Jerusalem, 1095 AD
As long as anyone lived, someone, somewhere was going to have a bad day. The kind of day where nothing went quite as planned. It could start out innocuously enough, even seem deceptively like a good day before things took a sour turn. Or it could be rotten from the start, progressively worsening as the day wore on. The kind of bad day most whine about and lament as some great tragedy, but was ultimately something one could live with.
Then there was the other kind of bad day.
Jurgen Sekhet Baccara turned around and cast his eyes at the city of Jerusalem. A splendid city, even at a distance. Too bad that splendor was marred by the ugly plumes of dark smoke rising from the many fires already starting to burn enthusiastically in several places the city. The fact that the sun was going down only made the fires seem even larger since the dull red-orange glow of the flames was quite clear in the dimming light. Not for the first time that day, he scowled before he turned away.
“It’s Rome all over again!” he muttered in disgust, loud enough for the other refugees escaping along the same route to cast a momentary curious glance in his direction.
The disgruntled sorcerer paid them no heed. His recollection of Rome just soured his mood further. He’d been quite comfortable in Rome until that fire had ruined things. And Nero—damn him—had done nothing. He still took some petty satisfaction at the fact that his offhand comment about Nero fiddling while Rome burned had become so widely spread and accepted that it was pretty much historical fact to most people. Nero deserved any besmirching of his name for allowing that outrage alone.
Now it seemed that history had seen fit to burn another city he’d grown quite comfortable in. The fact that this time the fires were caused by an invading army rather than sheer incompetence was scarcely better. The forces of history also seemed to be in an ironic mood since the invading army was fighting in the name of the Roman Church.
He turned again, this time to glance at the small donkey cart he was pulling behind him. At least he’d manage to take some of his more precious books and scrolls with him, though a part of him both raged and wept at all the others he’d been forced to leave behind. So many great, irreplaceable texts all probably going up in smoke or torn to shreds by a bunch of clumsy, uncouth fanatics. He hoped that the texts would instead be looted and carted away by some noble or thief, since that meant that he might just come across them again some day in the future. He had the rest of eternity to do so at any rate. Of course, that was still a very, very remote chance.
He let out a string of curses, many of them in Sumerian. A colorful language, Sumerian; especially if you wanted creative and truly satisfying profanities.
Suddenly, his exercise in expletives was cut off when he felt something grab at the very edge of his ethereal senses. It had been sudden and strong. And close. Very close. He whirled around just in time to be dazzled by a bright blue flash. Instinctively, his eyes snapped shut and his head spun away, almost hard enough to be a literal pain in the neck. He blinked rapidly to clear the spots from his eyes and turned to face whatever that had been…
…and found that “whatever that had been” appeared to be a young lad. The boy was sprawled on the ground, blinking in confusion at the crowed of refugees who were staring wide-eyed at his sudden appearance. Jurgen was looking at the boy intently too, but for a different reason. That had been quite a powerful tug on his ethereal senses, and the fading wisps of ectoplasm around the boy resembled that of a magical summoning. An intense summoning.
The boy’s aura seemed strange as well. There was something there, but his senses couldn’t quite peg it. That was disturbing. He’d had over four millennia of experience now in magic and the otherworldly, and he thought could confidently identify the nature of most beings based on their aura alone. He could identify nothing from the boy other than something was there. It didn’t even resemble his aura, and even that remained a mystery despite that fact that he’d had a lot of time to puzzle over his own existence.
There was little of the mystical that could truly leave Jurgen feeling completely out of depth, and this was starting to look a lot like it. He could almost hear his old master’s chuckle, the one he gave every time he’d managed to stump Jurgen on something he thought he knew. That had always been annoying, and even the pleasant remembrance of his time with the thrice-great did little to change that.
The boy was standing now, dusting himself of nonchalantly. The boy looked around again before flashing a friendly smile at everyone staring him and giving his own greetings. This gesture didn’t seem to reassure the people, and they were still staring at the boy warily—Jurgen himself was one of them. Many of the people looked like they were wondering whether they should run or not.
The child seemed oblivious to this and started walking, right toward where Jurgen was standing. The wizard continued looking at the child warily, even more so now since he’d just noticed that there was also a second aura, a psychic one this time. It was a considerable one, and—almost absurdly—it was coming from what he initially thought had been some bizarre headpiece, but was actually what appeared to be a brightly colored bird.
Some sort of familiar? Jurgen wondered even as he looked over the rest of the boy’s clothing, which was nothing like what he’d seen before.
All the while, the familiar’s psychic aura began sweeping the minds of everyone around. It swept steadily, almost languidly. A casual psychic “glance” for surface impressions.
Until it had gotten to him.
Jurgen felt the psychic aura settle onto him. It wasn’t invasive, not was it intense, but it was still focused right on him. Jurgen could block it easily enough should it turn invasive and intense, but for the time being it was remaining polite. Well, as polite as the psychic equivalent of a pointed stare was at any rate.
What happened next was even more confusing.
The boy suddenly started waving in his direction and started running towards him. Before Jurgen could react, he was stunned to hear the boy talking.
“Hey!” the boy yelled, “Hey, Uncle Jurgen! Wow, never thought I’d run into you here!”
It wasn’t so much the words which stunned him—although he wondered at the “Uncle Jurgen” part, and at how the strange youth knew his name—but the language in which the words were spoken. It was Old Egyptian, the language first taught to him by the thrice-great and pretty much the closest thing to a native language Jurgen had. And the boy was speaking it. Fluently.
“Who are you?” Jurgen asked suspiciously as the child ran up beside him, his wariness partially giving way to curiosity.
“Aw, come on Uncle Jurgen,” the boy said, the grin still plastered onto his face, “Nice clothes, by the way.”
The boy leaned over and sniffed his sleeve. Jurgen quickly pulled his arm away, his earlier annoyance now back in full force. He scowled mightily.
“Stop doing that!”
“Hm, 1095 A.D.,” the boy mumbled to himself. He sniffed again, this time at the air. “Jerusalem.”
“Alright, for the last time, who in the—” Jurgen started to say heatedly, but the boy cut him off abruptly.”
“I guess you don’t know me yet.”
“Hi!” the boy said brightly, “I’m Justinian. You met me a couple of centuries from now.”
Jurgen raised an eyebrow and stared at the boy blankly. Before he could say anything, the boy turned his face upward, “Is that right, the grammar?”
It took Jurgen a moment to realize that the boy—Justinian, apparently—was talking to the familiar perched on top of his head. The boy remained silent for a while, apparently waiting for a response. A moment later he seemed to have gotten it since the boy looked back down and shrugged.
“Eh, whatever. It works.”
Jurgen shook his head and grunted. Well, whoever or whatever this Justinian was, he apparently wasn’t hostile. At any rate, he was not in any mood to continue whatever absurdity this was. Although, the boy’s mastery of Old Egyptian was still niggling at the back of his mind—maybe somewhere, somehow his old master was putting him on? He could do unbelievably complex pranks when he was in the mood, some of them centuries in the making; and he had pulled something similar back in 2214 B.C. That prank, his master had claimed, had been set up nearly eight hundred years earlier. Then there was the boy’s accent, which resembled that of the thrice-great.
Jurgen regarded the boy for a while before he shrugged and snorted disgustedly. Well, whatever. Arcane prank or not, he was in no mood for this. He pointedly turned his back on the boy and continued walking. With any luck, the boy would just stand there and chat with his familiar some more while Jurgen walked away. He didn’t seriously think that that would be the case, but his tired, disgruntled mind could hope, couldn’t it?
As it turned out, Justinian did continue conversing with his familiar since Jurgen heard him give replies every few seconds. However, nothing preclude the boy from continuing to follow Jurgen as he did so. He let out a long, exasperated sigh as he heard the child shuffling along behind him as he pulled his donkey along. Maybe if he didn’t say anything more to the boy he’d go away on his own, or at least continue to converse with that bird. As long as Justinian wasn’t talking to him he could at least be ignored.
Around the corner of his eye, Jurgen noticed that the other refugees had continued to move with him, and were giving him and the boy a wide berth. Jurgen wasn’t surprised. Given what they’d just witnessed, they’d probably assume that Justinian was some kind of powerful sorcerer. And if the strange boy was talking to Jurgen like he knew him, then something must be special about him too. Which meant that they’d probably stay safe from any external threat since the assumed sorcerers might at least do something about it. Of course, given that one of them seemed extremely irritable and the other apparently rather mad (the boy’s conversation with his psychic familiar looked more like the boy talking to himself since they, like Jurgen, couldn’t hear the bird’s replies), they were also a bit leery about getting to close.
Then Jurgen heard something that made his blood run cold. It was a series of creaks and rattles that sounded a lot like a donkey cart being boarded. His donkey cart. He spun around and, sure enough, the boy had clambered onto his cart and was now rummaging through his precious hoard of books and scrolls.
“Don’t touch those!” he yelled, practically flying to the cart.
The boy acted like he hadn’t heard him, and was now perusing through one of his more expensive manuscripts. It was the Caleano fragments, a transcript written in a language that did not exist on Earth, and something his old master had been translating on and off just before the man had left to his slumber on Thoth’s behest.
“Oh, wow, the Caleano fragments. Over a hundred pages, too! Last time I saw these back in 1915 there were only fifty—”
Jurgen snatched the transcript from the boy angrily and shook the index finger of his free hand in the boy’s face. “You do not touch this. You do not touch anything on this cart! In fact, you shouldn’t even be on this cart. Get off!”
The sorcerer felt a suddenly flare of psychic power, and he whipped his head to face the boy’s familiar before the energy could be released as a psychokinetic attack.
“Oh, come of it!” Jurgen spat, “I’m not going to hurt him, provided he gets off the cart. Now!”
The people all around them were backing away in earnest now, rethinking their decision to keep traveling with the two apparent sorcerers. They’d never seen a fight between two sorcerers before, and had no desire to have that fact changed by being caught in the middle of one.
“Whoa! Hey now,” Justinian said, raising his hands in a placating manner, “Take it easy, Uncle Jurgen. I—”
“And stop calling me that,” Jurgen snapped, “I don’t even know who in the wretched Hades you are. Given all this aggravation, I don’t want to know either.”
Justinian just stared at him, with a look of an infant trying to comprehend his mother’s cooing and cajoling. The familiar just stared flatly at him as well, its face almost seemed strangely expressive at it stared him down. Bacarra just seethed as he stared back, his temper on the brink. He was about to demand that the boy get down again when a wave of wailing and screaming suddenly erupted through the crowed.
“Oh, what is it this time?” he growled irritably.
He looked and saw that the crowd had begun to panic. Many had dropped much of their belongings and were running away in a panic. Those riding in carts and wagons were frantically urging their animals on. It was easy to see why. In the distance there was a column of mounted soldiers thundering toward them, a cloud of dust in their wake. They were still to far too make out any individual features, but it was easy to even from this distance that there was an eagerness about them. It was the kind of eagerness held by soldiers who knew that rape, pillage, and murder were well within reach.
Jurgen’s scowl deepened. He’d seen that far too many times in history, though he’d been careful to avoid any direct confrontation with such types. It was not that he couldn’t deal with them personally. He could handle an army of regular soldiers easily enough. With the powers at his disposal, it would’ve been child’s play to squash the soldiers approaching them like a man would squash an insect. Of course, he’d always held his master’s words to heart, for so long that they were practically woven into his nature. And Trismegistos had always held a low opinion of anyone who used great mystical power to destroy or wreak havoc upon anyone who do not have such ability.
As such, using his powers on lowly soldiers just seemed… tiny and despicable. Far beneath him, even if it could be argued that the soldiers would have deserved it. However, he had to admit that, given his currently quite sour mood, he was sorely tempted to ignore his unspoken principle, just this once. Maybe just a little curse. A hex. His old master would understand.
The soldiers were close now and their swords and battle axes were up swinging, feral grins on their faces and battle cries erupting from their throats. Jurgen’s hand was up, and he readied himself for a quick finger-snap. Before he could, however, he felt a powerful spike of psychic energy behind. The psychic energy suddenly exploded outward, and the entire cavalry column was flung backward, horses and all.
The immortal sorcerer blinked and turned back, staring at the bird sitting on the boy’s head. The bird seemed to stare back at him evenly. The boy, on the other hand, seemed to totally oblivious. He gone right back to picking through the collection of texts on Jurgen’s dokey cart. Jurgen scowled again.
“I told you to stop doing that and get off the cart!”
Behind him, he heard the sound of cussing and clattering. He turned again and saw that many of the soldiers had picked themselves up. Some seemed a bit stunned but the others were looking at him now, growling menacingly. The familiar’s psychokinetic push didn’t seem to have discouraged them at all, which spoke poorly of their intelligence. In fact, most of them were looking quite angry and seemed to be considering a charge right at them.
Jurgen felt another psychic spike behind him. Before it could be released, however, Jurgen raised his hand and cocked his head at the bird.
“No, you’ve had your fun,” Jurgen smirked, “My turn.”
His smirk turned savage as he raised his hand. He snapped his fingers.
As one the soldiers’ helmets suddenly slid over their eyes. The soldiers all yelped in surprise and dropped their weapons as their hands tried to pry their helmets off. The helmets wouldn’t budge. The soldiers were stumbling around blindly now, struggling mightily against their hexed helmets. Quite a number of them ended up crashing into each other.
Jurgen chuckled as he looked at his handiwork. No, he didn’t think his old master would mind this at all. The man did love a good prank, after all.
Suddenly, there was a green flash behind him. He spun around just I time to see Justinian get off the cart.
“What was that?” he demanded, eyes narrowing suspiciously on the boy.
“What was what?” Justinian queried, cocking his head sideways in a ridiculously bird-like manner. Strangely enough, the familiar still stayed firmly on the boy’s hat despite the movement.
“That,” Jurgen snarled, sweeping his right hand toward the boy, “Whatever you just did right now.”
“I climbed off the cart, like you said.”
“You know what I mean, boy!”
“You’re standing on something, you know.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“No seriously,” the boy’s arm shot out and pointed at Jurgen’s feet, “It’s right over there.”
Jurgen’s eyes narrowed. Justinian just looked at him right back, still pointing. The boy’s faces just looked so damned earnest, and it was genuinely hard to read the boy’s expressions. They were always so overstated, almost theatrical. And, for the life of him, he couldn’t see anything beneath the theatrics, no matter how suspicious such exaggerated emoting usually was on other people. It was aggravating.
Since the boy was still pointing, Jurgen sighed and looked down. Predictably, there was nothing there.
“That wasn’t funny.” Jurgen stated as he looked backed up.
“Well, of course it isn’t,” Justinian said, almost huffily, “you’re still in the way.”
The boy walked over and pushed him away. Jurgen slapped the boy’s hands away irritably.
Justinian leaned over where he was standing and reached into the ground. He made a pulling motion, but Jurgen could see nothing. He was about to make a snide remark when something suddenly flashed in the boy’s hand, accompanied by the tug on his ethereal senses similar to that which he had felt upon the boy’s arrival. The boy suddenly moved his hands rapidly, the flashing in his hand growing brighter and bluer as he seemed to weave and knead whatever it was in his hand. As annoyed as he was, Jurgen watched fascinated. He hadn’t seen anything like this in his millennia on Earth.
Abruptly, the boy stopped. He held out his hand, and Jurgen’s eyes looked wonderingly at what seemed to be floating just above it. It looked to be a cube-like object, glowing blue and swirling with a massive aura of ethereal energy.
“See?” Justinian said as he held the glowing blue cube out at him.
“What is it?” Jurgen asked wonderingly.
“It’s time for me to go.” Justinian stated matter-of-factly. The boy smiled his irritatingly bright smile and waved at him with his free hand, “See ya later, Uncle Jurgen!”
Justinian brought his hand down on the blue cube and it erupted into a dazzlingly bright flash of light. Jurgen had had barely enough time to shield his eyes with his hand. When he lifted the hand away the boy was gone, just as suddenly as he had arrived.
Jurgen looked at the spot where the boy had been standing and blinked. He shook his head, uncertain as to whether everything that had just happened was real or not. He looked around. The soldiers were still stumbling around blindly, trying to pull of their helmets. There were still several of the abandoned belongings of the refugees scattered all around. His cart was still disheveled. So, yes, it had happened. And he still wasn’t quite sure what all of it had been.
Perhaps his first guess had been right. Maybe it had all been some overly elaborate thrice-great prank. It was the only explanation that approached some sort of sense. If it had been a prank, then Jurgen had to hand it to his old master. That had been quite a doozy. He even managed to chuckle a bit, though maybe that was some of the lingering petty pleasure from his hexing of the soldiers’ helmets.
Well, whatever that had been, it was all over. He needed to get going. As walked over to the cart to arrange its contents he froze. There was clearly less on the cart than he had started with. Much less. He frantically rummaged through what was left, doing a quick inventory of what he was missing.
A dozen books missing, including the precious Caleano fragments. He didn’t even need to wonder what had happened, and now he knew exactly what that green flash was. All the anger and frustration of the day came rushing right back and he exploded into a scream of “JUSTINIAN!!!” before descending into a state of gibbering, worldless rage. Not even Sumerian was adequate for what he was feeling.
He stood there quivering in anger before kicking the nearest thing as an outlet for his frustrations. Given how close to the donkey cart he was standing, that happened to be his ass.
It kicked back.