The Manx Connection
Part VIII - Where Are They Now?
The group appeared beside a high stone wall. Ancient moss spattered the eroded stonework and undernourished ivy straggled along the top, competing rather ineffectively with some still-bright galvanised barbed wire. The thorn-crowned wall seemed to stretch across the bleak heatherland as far as the eye could see, which wasn't very far since the fog stopped you seeing much further than thirty yards.

Alf looked up at the wall disapprovingly. "What's with the barbed wire, Apex? Expecting the Inland Revenue?"

Apex frowned. "I don't like visitors, Mr du Plex, as you will come to understand when you realise how the world in general views our talents." Apex pointed to his right. "The gate is a little further this way."

The four walked along the wall, Apex striding ahead almost lost in the mist. Observer kept pace with Alf and Jackie. It now sported a huge fur coat instead of the long black jacket of the computer room, although the stovepipe hat still topped its head. It leaned toward them conspiratorially. "Don't mind Apex. He always brings new visitors this way. Seems to think it more impressive than just materialising in the entrance hall."

Apex stopped by the gate and turned to wait for the others. It was an intricately woven wrought iron confection wide enough to drive a large articulated lorry through. Occult symbols from all magical traditions decorated the double gate itself and hideous gargoyles gazed down malevolently from atop the supporting pillars.

As the party arrived, Apex made a sweeping gesture towards the gate and a zephyr flowed from his open hand, brushing the bitterly complaining gates aside. The wind shouldered its way through the fog and after a few moments Apex' house was dimly visible.

"Welcome to my humble abode!"

Jackie gave a wry smile. "It looks rather like Frankenstein's castle."

The sky suddenly darkened and a flash of lightning outlined the house against the night sky. "Thankyou Observer. I assume you know what she's talking about?" Apex' voice was as sharp as broken glass. He snapped his fingers irritably and the sky lightened once more, taking the fog with it. A bleak Scottish moorland was revealed, the house the only sign of habitation in sight. "We shall walk to the house. All this teleportation becomes quite draining." Apex stalked stiffly off up the path.

Alf fell into step beside Apex. "I thought you said that limits on magical powers weren't a matter of stamina but of the size of your magical reservoir?"

"Hmm, nice to know you were paying some attention back at the lab before those technicians so rudely interrupted us. No, physical stamina is not involved. Some spells do take tremendous concentration though, which can leave the brain a little fuzzy. It takes time for the mind to recover its sharpness."

"So how did you maintain that illusion of the fog? I assume it was an illusion..."

"Indeed it was: actually controlling the weather is liable to start a new Ice Age. As to the illusion itself, the mental effort involved was comparatively small since I could actually see it myself. The projection on the train was more difficult, so I had Observer conjure that."

"Surely though, you ought to be more adept than your apprentice!"

"Ah, but Observer's brain isn't human. Its powers of concentration are quite phenomenal, so it can compensate for its comparative lack of skills by maintaining illusions and monitoring them remotely for periods which are simply impossible for all but the most powerful human magicians."

"Why didn't you teleport to the train?"

"Far too dangerous. If I had Observer's brain, or resources to match your own, then maybe. But travelling five hundred miles and matching speeds with the target is beyond me, unless I really want to reappear inside a bulkhead or another passenger of course.

"Please understand, magic is not without its dangers."

Alf pondered this in silence, looking at the grounds they walked through. Only the path itself was clear, the rest having been left to grow wild. He considered this said much about Apex' character, that here was someone who disliked regimentation in any form. He imagined the magician drawing inspiration from the struggles of the woodland folk, those same woodland folk that Alf could feel watching them. The symbolism of a confined wilderness was not lost on Alf - he'd done English Literature after all.

His reverie was broken by Apex' words.

"Please excuse the garden. My last groundsman died forty years ago, and I haven't the time or the inclination to supervise anyone new. Now, about your visitor Mr du Plex."

"Yes, I wanted to ask you about that." Alf was slightly irritated, as many are when their illusions are shattered. He decided to try and ask an awkward question. "What you said about attention span surely means that the threat from this 'spirit' is fairly limited because it will never be able to concentrate hard enough to do any real damage."

"But that it were so, Mr du Plex, but that it were so. Unfortunately, it is possible to use the bludgeon where the knife might fail. I don't think you realise the amount of energy which is at your fingertips. Frankly, it is verging on the limitless.

"To be blunt, you don't have to be able to concentrate like a chess player if you need have no thought for conserving your energy. If this ghost is skilled, and I think it likely given the nature of your possession, it need have no fear once it has control of your magic."

Apex had led them round to the side of the house to a small but sturdy looking door. A brief look of concentration on Apex' face, and there was a clunk from the other side of the door as of a bolt being drawn back. There followed a cacophony of grating noises and solid thunks which ended on a long note of wood against wood. The door swung silently outwards to reveal a forest of bolts and chains as well as a huge oaken beam. Apex looked at them sheepishly. "Well, you can't be too careful, can you? Observer, would you care to lead the way?"

"Why pretend I have a choice Apex?" Observer's image flickered briefly and reappeared as a dwarf straight out of 'Snow White'. It was complete right down to the lantern and pickaxe over the shoulder, the picture only slightly spoiled by Apex' cleanshaven face under the red pointed hat.

Apex sighed and muttered under his breath. "I'm afraid I have business elsewhere. Show these two to the Spirit Room. You needn't bother locking the door - I'll be along directly." Apex vanished casually (vanishing casually is a trick mastered by very few magicians. Many of them make it too theatrical, others just need to take too much effort. One magician simply misunderstood what was meant by 'casual' and always did a quick change into sweater and slacks before disappearing. But Apex vanished casually).

Observer clumped irritably through the door. The light it carried brightly illuminated a stairwell which led down. It turned and looked back impatiently. "Come on then, if you're coming." And then it started to sing.

"Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go! With a shovel ..." It is impossible to describe the sensation of the inner ear vibrating in sympathy with every note of a song. When the song is one which everybody loathes and the singing is flat, suffice it to say that you don't want to know. Neither did Alf, but he knew about it anyway.

When they got to the bottom of the stairs, Jackie could stand it no longer. In a desperate attempt to save her hearing, she tried to talk to Observer.

"Excuse me, but why do you like Apex?"

Observer shut up quicker than a Toxteth shopkeeper during a riot. Its face was so stormy you wouldn't have needed to water your garden for a week. There was an awkward silence as they walked along the corridor towards the heavy steel door at the other end. But it stopped the singing.

The word 'door' doesn't really do justice to the enormous object which blocked their way. It bore the same relation to an ordinary panelled wood door as a Sherman tank does to a mini: they're both vehicles, but they have entirely unrelated aims in life. In fact, I won't call it a door. I will call it a jellymould.

The jellymould was plastered with bright yellow warning stickers, most of them with skulls on somewhere. Observer looked at the jellymould resentfully. It turned to Alf. "Could you open the door please?" (well, Observer doesn't know I'm calling it a jellymould, does it?) Alf gave it a quizzical look, but acquiesced without comment. He'd seen the effect Jackie's question had had, and didn't like it one bit.

After struggling with the jellymould for several minutes, Alf and Jackie finally managed to open it. The room beyond would not have been out of place on the Enterprise, even the new one with the detachable saucer bit. Apex was waiting inside, hunched over a bank of instruments. "Ah, there you are. I was wondering where you had got to." He moved to stand by a couch. "Could you lie down here please, Mr du Plex. Don't worry about the straps. I doubt they will be necessary."

Alf jumped as the jellymould clanged shut behind him and its restraining bolts slid into place.

"Please Alf, come and lie down. It's time for your operation."


What is this 'operation'? Is Apex a baddy after all? Will Observer ever build up enough strength to open the jellymould? How will it get its pudding if it can't? Can I control Apex' tendency towards exhibitionism? Tune in next year sometime for the next part of The Manx Connection!


The Manx Connection
Last updated 12-Sep-2005