scumbag, but he has a certain problem that I’m not complaining about. He’s impotent.”

“What’s ‘impotent’?” asked Will.

“It means he can’t fuck anyone.”

“Oh.” He wanted Demetrius to drop the whole subject.

“How are you doing, by the way?”

“What?” said Will, caught off guard. “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been through a lot today for a kid.”

“I’m… fine.”

“Someone tried to fuck me when I was your age.”

Will went red again. “I… it was nothing. You don’t have -”

“Let’s not bullshit each other. It’s not ‘nothing’ when something like that happens. It’s a personal violation. Apparently in your world even more so. I believe Mike used the words ‘scarred for life’. A bit melodramatic, if you ask me… but perverts do leave their mark.”

Will was getting furious. “He just took me by surprise. He was on drugs. Mike overreacted. You said so yourself.”

“Mike overreacted by killing the guy, but he’s right to be protective of you. My parents never cared about me. A Zargonite priest put his fingers up my ass while my father stood by and laughed. If the priest hadn’t passed out drunk, he would have followed that act with his cock.”

Will re-tasted the tongue being jammed down his throat. He gagged and felt his stomach rebel; he needed to sit down. “Why do you say it’s worse in my world?” He hardly heard himself speak.

“I don’t know your world, but in Cynidicea most kids are abused daily and conditioned to brush it off. Beatings especially. I doubt that we’re psychologically damaged by things that you are. Or at least not to the same degree. I saw how you reacted in the lounge. Mike could barely calm you down. Being finger-fucked infuriated me – and I’m not making light of it – but it never traumatized me.”

Will fell to his knees and vomited. Demetrius’s words were as raindrops on a window; soft noises with no meaning. The bird man’s face had replaced Dustin’s. Will squeezed his eyes shut. I’m fine. God, what’s the big deal? His body felt like pins and needles.

Someone was saying his name. He opened his eyes and saw someone shaking him gently. Sweat soaked his shirt and the world was out of focus. He waited for the awful feeling to pass. A minute and then two.

“Can you get up?”

He could make out words again. He nodded to whoever was saying them and stood on his own. He wiped his mouth. The man before him solidified into Demetrius.

“Now let me ask you again,” said the priest. “Are you sure you’re up to being on your own tonight?”

Will felt a spark of defiance. “I said it already. I’m fine.” And he was better now. The hideous flashback had passed.

Demetrius nodded. “I’ll accept that, then, against my better judgment. Go on back inside. I’m going to find Mike and Lucas and do my best to convince them this isn’t a crazy idea. If I’m successful in that task, we’ll see you tomorrow morning.” He turned to leave.

“Demetrius,” called Will.

The priest stopped and looked back.

“What do you think happened to Keldor?”

Dustin’s lips pressed together. “It’s what I intend to find out. Auriga’s hiding something, if not outright lying.”

“Do you think Auriga killed him?”

“Will, I have no idea.”

And that’s when Will realized: He’s not going to let Dustin go yet. Not by a long shot.

 

“Thank you for agreeing to talk,” said Auriga. “It’s late and I know you had quite a day.”

They were in Auriga’s chamber, facing each other across his medieval looking desk. Will wondered where this interview was going, and recalled Demetrius’s warnings.

Quite a day. Quite an understatement.

In truth, Will could barely keep his eyes open. The bassil dinner had been splendid but he had gorged and was sleepy. His physical activity for the day – piled on everything stressful that happened, plus what he had done with Shanti – was beyond what most twelve-year olds could endure without collapsing by now. Will was grateful that Auriga wasn’t treating him like a child by sending him to bed, even though that’s where he clearly belonged.

“It’s no problem,” said Will. “I like your room.” Will supposed he should have been scared of the gray wolf lying at the foot of Auriga’s bed, but he liked wolves, and this one was obviously trained. The candlelight on the mage’s desk cast shadows that lent the chamber a menacing atmosphere, but Will liked that too.

“Has Shanti been a good host?” asked the mage.

“Oh, yes,” said Will. “He showed me all the Magi rooms, and some of the spellbooks. Did he tell you what we did?”

“He told me what you did,” smiled Auriga. “He said you successfully cast a cantrip.” Cantrips were minor (zero-level) spells that apprentices cut their teeth on before learning the real spells.

“Yes,” said Will. “I couldn’t believe it.” He had cast message by reading it from a book and performing a few basic hand gestures. “The spell allowed me to whisper to Shanti when I was in the bunk room and he was out in the hallway. He was, like, fifty feet away and around the corner of the door, where I couldn’t see him. We carried on this impossible conversation. In whispers.”

“I have to be honest, Will. I’ve never seen anyone cast a successful spell – even if only a cantrip – without months if not years of prior schooling. Nor have I seen anyone work magic at such a young age. The youngest Magi we have on record lived over three hundred years ago. He was fourteen and exceptional. Are people from your world born wizards?”

“No, no. Not at all.” Will was stunned to learn that he was a prodigy. “Just the opposite in fact. We don’t have magic in my world.”

Auriga’s expression said that he didn’t believe that. “Don’t lie to me, Will.” At the foot of the bed, the wolf growled.

“I’m not!” Will protested. Is that wolf going to eat me? “There are no wizards or mages where I’m from. Honestly, spells don’t work.”

“Except the one that brought you here?”

“Yeah, but… I can’t explain how that one worked. It shouldn’t have.”

“I see,” said Auriga. He leaned back in his chair, pondering impossibilities.

Will risked a glance over at the wolf. It was staring at him with bared teeth. He was oddly thrilled by these threatening theatrics, and thankful for the adrenaline rush. His body cried for sleep.

The chief mage abruptly leaned forward on his desk. “I have a question for you, Will. And think carefully before answering.”

Will’s heart skipped a beat. “Yes?”

“Would you like to join the Magi?”

Will gaped. Would I like to join -? “That’s… well, I don’t know what to say.” Yes you do, you fool. This is your dream come true. Say yes. But he couldn’t. This world wasn’t his. He had a mom and brother waiting for him back home. “I… really don’t know.”

Auriga laughed. To Will that laugh sounded contemptuous. “A fair enough answer, after everything you’ve been through today. I want you to sleep on it. And I want your unequivocal answer by tomorrow morning. Do you understand?”

Sleep. That word was all that mattered in Auriga’s reply. Will’s eyelids felt like mountains. “Yes.” Unequivocal. “I understand.”

“There’s a place here for you,” said Auriga, with the look of a predator, but Will barely heard or saw. “A very special place…”

Will finally gave up trying, and fell fast asleep in the mage’s chair.

 

“Wake up, Byers!”

Will rose from the depths, then pushed himself back under. Go away. He needed to sleep forever.

Then he was being shaken roughly. “Will, come on.” A different voice. “It’s late, dude. The Magi ate breakfast already.”

Will moaned and pulled the blanket over his head. It was yanked off immediately and then he was being pulled up into a sitting position on the bunk. He opened his eyes, vowing to kill his tormentor. It was Mike. No… it’s not. It was an adult with long shaggy hair, an angular face, and a body taller than Jonathan. Mike was a kid. Like Will. Then it all came back quickly.

“Rise and shine, sunshine,” said the first voice, another permutation of a familiar friend. Dustin. No: Demetrius, he corrected himself.

“How have they treated you, Will?” It was Lucas, standing with the others. Elsewhere in the room, a few Magi bustled about. All the other bunks were empty and the beds made. Will had slept like a corpse.

“Fine,” said Will, rubbing his eyes.

“Your new friend over there” – Mike looked across the room – “oh, he’s gone now, but he left you breakfast.”

Will saw the mug and plate on the small table by his bunk, and was instantly hungry. Mike handed him the plate. Shanti had fixed him dog sausage and black toast and a hard-boiled egg. There was a glob of butter next to the toast. He smiled, thinking of Shanti, and began devouring the skinny sausage.

“How was the city?” he asked, his mouth full. “Where did you guys stay?”

“The Magi stronghold,” said Mike. “They put us up as guests. Once the high priest got over shitting himself.”

“Yeah,” said Lucas. “Raen didn’t believe that Dustin was his dead friend Demetrius, until he used a detect lie prayer.”

“I had bassil for dinner,” said Will.

“They treated you to bassil, you little shit?” asked Dustin.

“It was good,” said Will, buttering his toast with his finger. Bassil was like a Middle-Eastern rice curry; the spices had been heavenly.

“Yeah,” said Dustin. “Nothing’s too good for you, Lord Byers. Our supper was blander than naked bread.”

Will stopped chewing. This insulting version of Dustin who had called him “Byers” twice now didn’t sound like Demetrius. Which could only mean…

“Dustin?”

Dustin grinned at Mike and Lucas. “He finally caught on. Like it or not, Will, I’m back. The cleric is letting me drive. At least for now.”

Letting you drive? Will shook his head, not understanding.

“He’s in lurker mode,” said Dustin, “and letting me control myself. We came to an arrangement last night. We’re going to swap turns controlling this body. Based on his needs, of course, and not mine, the arrogant bastard.”

“He’s a lying asshole,” said Mike. “He promised to let you go after he killed his brother.” Mike put his mouth to Dustin’s ear: “Do you hear me in there, Demetrius? You’re a lying sack of shit.”

“Will you stop spitting in my ear!” said Dustin. “He can hear and see you just fine.”

“Dustin, are you’re seriously okay with this?” asked Will.

“Being possessed has its upsides,” said Dustin, “and Demetrius is a cool guy. He lets me ride his consciousness without suppressing my own, so I can still witness everything going on. I saw everything that happened to you guys – the ghost, the three of us turning into men while screaming our bloody heads off, the acid heads, Mike chopping that guy’s head off, the bloodbath with the hobgoblins – Jesus, it was the best horror movie I ever saw. When Demetrius casts spells, it’s like I’m casting them. When he wields that mace, I’m fighting too, but without doing the work. It’s fucking trippy, you guys, I feel like I am this 7th-level cleric. I’ve shared his consciousness and I know his mind. I can see why people love and follow him. He’s the kind of hero we always try to be when playing D&D.”

“That’s funny,” said Lucas. “None of the characters I ever played robbed people of their free will.”

“You said you were cool with this, Lucas,” said Dustin.

“Hey, it’s your body,” said Lucas. “If you’re cool with it.”

“But why isn’t Demetrius letting his spirit go?” asked Will. But he already knew the answer. Keldor. Auriga.

“More unfinished business,” said Dustin. “He thinks Darius put enough into motion that his death may not even matter. He also doesn’t trust Auriga. He thinks the Magi are in serious trouble with that conniving shit leading them.”

“They are,” said Mike. “Auriga is a conniving shit.”

“But how long is this arrangement for, Dustin?” asked Will. “You can’t take Demetrius home.”

“Home?” said Dustin. “Byers, this is our new home. What the hell is waiting for us in our world if we go back in a month? We’re men now. Mike and Lucas are twenty-two, and I’m thirty-two. What do you think would happen to the three of us if we went back to Hawkins?”

“I don’t know,” said Will lamely. “But at least we’d be home.”

“I’ll tell you what would happen,” said Dustin. “The government would take us and lock us in a lab. They’d probably think we were Soviet clones who kidnapped or killed the real Dustin and Mike and Lucas.”

“I hate to say it but he’s right,” said Lucas. “We need to think about making a life for ourselves here. And Mike and I decided something last night.”

Will somehow knew what was coming next.

“We’re joining the Brotherhood of Gorm,” said Mike.

Of course. Life and art. Again. In Mike’s game, Lucas, Dustin, and Will had joined the Brotherhood, mostly at Lucas’s urging. But Will hadn’t cared for the Brotherhood. He had liked the Magi. Then he remembered his activities with Shanti. Their whispered conversations around corners, far away from each other. And Auriga’s offer.

“We met Kanadius yesterday,” continued Mike. “He’s awesome, Will. He liked us right away. And Dustin, shut up.”

Will barely heard him. A spell. I cast a spell, Mike. Auriga wants me to join the Magi!

“All the Brothers are cool,” said Lucas. “And Jesus, do they know how to fight. When we told them about us – and how we slaughtered Darius’s bodyguards – they were practically begging us to join.”

Dustin began: “If I may add my not so humble opinion -”

“You may not!” said Mike.

“- I think Kanadius is a judgmental prude. He’s kind and well-meaning, I’ll give him that. But he epitomizes all that the Brotherhood stands for, and some of that – no, a lot of that – is pretty bad.”

“Seriously, Dustin?” said Lucas. “The Brotherhood stands for justice and mercy. More than the Maidens or the Magi. They defend the weak.”

“I’m not denying that,” said Dustin. “But they’re insufferable bigots. They think women shouldn’t be warriors.”

“Well, they really shouldn’t,” said Lucas.

“And they hate homosexuals. They distrust magic-users.”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to start defending homos,” said Lucas, disgusted.

“I don’t have a problem with homos,” said Dustin. “There’s also the justice code. You guys will be committed to studying that every week. The Law of Gorm. It’s like the Jewish Torah; or the American tax code. When you have laws that are so complex and unbending, it gets in the way of compassion. It even becomes a tyranny. That’s why the Magi are libertarians.”

Will kept a straight face but inside he was cheering Dustin. I cast a spell. I can be a mage!

Mike played the mediator. “It’s true the Brotherhood can be rigid. As full members we’ll have to take vows of celibacy. But they are virtuous, and their sword skills are mind-blowing. We start our training tomorrow.”

“But wait a minute,” said Will. “They’re also prejudiced against resurrected people.” What was their cuss word? Zoombies.

“Yeah, we talked about that last night,” said Lucas. “And this is important, Will. Not a word of my death and resurrection. To anyone. Okay?”

“Yeah, of course.” He hated to think what Kanadius would do if he found out his new initiate was an “evil zoombie”.

“Did you tell any of the Magi?” asked Mike.

“No. I didn’t tell anyone,” said Will.

“Please keep it that way,” said Lucas. “I’m not saying the Brotherhood is flawless. They do have some hangups that are a bit silly. But they’re by far the best option in this city. They have the largest following of the old cults, and they’re the oldest.”

“Yeah,” said Mike. “Gorm was the first Cynidicean king, long before he became a god. Madarua was a queen centuries later, and then Usamigaras – he was a hobbit, believe it or not – came last.”

“Coming first doesn’t equate to greatness,” said Dustin.

“Dude,” said Mike. “It’s called seniority. The Brotherhood has pride of place.”

“I think there’s a lot going for the latecomers,” said Dustin. “I share a mind with a Magi priest, and from everything I’ve gleaned, I rather like the Usamigaran philosophy.” Will was loving Dustin.

Lucas bristled. “But they hate everyone – the Brotherhood and the Maidens almost as much as the Zargonites. Everyone is too authoritarian for them.”

“Yeah,” said Mike. “They’re more tolerant of alien religions than of the Brothers and Maidens. That’s fucked up.”

“Not really,” said Dustin.

“And then, as we said, there’s Auriga,” said Mike.

“Auriga is a bad leader,” said Dustin. “That happens in all religions.”

Will wanted to shout: Auriga wants me to be a mage! I’m a prodigy! But he couldn’t accept Auriga’s offer. He had a mother and brother back home.

“Well, Kanadius is a good leader,” said Lucas. “Of a good religion. I can’t wait for our initiation ceremony.”

“When is it?” asked Will. In the game their induction into the Brotherhood had been a big show. They had dressed up in white robes and gold masks, knelt before the altar of Gorm, washed their hands in holy water, and sworn to uphold the Brothers’ creed. Then one of the warriors had branded a tattoo on each of their right arms: a blue lighting bolt, symbolizing their status as full members.

“This afternoon,” said Mike. “In the temple. On the other side of this tier. You and Dustin can’t attend. But don’t worry, Will, we made a special arrangement with Kanadius. You’ll be able to bunk with us upstairs. They’re going to clear out an unused room for us. Lucas and I will have it all to ourselves, and you can live with us.”

“I still say he should live with me down in the city. Demetrius has no problems taking on Will. He and I -”

“You and he are two different people,” said Mike. “I trust you. I don’t trust him, no matter how much you two have bonded inside that head of yours.”

“I’m just saying,” said Dustin. “Demetrius is solid. And I dare say he could protect Will better than you guys. You start combat training tomorrow. You’re barely 1st level warriors, feeling high and mighty because you slaughtered some goblins with the benefit of drugs. Demetrius is a 7th level cleric, for Christ’s sake.”

Will couldn’t believe how casual they sounded. They would be living in the Lost City for the rest of their lives. His eyes filled with tears and he angrily wiped them away. “You guys don’t sound like you’ll miss home at all.”

“That’s not true, Will.” Mike sat on the bunk and put his arm around him. “Believe me, we haven’t been taking this lightly. We all cried last night coming to this decision.”

“Got a little drunk too,” said Lucas.

“And a little sick this morning,” said Dustin. “If not for Raen’s generosity with some healing potions, we’d still be in bed. But we’ll make a new home here, Will. And new family.”

“Easy for you to say,” said Mike. “You hardly have a family in Hawkins.”

“Hey listen, Wheeler. I love my mom and it’s killing me being away from her. She needs me… she’ll need someone. She doesn’t do well on her own. So don’t give me that shit, just because I don’t have siblings and a second parent. We all miss our families.”

“I agree with your point about siblings,” said Lucas. “I’m not missing Erica and I don’t know that I will.”

Mike laughed. “Yeah, sisters. Lately Nancy’s been so uppity and bitchy.”

“True, but I had a bit of a crush on your sister,” said Dustin.

“Jesus, that’s gross!” said Mike.

“How can you say gross when we’re adults now? Don’t you feel desires, dude?”

“She’s my sister!”

“Jesus. Your vows of celibacy won’t do you any good.”

Will was upset by the sibling trash-talk. “I love Jonathan,” he said. “And my mom. I can’t not ever see them again.” But his internal voice contradicted that homesickness. I can cast spells. I’m a mage.

“Don’t worry, Will,” said Mike. “There’s no reason you can’t go back.”

“Mike’s right,” said Dustin. “In a month we’ll be able to read the ‘Black Passage’ incantation and send you back. You’ll have some explaining to do – where you were for the past month, and why the rest of us are missing, but we’ll have a story for you by then.”

I want your unequivocal answer by tomorrow morning.

“It’s going to be a tough sell,” said Lucas. “Our families will go ape-shit. They might even blame you for our disappearance.”

“It’ll be your choice,” said Mike, “and you have a month to decide. For the three of us, at least, there’s no future back there. I can’t see us stumbling on an artifact that will reverse our ages.”

And it was right then that William Byers made his decision that would unleash catastrophe in the months to come. “I won’t need a month,” he announced. You want your unequivocal answer, Auriga? “I made a decision of my own last night.” There’s a place for you here… a very special place… Auriga’s voice came back to him, dripping venom. Or had Will imagined that part? It didn’t matter. I am a mage.

They looked at him, waiting.

“I won’t be going up to the second tier with Mike and Lucas. And I won’t be going down to the city with Dustin and Demetrius. And I won’t be going home in a month. I’m…”

A mage.

“… I’m staying right here.”

Yes, Auriga.

 

Next Chapter: Brothers of Gorm

(Previous Chapter: Mushroom Madness)

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