Tag Archives: Circuits and Sorcery

Knock, Knock

Agent Henrik Abrams paused at the top of the stairs to unclip a flash grenade from his belt. He tossed it like a bocce ball into the basement before closing the door in front of him. Four muffled thuds and one burst of light later, Henrik began his descent.

He crept down the passageway, knife in hand. The potential for hostages demanded a munitions-free approach. Looking over his shoulder, he signaled for Agent Benson to holster his sidearm and follow.

The basement reeked of mildew. Haphazardly placed candles cast flickering shadows throughout the otherwise empty chamber. Benson donned a pair of brass knuckles as he and Abrams made their way for another door on the far side of the room.
It was locked.

“Now what?” Benson whispered loudly enough to sound irritated.

“We knock,” Abrams answered. “Unless you’ve got a key there, Wally.”

“I’m pretty sure anybody who’d answer already heard that clankin’ flashbang I told you not to throw.” Walter Benson and Henrik held the same rank, though both of them considered the other subordinate. “I say we kick it in.”

“Go for it,” Abrams backed away from the door.

Benson, all six feet and 230 pounds of him, charged forward. At the last moment he recoiled his foot up and then let his leg spring toward the door like a cobra. When his boot made contact, a spark brighter than the flashbang sent Benson flying backward.

“See?” Abrams said, “gotta knock.”

He stepped over Benson and rapped his knuckles against the barrier in a seemingly deliberate pattern of varying rhythms. Henrik then raised his foot exactly like Walter did before, but this time the door went flying off its hinges upon contact.

“Consider it seen,” Benson replied as he rose to his feet.

He gave an exaggerated bow only to look up and brandish his most shit-eating of grins.

“After you, monsieur,” he said with a gesture becoming of a maître de.

“When’s the last time you ate at a table, let alone in a restaurant?” Abrams asked, a valid question given Walter’s couth, or lack thereof.

Instead of waiting for an answer he brushed past Benson, crossing the threshold. Splashes of illumination trickled in from the tiny flames peppering the other room, revealing dingy mattresses sat atop rusted cots.

“Well, we found where they’ve been keeping’em.” Benson said. “Can’t say I was expecting a basement orphanage.”

“Seems they were expecting us.” Abrams opened a storage locker, empty save for a worn-out mop.

Flashlight in hand, Benson lagged a few steps behind Abrams. His spotlight wandered along the peeling wallpaper, drifted to the black-and-white linoleum floor, and finally settled on a section of tiles that appeared off-center.

“Rik. Over here,” Benson said. “Looks like this onion has another layer.”

“They always do,” Abrams muttered under his breath. Crouching, he wedged his knife into the grout and pried loose the patch of flooring lit by Benson’s torch. Underneath there was a circular hatch.

“Let me guess, locked as well?”

Abrams put his hand against the metallic lid. “I don’t feel any wards,” he said. “My guess is this was meant to stay hidden.”

Opening the hatch revealed an access shaft with a ladder.

“No flashbang this time,” Benson warned. “Those kids’ve got to be down there. Let’s try not to rattle’m too much.”

Henrik clipped the grenade back to his belt. “Am I that predictable?” he asked.

Benson grumbled to himself as he hopped onto the ladder, flashlight in mouth.

Watching the beam of light diminish to but a speck, Abrams waited for Benson to signal it was all clear before joining him. Minutes later they were both standing at the end of a long hallway dimly lit by red emergency lights. The corridor extended thirty yards or so before terminating at a cavernous opening.

“You’d think a buncha captive brats would be makin’ a bit of racket, no?” The more nervous Benson became the more he voiced rhetorical questions.

“Stay sharp,” Abrams warned. “Secret bunkers are pretty high on the list of top-ten places I don’t want to die.”

“Yeah, yeah. I still don’t get why they sent the two of us to rescue som—“ Benson lurched forward as if he had tripped on his own foot. Head slumped and knees buckled, Walter hung mid-fall like a clumsy marionette. A shadowy tendril pierced his chest, pinning him in the air.

Another apparition flew toward Abrams. The ethereal spear appeared as an absence of light even darker than the shadows cast by the red glowing lamps. Henrik tried to roll forward to avoid being impaled moments too late, yet the tendril passed through him without effect.

He had no time to ponder the implications of his immunity. Henrik sprung up from his somersault and darted for the chamber. Only a few paces in, all the emergency bulbs overloaded, lining the walls with a brilliant flash of sparks before the lights went out.

Abrams cracked open a glow stick. It took a second for his eyes to adjust to the soft, neon-green hue that barely lit the room. He could make out the dark outline of a huddled mass in a corner.

“Hello?” Henrik called out as he approached.

He paused when he was close enough to confirm his suspicion: the children he was sent to save were discarded, tossed into a pile, each with a black puncture wound in their chest just like Benson’s. Abrams took a step forward.

“NO! Get away!” a voice cried out.

Two tendrils snapped toward Abrams but again both passed through him harmlessly.

“I’m not here to harm you.” Henrik took another step.

“Leave me alone, I said!”

Henrik could see a concentrated dome of dark energy when he peered through the mound of orphans. The voice of a frightened child emanated from it.

“Where did everybody go?” She started sobbing.

Abrams reached into the darkness and pulled out the scared little girl. The dark protrusions impaling the rest of the orphans writhed as they shrunk away, dissipating into nothingness by the time he set her on the ground. Henrik rushed to every tiny wrist hoping for a pulse. None were found.

Kneeling down, Abrams looked into the eyes of the little girl. A blackness reminiscent of the tendrils lingered for a moment before fading to reveal an otherwise normal pair of green eyes.

“I’m Henrik,” he said, forcing himself to remember she was still a child despite whatever energy might be flowing through her. “What’s your name?”

“Juniper.” She responded.

“Do you know what happened here, Juniper?”

“They… they told us to climb the ladder.. and took us here, to the dark place,” Juniper stammered between sniffles.

“Then what?”

“I… I.. I don’t know. They left us. I was afraid, so I closed my eyes, and then all the others stopped talking. What’s hap.. happening to me?”

“It’s okay, Juniper. Let’s get you out of here,” Abrams said. “Follow me.”

As Henrik approached Benson he expected the man’s fate to be the same as the orphans’. That Walter was once again stubborn enough to prove him wrong came as little surprise. The barely-conscious agent’s breathing was shallow but stable.

“Sit tight there, bud,” Abrams offered in consolation, setting down his glow stick near the wounded man. “HQ’ll send in the med team as soon as I get topside.”

“Make sure they knock,” Benson said as Henrik started his climb up the ladder, Juniper clinging to his back.


“Don’t be fooled by their piss-stained shorts or senseless ramblings,” Sergeant Abrams said. “These guys are the real deal.”

The ready room’s projector hummed to life as it generated a three-dimensional depiction of downtown St. Petersburg. A grid of blue wireframe buildings began to rotate slowly as the sergeant approached. He gestured upward and the map shifted to a top-down perspective, revealing a cluster of red pips in the heart of the city.

“We’ve been scouting this op for a while now. Each of you has been handpicked to complete the job. Y’all represent the best hope A.C.E. has to stop the mounting threat of unsanctioned paranormals, and your first test begins here,” he said. “We will arrive at the business district right before dawn, when most of these monsters should still be asleep, inebriated, or some combination of the two.”

“Well damn,” Corporal Medan chimed in. “If they’re drinkin’ this should be cake, eh? Might even bring a flask of my own.”

The Sargent’s scowl deflated any levity brought about by Medan’s alcoholism. “Can it, Corporal,” he barked. “If I wanted you to offer up an introduction I’d have placed a help-wanted ad.”

Arcane Containment and Enforcement was a new outfit, pulling from the best occult specialists Earth’s militaries had to offer. The organization was tasked with policing the emergent population of sorcerous citizens.

Any spellslinger who didn’t register with A.C.E. ended up on the agency’s most-wanted list. With registration, however, came the burden of mandatory conscription should an operation call for their talents.

Hunt or be hunted was a daily routine for individuals boasting mana-infused capabilities. Many refused to deal in such absolutes, let alone betray their own kind, which only served as job security to those who willingly enlisted.

“Now’s as good a time as any to go over mission assignments, so listen up.” Abrams flicked his wrist to dismiss the tactical diagram. “Funnyman here is our sniper. He’ll be our eyes and ears, perched on top of Progress tower. Don’t worry – his aim is better than his sense of humor.”

“It’s true. Nobody seems to laugh after a jolt bolt stuns the snot out of’em,” Medan said.

“Moving on,” the sergeant continued, “Priscilla is our cover. She’ll shroud us in one of her illusions, convincing any bystanders that we’re a crew of street sweepers. Not too far from the truth, I suppose.”

Priscilla nodded underneath the shelter of her grey hood.

“Our primary objective is to apprehend this coven without casualties,” Abrams glanced toward the back of the room, “and Private Deixi’s hypnotic suggestion should be our best bet. That is, if our targets’ minds are coherent enough to be susceptible.”

“If not, I can help ‘scilla hide us when shit hits fan,” Ypo Deixi said with his heavy Greek accent. “Civilians will panic if city workers assault the derelicts.”

“Only if it comes to it, private. Try not to cause any brain damage this time.”

“Come now, sarge, that was accident.” Ypo was new to A.C.E., this being his third field assignment. Unlike Priscilla his tricks were internalized, rewriting memories in real-time rather than projecting phantom images.

Sergeant Abrams cleared his throat. “Our last team member couldn’t be here today. She’s still en route from her last mission, but you’ve all heard of her. Agent Juniper will be taking point tomorrow. Just be sure to stay behind her when she’s working.”

“I’ll be running interference, attempting to disrupt any spells these bums manage to throw at us. Once we’ve got them subdued I will tag them for transport,” he said. “Speaking of, Glyph will be jumping us into and out of the extraction zone. Eat light tonight… better to have an empty stomach than to have to empty your stomach on-site. Dismissed!”

The four mages filed out of the briefing room silently. Medan winked at Abrams as he exited.


Glyph’s teleportation incantation manifested as a bolt of lightning, two of which struck St. Petersburg early Sunday morning. Priscilla, Ypo, Juniper and Abrams appeared at the top of a parking garage not far from where their marks were known to congregate.

“What’s this smell?” Ypo asked, gasping for breath.

“Ozone,” Juniper said. “You get used to it after a few rides. Let’s move out.”

“They’re right where we figured,” Medan remarked over the radio. “Everything looks clear from here.”

“Stay sharp and remember, team, we don’t know what tricks might be waiting for us.”

“You got it, sarge. Medan out.”

The streets were all-but empty save for sporadic sunrise joggers and dog walkers. Three blocks later the group came to a halt.

“You’re awfully quiet up there, corporal,” Abrams radioed. “Sit rep?”

“Mum’s the word down there too, boss. Four of’em are passed out in the alley behind the Kress building, and another two are stumbling around seeing who can fireball a squirrel. I’d start with them, and maybe spare that bottle of Jack they’re carrying around.”

“Empty your flask already, hotshot?” Juniper asked, ignoring Medan’s answer. “I’ll try and make this quick.” She took off her jacket, tossed it to Ypo, and sat down. Her shoulders started to rise up and down to the tempo of deep, drawn-out breaths. Everyone else backed up a few steps.

“Maintain our disguises no matter what, you two,” Abrams said to Priscilla and Ypo. “There’s no room for suggestive reasoning with these dipshit squirrel hunters, if their imprecision is any indicator.”

“How am I to conceal her?” Priscilla pointed to Juniper, who was hyperventilating spastically.

“Just make her look like one of them,” Abrams answered. “These civilians should be used to ignoring deranged behavior by now.”

Dark smoke drained out of Juniper’s eyes, ears and mouth. It slithered around the corner, passing the squirrel as it dodged yet another burst of flame. Neither hobo cared to notice the darkness approach as they passed their whiskey back and forth.

Right as the shadowy tendril was in reach of its first mark, four bolts of light brought the operation to a halt as Abrams, Juniper, Priscilla and Ypo collapsed. It was only then that the two homeless wizards took notice of A.C.E.’s presence.

Lightning hit across the street and Medan emerged from its static discharge.

“Thanks, Glyph,” he said into his headset. “I’ll take it from here.”

“That them?” asked one of the hobos, casually tossing a fireball that reduced the squirrel to ash.

“Yup.” Medan pulled out his flask. “They should be stunned for a few hours. Take’m to the warlock and tell him everything’s going as planned.”

“One last thing,” he said, “… I’m gonna need that bottle.”