Authors: Christopher George
C A T A L Y S T
Mage Catalyst 1
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Christopher George
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.
Cover design by Christopher George
Cover photography by Ian Harding Photography
Cover artwork by Megan Owenson
This book is dedicated to the waiting lounge at Adelaide Airport. Without you and your five-hour flight delay this novel might never have been started.
To my family and friends, thank you for your years of love and support as I struggled to turn myself into a half decent writer. It is still my fervent wish to one day achieve this goal.
I would like to acknowledge Ian Harding for his beautiful photography work for the cover and Vanessa Verzaci for taking on the role of editor for my undisciplined scribbles. I would also like to acknowledge the beautiful hand of Sasha Hartdobler for her modelling and Megan Owensen for the digital artwork used on the cover.
I am also indebted to my brother, Daniel, for his ongoing critique and comments. Without him the storyline wouldn’t be anywhere near as detailed and immersive as it is now. His attention to detail and ability to niggle every little point is greatly appreciated. (Well, it is now anyway.)
And lastly, Ms Penelope Alexander, without whom I never would have finished my first draft. Penelope was instrumental in keeping me motivated and on track during a very stressful and difficult time in my life.
Without you guys this book wouldn’t have happened.
I’m not sure when I became the villain of my story. But I’m now quite certain that this is exactly what I’ve become. It is no more clear to me as I stand atop a destroyed car park looking over my home. The smoke from still smouldering buildings billow off into the distance, almost writing my name into the skyline, but I do not care. It is no more than a grim signature of the suffering that I’ve caused to those around me. My name is Devon Wills and I am a mage.
I’m well aware of the stigma now attached to that title. However, to understand exactly what this title means, I will tell you my story. Perhaps you have seen us on the news; maybe you’ve even seen us in person if you’ve been unlucky enough. You know what we’re capable of. We’re not tired old men who smoke strange tobacco and brew up potions in kitchen pots. We’re not haggard women who ride around on broomsticks and cackle into the night. We’re able to send lightning arcing from our fingertips and burn holes through solid metal with just the mere flick of our wrists. In short, we’re dangerous – but you already knew that.
You know the word “mage” – it means wizard, sorcerer, magician or a variety of other terms for mystic, but do you know what it actually means to be a mage?
I didn’t think so.
Let me educate you. When I use the term “mage”, I mean someone capable of feats of power so great that they don’t know what’s real anymore. There are no limits, no restrictions – no laws. There is nothing to stop us should we go bad, and as you already know we
When I use the term “mage”, I mean someone so whacked out on sorcery that they hardly know what they’re doing anymore. They don’t care about anyone or anything other than the magic. They will do anything in pursuit of their powers. When I say mage I mean someone who is barely human anymore.
Where shall I begin my tale? I was, of course, born to two parents in the usual way and I grew up and went to school like any other normal child. I was not the product of a brutal tragedy, nor was I betrayed by my parents and cast into the river. I did not draw forth a sword from a stone. In fact my life was decidedly normal. My upbringing was not the stuff of legends and so, perhaps, it should not surprise me now to discover that I am the villain and not the hero of my story.
Despite my mundane upbringing I always knew that I was different from other children. I’ve always known it, though I never knew how or why. Somehow I was different, not in years, but in manner. It wasn’t until several days after my eighteenth birthday that I found out exactly why - I was a mage, and my life would never be the same.
Understand that I don’t say these things to defend my actions, nor to extol what virtues I do possess. I did what I did simply because I had no choice and I will not try to justify my actions to you. It is not for you to judge me – that is for my peers to do and I no longer have peers amongst the likes of you and your kind.
My story began on a cold autumn morning in Melbourne, Australia. It was raining as I recall, which wasn’t surprising as rain and cold winds were not unusual in any season except summer. Our summers could be uncharitably and aggressively hot. It was almost as if Melbourne was trying to drown you for nine months of the year and then spend the next three months drying you out.
This day wasn’t unusual from the one before. It didn’t start any differently from the rest of my life. It wasn’t until much later that I realised how just different this day actually was – for it was the last day that I could say without a doubt that I was a simple man, just like everyone else.
I was at school sitting through another boring English class, gazing longingly out the window. A gym class made its way across the oval. I envied them. It’s not that I particularly wanted to join them – physical education didn’t appeal to me – but anything was better than this class room.
“Devon, will you please pay attention?” snapped a sharp voice from across the room.
“The horror, the horror,” I murmured, as my gaze returned to the slides on
A Heart of Darkness
projected on to the whiteboard. This was the seventh class we had endured on this novel so far.
“Very funny,” our teacher, Mr Saunders, said gruffly. “Now, can you tell me what Kurtz means when he says that?”
“No, sir,” I mumbled, annoyed at not having something more antagonistic to say. That wasn’t like me – my form was definitely off today.
Mr Saunders ran his classes like a form of ritual detention and some of my class, myself included, played a game to see how far we could push him before he’d send us into the hall as punishment. It was immature, but seeing the shades of purple and red rise in his cheeks made it all the more worthwhile. It was a game I usually excelled at; however, today my wit had served me poorly.
Mr Saunders was your typical middle-aged school English teacher – balding, overweight, and short-tempered. He wore horn-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose and if he was particularly agitated he would remove them and clean them viciously with an old handkerchief in front of the class. He also wore business suits to class each day and spent as much time lecturing students on their bad habits as he did teaching. He wasn’t my favourite teacher and I was far from his star student. He seemed to take delight in calling on me in class when he was sure that I didn’t know the answer or if it was obvious that I wasn’t paying attention. He took himself so seriously that we’d taken to calling him “sir” as a subtle insult, but I don’t think he ever picked up on the jibe.
“What young Devon missed here is fundamentally important,” Mr Saunders droned on. “
A Heart of Darkness
is a prime example of framed narrative.”
Mr Saunders began to pace up and down the length of the whiteboard, a sure indication that he was gearing up for a long rant.
“A framed narrative is – of course – a story-telling device in which the tale is related by the narrator. Can anyone tell me another such example?”
Before anyone could answer, he turned back to me. “Can anyone tell me why this makes
A Heart of Darkness
such a psychological masterpiece? Mr Wills, perhaps?”
I wasn’t even trying anymore. Mr Saunders smirked and continued his rant. He’d won today’s round and he knew it.
The darkness within, the thin veneer over the man, blah blah blah. Mr Saunders had drilled on and on about it when we first started reading the novel. Now, I understand the book, of course, but back then I knew nothing. I hadn’t seen how people react when they are removed from the shackles of authority. At school my entire world was dominated by teachers and parents in authority, people I had to look up to, or at least listen to. We are taught in our childhood to respect and obey our governments, our police, our politicians – those in positions of power. It’s all a sham though. What happens when we learn the horrible truth that they are just as dark and misguided as everyone else – that they’re just hiding behind an enforced and ingrained system of societal control?
“…Man, what a drag.”
“What? Huh?” I mumbled, looking up. I realised that the class bell had sounded and my friend Garry was staring at me expectantly.
Garry and I had been friends since the start of the year, when we had been seated together in English class. I got along well with Garry, although he could be annoying at times. He could provoke an argument with pretty much anyone about any subject. He was one of the smaller kids in the class and I guess he felt he needed to make up for that by being overly confrontational. I tried to avoid topics with him that I knew would lead to an argument. This worked most of the time, but it wasn’t easy.
“Saunders, he just goes on and on,” Garry moaned.
Our next class was on the far side of the school so I had plenty of time to hear Garry complain about Saunders. Normally I’d be participating in the Saunders-bashing but today, for some weird reason, I just couldn’t find the enthusiasm.
“Are you going to your dad’s this weekend?” Garry asked. He knew I always spent my weekends with my father and he also knew that I hated it. I gritted my teeth and nodded. I wasn’t sure if he was just curious or if he was trying to annoy me. Either way I didn’t want to be talking about this any further.
“What’s the matter with you? You sure are out of it today,” Garry snapped.
“Didn’t sleep well,” I said. “Just drop it.”
The rest of the morning turned out to be no better than English class. I just couldn’t focus. My mind kept drifting off. Two classes rolled by and I can’t say what those classes were, let alone what was taught. It wasn’t until lunch time that I was able to make any kind of effort to be sociable.
“Hey, Devon, are you okay?”
A soft voice beside me brought me back to the present. I was seated at a long bench in the lunch hall, but I had no idea how I had gotten there. I glanced up to see Sarah Bennett placing her tray down next to mine. She was my best friend’s girlfriend and we hung out a lot.
“I know the food’s bad but you haven’t even touched it,” she added.
“I’m okay.” I nodded. ”I was just thinking.”
I’d always liked Sarah. In truth I‘d had a little bit of a crush on her but I had no intention of making a move on my best friend’s girl.
“Deep thinker?” she jibed. “Who’da thought…”
She trailed off quickly and looked away. I thought I heard a slight gasp from her, but when I looked up she was quietly unwrapping her sausage roll. She seemed fine, but something was definitely wrong here – Sarah was never like this.
“No… nothing... It’s nothing,” she mumbled, no longer looking directly at me.
“You and Tony okay?” I asked. Maybe she was fighting with her boyfriend.
“Yeah, we’re fine,” she replied, her eyes looking deeply into mine, her look questioning, probing as if she was examining me. I didn’t like it.
“Okay, out with it!”
“You looked a little funny before…” Sarah began tentatively. “Your eyes looked, I don’t know, dilated.” She peered into my eyes again. “It’s nothing. They’re fine now. I must have imagined it.”
“You imagine me often?” I said in a hope to lighten the mood. I enjoyed teasing Sarah, although it wasn’t often that I had the opportunity because Tony was always around.
“Oh, always - you’re the last thing I think of before I go to sleep, and the first thing I wake up to.” She rolled her eyes.
“Well, you’re only human,” I countered.
“Ouch!” I recoiled as her elbow caught me in the ribs.
You could only push Sarah so far before she retaliated. The elbow never really hurt me, it was usually just an indication that I’d gone too far.
“Hey guys!” Tony’s voice boomed. I smiled as Tony sat down across from us, kissing Sarah on the cheek. I’d known Tony since the first year of high school when our teacher had paired us together in a hope that we would encourage each other to do our homework. It hadn’t worked.
“How’s tricks?” he chirped, as he began unwrapping his food. He was unusually peppy for this early in the morning.
“The rabbit died,” I replied promptly.
“Rabbit?” his eyebrow raised slightly, looking at me as if I was crazy.
“The one in the top hat…” I trailed off, realising that I had sounded a little macabre. My jokes had a bad habit of doing that. I really needed to think more about how my jokes sounded outside the confines of my own head.
“Oh... You’re quite the magician then,” Tony said. “Dead rabbits in hats and you’ve probably got a whole deck of cards lodged in your underwear right now.”
I didn’t really have a suitable response. Tony always seemed to get in the last word.
“Hey, I wanted to talk to you,” Tony began. “You’re going to be at your dad’s this weekend, right?”
I gritted my teeth. Again with the stupid questions.
I nodded as Tony continued, “This wicked new band are playing in the city this weekend. We can crash at your dad’s – if that’s cool?”
Tony had a knack for finding really good yet mostly unheard of bands. He hadn’t steered me wrong yet. Going out sounded good, but I just couldn’t feel enthusiastic about it. That wasn’t going to stop Tony though. If I didn’t say yes, he’d just keep hassling me about it until I did.
“Probably be okay,” I said grudgingly. Tony wasn’t going to just let this go.
“Ooh, I’m coming too!” Sarah smiled. “It’s awesome that you’re old enough now to come out with us.”
I’d had my eighteenth birthday party last Saturday. I was the last of my friends to turn eighteen and Tony had brought a bottle of whisky to celebrate. It’s customary for the birthday boy to get a little toasted; however, I’d pulled up fine. Gloriously drunk then no hangover, no headaches, nothing. I was untouchable!
I smiled back, remembering. “Yep, I can drink with the best of them. What about you, Tony?” I grinned evilly. Tony had had a little too much to drink and from what I’d heard, he was still violently puking the next morning.
Tony just shuddered. “Aah well. All is good now.”
Sarah frowned. She was obviously still unimpressed with Tony’s performance.
“There was nothing good about your Sunday morning,” Sarah huffed.
I was feeling quite proud of my drinking accomplishments, especially given that Tony hadn’t pulled up quite so well. It’s strange the way we can only appreciate our own strengths through the opposite weakness in others.
“This band you mentioned? What are they like?” I asked as I began to eat my lunch.
I wasn’t really listening to his response as I was more focused on the pie in front of me. It was awful, but I’d expected that – it was school food. What this pie needed was tomato sauce and lots of it. A problem as I didn’t feel like getting up and waiting back in the queue for a measly few sachets of sauce. There was an unused packet of sauce on the other side of Sarah’s tray, just out of reach.
Tony was still talking excitedly – this must have been some band. I hadn’t seen him talk so animatedly about anything for quite some time.
“Uhuh… Sarah, have you finished with that tomato sauce?”
“Yeah, sure.” Sarah nodded as her hands went to her tray and stopped. The sachet was gone.
“Uh, I must have dropped it,” she mumbled, looking down on the ground.
I followed her gaze to the floor for the missing condiment.
“Oh, you already grabbed it. Sure you can have it.” Sarah smiled and turned back to Tony’s spiel, which was fortunate because it meant that she didn’t see the look of confusion on my face.
The sauce sachet was just inches away from my fingers. How did it get there? I didn’t reach for it; reaching for it would have meant standing up, and I didn’t do that.
Yet, there it was, mere inches from my fingers. Weird.
“Anyways, mate,” Tony drawled, bringing me back to the present. “I’d better go. I’ll see you later.” Both Tony and Sarah got up. I poured the sauce onto the remains of my pie and took a cautious bite. It was still a very bad pie.
“Don’t feel too cocky about the lack of hangover!” Sarah called as they left. “I’ve heard that they can sneak up on you!”
I hadn’t even felt dehydrated the next morning. I was pretty sure I was in the clear. But Sarah must have had prophetic vision or I had somehow offended the gods of poetic justice. During the next period I developed a headache – it was a real head-splitter. It came on suddenly and without any warning. My temples felt like they were on fire and a pounding reverberated throughout my skull with stunning force. Sarah had joked that hangovers could sneak up on you, but three days later? This was crazy.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Pound. Pound. Pound.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Light became unbearable, the sound of chalk on the blackboard became even more painful, and the dull monotone of Mr Cromby’s voice made me sick to my stomach as shivers shook my entire frame. Why was he even using the blackboard? There was a perfectly good whiteboard next to it but our Maths teacher’s response to progress and modernity was obviously to quietly ignore them.
I’d had Mr Cromby for Maths for several years and I’d always managed to retain a cordial relationship with him despite my grades and complete ineptitude at maths. I urgently raised my hand. I needed to get out of there – quickly.