The Matter of Mind Control
April 4th, 2023
The Vatican library had over one thousand books within its halls. It was one of the largest and most ancient libraries on the planet and contained an enormous collection of works on numerous topics. It contained works gathered from across the world, spanning the ages from antiquity to the modern day and covering material far and beyond the purview of Catholicism. Before the Days of Revelations, it had attracted thousands of researchers every year, and even now it still had its visitors.
“Remind me again,” Abigail White rubbed at the corners of her eyes, her fingers pushing up her glasses. “Why I am reading a thirteenth century account of the life of Saint George?”
“Ascalon,” Ettore Cavallo, her sole companion in their reading room, spoke even as he scanned another thick tome, his gloved fingers delicately turning each page.
“What about it?” She asked, glancing back at the tiny print and finding it almost impenetrable in her fatigued state, her eyes wandering across the page.
“Was it a sword or a spear?” Ettore said, still not looking up.
Abigail hung her head. “I don’t know, the accounts don’t seem to agree.”
“Then go with the earliest.” He said, finally looking up.
“Then I’d say lance.” She said. “It’s the earlier and more popular representation.”
“Nothing conclusive though?” He asked and Abigail groaned.
“Ettore we’ve been at this for days. Literally nothing here is conclusive. It’s not as if we can just pop into a museum and see if Ascalon is on display. We don’t even know if it’s real.”
“I would err on the side of it being real and that it really was used to kill a dragon.” Ettore said calmly. “Seems to be the course of things these days. But a lance? That would be odd.”
“Why would a lance be odd?” Aabigail asked, sitting back in her chair, arms crossed over her chest. “It’s as common a mounted cavalry weapon as a sword.”
“But it’s less heroic than a sword.” Ettore said “It’s probably why the story was retold with it as a sword.”
“Not everyone gets to have an Excalibur.” Abigail shrugged “Nothing wrong with a sensible weapon.”
“King Arthur actually had a magic spear.” Ettore said, turning back down to his tome.
“You’re kidding. What was it called?”
“Okay now I know you’re being ridiculous.”
“I’m absolutely serious.” Ettore said. “It was shortened from its Welsh name Rhongomyniad”
“Yes, well, no one likes to read stories about King Arthur and his trusty spear, Ron.”
“My point exactly.” Ettore smiled, and Abigail couldn’t help but chuckle a little, muttering “Ron” again to herself and laughing.
“Amusing ourselves, are we?”
Abigail nearly fell out of her chair and Ettore shuddered as Giovanni’s voice cut through the air between them. Neither of them had even heard the wolf enter the library despite the usual deadened silence of the place.
“M-Mister Giovanni.” Abigail blushed as she rose to greet him. “Sorry, you caught us unaware.”
“Nothing to apologize for.” Giovanni did not seem irritated, but the stony demeanor of his face did not make him look happy either. Abigail wondered what was weighing on him. He normally sent Stella if he had a specific request for them or wanted an update.
“Ettore, is your research progressing?” Giovanni asked. It was forced, but polite, small talk. He hadn’t needed to come to ask that.
“Very well, thank you again.” Ettore said. “We’ve made a lot of headway with access to the library, but about the secret archives…”
Giovanni raised a hand to silence him. “An issue for another day, Ettore.” Giovanni said. “I have a request for you, and for Miss White as well, if she is willing to offer her services.”
“Of course.” Abigail nodded. She had only recently started coming down to the Vatican library with Ettore. They had started their adventures doing joint research at Lord Nassar’s request in Ettore’s personal magical library, but after noting several times that he had to leave to study in the Vatican, Abigail had offered some of her remaining free time to assist him. She liked spending time with him…when he wasn’t entirely lost in his work, that is.
“What’s the issue?” Ettore asked.
Giovanni took a deep breath “The vandal, or at least one of them, responsible for the recent damages at the greenhouse has been captured and is currently in holding in the capital. His guilt is undeniable as he was caught in the act, but I fear he may be enchanted and not of his own mind.
“Enchanted?” Abigail asked, sitting up straighter. “Magically?”
“Is there any other kind?” Giovanni asked sarcastically, letting his aggravation slip into his voice.
“Who is he?” Ettore asked, hand on his chin.
“The Senate has decided not to reveal his identity quite yet…” Giovanni’s voice fell and Abigail saw his ears twitch as he listened for potential eavesdroppers in the library. “I will say I recognize him as a member of the flock I protected in the Vatican, though he has not come to mass on Sunday in over a month. His religious standing is ambiguous at present.”
“What makes you think he’s enchanted?” Abigail asked “What are his symptoms?”
“For one he expressed no signs of fear or heightened adrenaline when he was attacked by a giant wolf.” Giovanni muttered matter-of-factly. “And I’m not particularly proud of how terrifying my visage in that form can be.”
“He could have been drugged?” Abigail suggested. “Something to dull the senses and make him more suggestible. It’s not unheard of.”
“There’s something else.” Giovanni said. “You’ll have to take my word on it as my senses are sharper but magic leaves a…smell of sorts. A sensation that can be detected, and this man certainly had it on him.”
“That’s not a lot to go on, Mister Giovanni.” Abigail said, Ettore nodding in agreement.
“I cannot say much more without bringing you two on as expert references.” Giovanni said. “And I want to wait before I confirm that…but I need a mage consultant, and in particular I need a mage consultant I trust.”
“Well you can trust us of course.” Ettore said “We just need a little more to go on before we can say anything definitively.”
“Then before we commit to anything.” Giovanni said “I want you to tell me everything you can about magical mind control. First of all, is it even possible?”
“Is the culprit a mage himself?” Abigail was quick to respond. How magic affected the body was her specialty, after all.
“He is not.” Giovanni said. It was clear he wanted to reveal as little as he could manage about the culprit, whether it was to protect his identity or the integrity of the church, or merely for potential legal complications.
“Then it’s not only possible, it’s easy.” Abigail said.
“Really? Easy?” Giovanni frowned.
“Distressingly so, if the mage is skilled.” Abigail said. “It has its limits obviously, but only magic can offer real long-term resistance to magic, so a mundane person doesn’t stand much of a chance against a skilled enchanter.”
“It’s not all that different from hypnotism.” Ettore said “Even I can do it to an extent.”
“If it really was that easy.” Giovanni glanced around before taking a seat. “One wonders what a corrupt mage might be capable of…what they might already be guilty of doing.”
“I wouldn’t put too much worry into it.” Abigail said, trying to reassure him. “As I said it has its limits. Controlling multiple people becomes exponentially more difficult, for example.”
“So a single mage couldn’t control an organized cell of criminals?” Giovanni asked.
“Not without being both very powerful and very focused on it.” Abigail said. “However the biggest threat to mind controllers are other mages.”
“What do you mean?” Giovanni looked at her curiously.
Abigail smiled. “Mages are people just like anyone else. We have our bad eggs but there are just as many good mages as there are bad, if not more so.”
“Over the years we have become very well-organized.” Ettore said “Part of living in a secret community is keeping tabs on everyone in case they go rogue.”
“The potential for conspiracy is still…” Giovanni began to say, worriedly, but Abigail cut him off.
“The majority of mages are perfectly able to tell right from wrong.” She said. “Mind control is an insidious power, a fundamental violation of someone’s rights as a human being. It wasn’t allowed before the Days of Revelation, and it’s not tolerated now.”
“That’s certainly an…optimistic viewpoint.” Giovanni settled on.
“Well, perhaps more reassuringly, there are only five mages in Rome, and you’re looking at almost half of them. The third is an alchemist, the fourth is fifteen years old and lives with the Ranger-General, and the Fifth is a Senator.”
“I don’t know how you think that puts my mind at ease.” Giovanni said. “Because none of the alternatives are good.”
“Well I think we can agree it’s not a mage.” Abigail said. “You can’t be accusing any of us…”
“I can agree that the man was enchanted.” Giovanni said fiercely. “And that would imply…”
Before the debate grew more heated Ettore interrupted them both, speaking as he rose from his chair.
“You might both be right.” He said, moving to the shelves to look over tomes.
“No it wouldn’t be here…” he muttered to himself as his eyes wandered the spine. “What I mean to say…” he addressed the two of them “Is that mages are not the only magical things in the city.”
“…Explain.” Giovanni’s attention was on him now. “Are you suggesting a monster…”
“No, not a monster.” Ettore said “Though that’s not beyond the realm of possibility, sirens and some more malevolent nymphs can entrance and enchant. But if you’re right in your suspicions. And he is part of some larger conspiracy or cult…then the enchantment could be divine or witchcraft.”
“Witchcraft?” Giovanni looked between him and Abigail. Abigail shrugged; this was far from her specialty. “What’s the difference between a mage and a witch? And what do you mean by divine?”
“Well,” Ettore began, “There are lots of different ways to perform magic. We five mages just practice one of the most common forms in Europe. It could be another kind of spellcaster, like a witch, has slipped into the city without us realizing. That or…a divine spirit, like a god of one of the new cults, has empowered a human with supernatural powers.”
“I still have yet to be reassured.” Giovanni practically growled. “So there are five magic-users in the city…that you know of.”
“If you can give us access to the victim,” Abigail suggested, “We might be able to tell you the source. We’ve had time to do research, and if we can see to a proper diagnosis of his mental interference…”
“I will do what I can.” Giovanni said. “But this is a senate matter now, and they might object to interference on the Vatican’s behalf. More likely Lord Nassar would see to it himself.” He fell into a long pause. Long enough for both Abigail and Ettore to predict what he was going to ask next.
“Is Lord Nassar trustworthy?” It was a massive accusation by implication, but it had also been weighing on both of the mages’ minds.
“I think I can say,” Ettore said. “That Lord Nassar is ambitious and cunning…but would not violate the ethics of the community in a brazen way.”
It was a carefully crafted sentence, one Abigail could only admire for its tact. She didn’t know Lord Nassar particularly well, she had only met him on several occasions after all, but what little she had seen of him had not been…entirely comforting. He was a magi in power, with all that implied.
Giovanni sighed. “Then at least I have some small measure of reassurance.”
“If there is any more we can do…”Abigail began, but Giovanni raised a hand to stop her.
“Thank you, both of you. You have provided me with invaluable information. But there is little else to be done without Senate approval. Until then I can only request none of us repeat what has been said in here. Do you understand?”
The pair of them nodded.
“Very well. Thank you again, truly.” He said, bowing his head as he turned to leave.
Abigail looked again at Ettore, who sighed and took his own seat.
“It’s always something, isn’t it…” He said, gazing off absently into the shelves. “Troubles never cease, as they say.”
Abigail looked at him in silence for a few moments, contemplating his words before pushing forward a smile and rising to take a seat next to him.
“I suppose then.” She said, pulling a book from the table and opening it in her lap. “We simply need to keep finding the good.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
((JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=31&sl=114 ))