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Age Of Aquarius - Book 2
Ministries of Change - Chapter 4
Chloe's funeral was the first of too many that Jase had to attend that week. So many people had died and they still had no idea why. That wasn't true; they knew the abstract reason: hate. What they didn't know is who hated them, why they hated them or how they could even identify them as "the enemy". He stood beside Morg as she stared, heartbroken, into the grave. Chloe had been like a little sister to him. He could only imagine how Morg felt. Morg treated every one of her apprentices as her children.
In a way, Jase thought of any apprentice of Morg's as a relative. He'd been surprised to see so many people arrive for Chloe's funeral. They weren't there for Chloe; they hadn't known her, they were there for Morg. The strangers were all magick-born; mages, witches, sorcerers, and even a couple masters. Over twenty stood in silence as the casket was set into the ground and the dirt cast in.
News had traveled fast; the fact that so many magick-born were gathering in one place worried Jase. His mother's warnings kept whispering to him. There was danger in being exposed as they were. He just didn't know what to do about it.
Jase took Terry back to deal with the funerals for his brother and their employees. He'd enlisted Phil's help to get in touch with the families and handle the authorities. Jase paid for everything. He'd been able to get the Magitech employees covered by TMC's insurance and anything that wasn't covered he paid for himself. George had been cremated, no service, and Jase went with Terry for the remains. They had been estranged from their parents for years, and though Phil had made attempts to contact them, any mention of the twins resulted in an immediate disconnect. Jase refused to take "no" for an answer.
They landed in the small, county airport as a stop between two of the more distant funerals for Terry's employees. Terry said nothing the entire trip from the airport to the steps of the small, suburban split-level that held so few good memories. As they stepped out, he looked at Jase. "Jase, what good will this do?"
Jase frowned. "Closure, Terry. I lost my parents without ever being able to reconcile with them. Even if they won't listen, you have to try."
The dread Terry felt was palpable to Jase. His friend had lost everything. If there was any chance he could find support from his natural family, it was now or never. Pressing the doorbell, Jase stepped back and waited.
The woman who answered the door looked remarkably like her sons. Her initial smile at Jase turned to a disapproving frown as she saw Terry behind him. "I have nothing to say to you."
She tried to close the door but Jase simply held up his hand and stepped forward. The door pushed open effortlessly, and shoved Sharon Martin into her foyer. "That's too bad, Mrs. Martin, because you don't have a choice." Jase opened the storm door and continued in.
"Get out of my house! I don't want you here." She wasn't looking at Jase; she was looking at Terry.
Jase snapped her attention to him with a flick of his fingers. "I really don't care what you want, Mrs. Martin. I suggest you become civil because my patience has been pushed to the limit over the last few days."
She glared at him. "Who do you think you are? You can't walk into my house and tell me what to do!"
Jase met her angry eyes with the fury of his own. The malice behind his eyes caused her to step back. "I can, and I have. You can find your manners, or I'm going to sit your hateful ass down and teach them to you."
Terry gripped Jase's arm. "Jase, please..." He stopped as Jase put his hand up.
"It was not my intention to threaten you, Mrs. Martin. I am here because my lawyer has been unable to contact you by normal means."
She frowned. "Your lawyer?"
"Yes. Your son, George, was an employee of mine."
"George isn't my son. I don't have sons any more." She glared at Terry as she said it.
"Whether you wish to acknowledge it or not, George was your son. I say -was- because he's dead."
Her face went white. "He's what?"
"Dead, Mrs. Martin; murdered to be precise."
She sat down on the arm of the chair behind her. Her eyes filled with tears and for a moment Jase felt pity on her. Her grief was mixed with a sense of righteousness that made Jase's stomach churn. "I knew he would pay for his sins. God has rendered his terrible judgment on his soul." She looked past Jase at Terry. "Repent; repent before God strikes you down. Cleanse yourself of the vileness of your lusts!"
The absolute conviction of her words chilled Jase to the bone. He couldn't understand a how a parent could loath her children so completely. Even his parents, whom had not been ideal, had done what they had out of love. He stepped back and wrapped his arms around Terry to shield him. Terry held onto Jase but he didn't weep. He looked past his friend at the woman who bore him and felt the old hurts and fears rising; the beatings and punishments in the name of God came screaming back. He remembered how George had tried to protect him. George wasn't there to protect him any more, and the anger of it rose like an inferno.
Jase spun as he heard Sharon Martin's scream. Flames engulfed her as she clawed at her flesh. "TERRY, DON'T!" Jase waved and the flames flickered out as Sharon collapsed to the floor.
"Why?" Terry looked at Jase, his face marred with tears. "Why did you stop me?"
"You can't do that, Terry. No matter what, you can't. It would make you as bad as she is." He looked back at her. Her hair was curled and burnt and her skin was blistered in places, but Jase's magicks had banished Terry's spell in time. "I have nothing but pity for you, Mrs. Martin. Anyone so full of hate could never know joy. May you rot in the hell you've made for your self."
Jase held Terry all the way back to the plane. Once safely aboard, he looked at him. "What really happened, Terry?"
He shrugged. "Our parents divorced when we were young, about three I think. Mom got full custody and the courts forbade our father from making any contact with us. Something about 'unfit parent', we never understood it. Dad had always been loving to us."
Wiping his eyes, Terry sighed. "Mom began to take us to church every weekend, and we were in the church daycare. It was one of those 'fire and brimstone ministries'. Everything was evil in that place; if you touched yourself, you were going to hell; if you looked at a girl, you were going to hell; if you thought ill of your parents, you were going to hell; on and on." Terry looked out the window as the jet climbed. "When we turned eleven, Mom wouldn't let us sleep together any longer. The minister said it would lead to sinful acts." He smiled at the memory. "She tried everything. She locked our doors; put bars on the windows; nothing worked. George and I knew that nothing could keep us apart if we wanted to be together."
His smile faded. "When we were thirteen, Mom caught me playing with myself in the bathroom. She drug me out and beat me with a belt. She kept saying she would 'beat the evil from my vile body'. I thought I was going to die. George got there before she could actually do it. It was the first time I really saw evidence of our magick. I felt as if something was being drained out of me as he stood there, screaming at her to stop. He'd pulled most of his magick back. I couldn't use it to protect myself; she was my mom. He wasn't scared; George was never scared. He lashed out at her; drove her from the room; and did things he never shared with me. When he came back, he held me and told me she'd never touch me again."
Terry shivered; he wanted George back. George would have held him through the pain. "We went into foster care after that. Dad never came for us. It wasn't till a couple years ago that we found out he'd tried to get custody of us several times but could never do it." He looked back Jase, the emotional exhaustion weighed heavily in his eyes. "We never could bring ourselves to contact him. After Mom, we just couldn't face the idea that he'd hate us too."
Jase pulled Terry into a hug and ached for his friend. He knew the sense of loss and loneliness too well. He was too busy worrying about his friend to notice the fury and rage that boiled in a corner of his mind. He didn't notice his fingers weaving out a mother's vengeance. He had no idea that, miles away, a house erupted as the result of a dead woman's own terrible judgment.
Jase looked back at Terry as he finished with his instructions to Phil. Terry was holding up pretty well as he gave his condolences to the last of the families affected by the murders. "Yeah Phil, I want everything we can do on this."
"Ok, Jase. You will have something from me by the end of the week."
"Thanks, Phil." Jase paused; with a soft smile he lowered his voice. "I love you, dirty old man."
"Hmph," Phil always responded to Jase's nickname for him the same way, "the apple didn't fall far from the tree, young'n."
Jase smirked. "Yeah, I know. Take care of yourself."
"Be safe Jase."
He hung up and moved back to stand with Terry. He squeezed Terry's shoulder and remained beside him till they were the last people left. This was the last of their funerals; at least the last for a while.
"It's finally over," Terry sighed.
"Let's go home."
Terry looked at him with empty eyes. "I don't think I have one any longer."
Jase pulled Terry into another hug before heading back for the limo. "Of course you do." As they settled back into the limo, Jase looked at him. "I know you have 'the project' to get back to, but I want you to do me a favor."
Terry looked at Jase with complete conviction. "Anything, Jase. I'll never be able to repay what you've done for me."
Jase smiled. "Nothing you or George wouldn't have done for us." He leaned forward, "I have an idea..."
Jase was weary in body and spirit as he descended the steps from the Jet. Mike was waiting for them on the tarmac. He could see the strain in Jase's movements and ached to comfort him. Crossing the fifty feet that separated them, Mike pulled Jase into his arms. God I've missed you
Jase melted into Mike's embrace. He felt as if he could simply dissolve from relief. Ditto. After a moment, Jase pulled back. "Where's Mira?"
"With Morg; sorting through stuff at the shop." Mike sighed. "I'm worried about Morg. She doesn't seem to have any drive to rebuild." He looked at Terry and extended his hand. "Hey bud. How are you holding up?"
Terry shrugged. "I'm alive," with a weak smile he added, "and I've got friends to take care of."
Mike laughed. "We could use it. Life's been hell here too." Releasing Jase he stepped over and gave Terry a quick hug. "Come on; we'll pick up the girls, order some Chinese takeout, and go home."
Terry smiled. "Sounds great."
Mike put an arm around his friend and the other around his husband. "Let's get out of here."
Mira sorted through more of the wreckage placing items into piles of "recoverable" and "wasted". So many priceless items had been destroyed; not just books. She watched Morg covertly as she worked. Mira was concerned. Morg acted as if she had nothing left. As she dumped another load of "wasted" items into the garbage she felt the soft feeling of Jase's thoughts. We're almost there. How are things?
Mira sighed. Horrible. It's a good thing you have a talent for repairing things, Jase, I have a huge stack of items to be 'recovered'.
How's Morg holding up?
I'm not sure. Did you talk with Terry?
Yeah; he says he'll do it.
She smiled. Now we just have to convince Morg.
We'll convince her. She may kick and scream a bit, but in the end we'll win.
Mike pulled the jeep into a space near the shop and the men carefully made their way down the steps and into the burnt building. The building had been inspected and deemed structurally sound. The power had been shut off at the box as the wiring had been trashed; so had the plumbing. They stepped carefully around the piles of debris as Mira descended the stairs with another bag of trash.
Terry hadn't seen the shop since the fire. He looked at the sanctum in horrified disbelief. He could not believe that a place of such old sanctity had been so utterly violated. He smiled gratefully as Mira came over and hugged him.
"Welcome back, Terry."
He hugged her back before wiping away a tear. He saw a momentary glance between Mira and Jase before Jase ascended the stairs. "He's going to see Morg isn't he?"
She nodded. "She needs to start over, Terry; as much as you do." She paused and looked at him. "What do you really think of Jase's idea?"
Terry looked around. "I like it; it would give me something constructive to do as well as be an opportunity for the training we never really got before." He eyed the wall between the shop and the café. "Think there's any chance Vinnie would consider having a pass-through between the upper level and the café?"
Mira frowned. "If Morg asked him to, he'd do it; she practically raised Vinnie. What are you thinking?"
Shrugging, he looked around again. "If we're going to make this a true access point of knowledge, why not go all the way? Re-open as a full physical and internet resource, including an internet café. We'd provide the connectivity, Vinnie would provide the café. It would probably bring in a lot of the college and business crowd that likes a place to work without being in an office. Maybe make the entire upper level a lounge?"
Mira smiled. "Jase was right. You are perfect for this!"
"That's if Morg will agree to it."
Mira looked up at the landing. "She will. She may be a hard sell but we have the best hustler on the planet up there with her. He'll never give up."
Jase looked about the back room as Morg cleaned up some of her broken treasures. "How you holding up, Morg?"
She gave him a weak smile. "Painfully, dear. There are a lot of ghosts in this old place."
Jase nodded. "Mira says you're thinking about selling?"
She sighed. "I've been here too long. I've become complacent. It is time for me to start over."
Jase frowned. "So you believe there isn't a need for a sanctum in the City any longer?" He crossed over to her. "This place has been a refuge for nearly a century, Morg. How many people have found safety and strength from it?"
"Not nearly enough." A tear slipped down her cheek, and Jase touched it.
"Then help us change that."
She looked harshly at him. "I can't save everyone, Jase. I couldn't save myself; I couldn't even protect Chloe."
"You saved me."
She blinked at him. Jase had been seventeen when he'd been drawn to her store by the enchantments she had cast to bring the lost magic-borne to her refuge. He had been on the streets, selling himself and suffering. He had stolen her heart, and she'd protected him. He became one of her children, one of hundreds she had adopted over the centuries. His visage blurred as her eyes filled with tears.
Jase pulled the ancient master into his arms. She may have been older than anyone could imagine but to him, she was his surrogate mother, his protector, his mentor, his savoir. He wasn't going to give her up. He whispered into her hair, "You saved Mira. You've helped so many people. You aren't the Goddess, Morg, only her servant. Maybe its time to remember you're as human as the rest of us."
Pulling back, she looked into his eyes. "You are becoming a remarkable young man, Jase."
His eyes sparkled at her praise and he smiled. "I had one hell of a teacher."
She took a deep breath and looked around. "I don't think I want to start back up, not here."
Jase settled against the desk and posed his question. "Would you do something for me then?"
Her eyes studied him warily. Jase was a shrewd man and she knew not to give him unconditional promises. "Depends upon the request."
"Would you be willing to help build a new sanctum, here, and train someone to be the caretaker?"
Morg frowned. "Who?"
"Terry." Jase pushed off the desk. "He's a full mage now, Morg. He set a woman on fire simply out of anger. If he doesn't get guidance and training, he will be a danger to himself and others."
Jase shrugged. "Not as strong as me, but I'm no light weight."
Morg nodded. "No, you are not." She looked at him, her eyes narrowing. "Your mother's gifts have made all three of you far more powerful than I'd have suspected."
Jase sighed. "I know; Mike's telepathic talents are getting frightening. Has he told you how far he can sense now?"
She shook her head.
"Over two miles; with Mira or me he can reach almost across the City. That is -with- the splints Mr. Wong put on him. I'm almost afraid to know what it will be like when they are removed."
She just shook her head in amazement. "Mira's abilities have expanded as well. She is having problems with projecting herself when she gets tired."
Jase smirked. "You've steered us off topic."
Morg looked at him again. "I will do so, Jase, on one condition."
"That you buy the property yourself. I will sell Terry the business, but I no longer wish to be responsible for this land. When he is ready, I will be free to move on."
"What about his training?"
"I'll train him if he is willing, Jase. I will spend however long it takes to help rebuild the sanctum and prepare him for the task; if that is his wish."
Jase smiled. "Deal. I'll get Phil on the logistics, and tell Terry we're a go."
Morg frowned. "You already planned for me to say 'yes'."
Nodding, Jase gave her a victorious smile.
"What if I'd said 'no'?"
Jase laughed. "That wasn't an option. I'd have pulled every trick in the book, and a few they haven't written in it, if I had to."
Morg's eyes narrowed. "I'm that easy, am I?"
Jase shook his head and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Never. I've been planning this non-stop for a while. You have no idea how much trouble you've saved me by agreeing so quickly."
Morg sighed. "I assume then that you've already wrapped Terry around your little finger as well?"
"Yep." Jase beamed. His eyes filled with conviction as he realized the commitment she was exacting from him as well. "This place will be like the phoenix, Morg. Nothing and no one will ever destroy it. If they tear it down, we'll rebuild; if it's burnt, it will be reborn. As long as I live, this sanctuary will stand. You have my word on it."
Morg gave him another teary smile. "Then I'll help you rebuild it. May the Gods smile upon us for our foolishness."
Jase relaxed against Mike as Mira settled against him. The hot cocoa was the perfect ending to the week from hell. He sighed and kissed Mira's hair before resting his head on Mike's shoulder. "Thanks, guys."
Mike chuckled. "For what?"
Mira snuggled in closer. "You don't actually think we're doing this out of charity do you?"
Jase smirked. "I guess not; thanks anyway. After meeting Terry's mother I just think I should be more thankful for the people in my life."
Mira frowned. "Was she that bad?"
Grunting, Jase floated his mug to him and sipped his cocoa. "Let's not go there. That George and Terry grew up to be the loving guys they were is a miracle. The bitch will rot in hell when she dies; I'm certain of that."
Mike squeezed his husband. "If you're acknowledging hell, then she must have been one hell of a harpy."
"Let me put it this way: when I told her that George had been murdered she grieved about ten seconds before declaring it was God's judgment on his sinful soul and that Terry should repent before it was too late."
"Oh Goddess!" Mira shivered. "I'm surprised you didn't lose it."
Jase sighed. "I didn't need to. Terry torched her."
"WHAT?!?" Both Mira and Mike sat up. Terry was such a timid, loving guy that it seemed impossible that he would ever harm someone. It took them a moment to realize the other implications of the event.
"You mean just 'poof'. No spells, no prep, just flames?" Mira was thoughtful.
"Yeah. He's got enough power now to do instant magic." Jase shrugged. "All of us do, really, and he's nowhere near our level. It still puts him in an entirely new sphere."
"That's why you wanted Morg to train him." Mike was catching on to Jase's full plan.
"Yep. He's got a lot of issues to work through and the last thing we need is a mage level magic-borne on our hands with uncontrollable magick." Jase sighed; he was feeling very tired. "We have enough of our own problems right now."
They were just getting comfortable, when the phone began to ring. Jase absently waved at it and scowled. "Damn, one of Terry's phones." It stopped before Mira could get from the couch.
After a few moments, Terry came down the stairs with a handset. "Mike, it's for you, it's your Mom."
Mike took the receiver. "Hey Mom, what's up?"
"Michael... you need to come home." Her voice was strained and had a mixture of tears in it.
Mike bolted off the couch and began to pace. "Mom, what's wrong?"
"We just saw it on the news; Wong's burned to the ground. They couldn't get to the bodies till this afternoon." She was crying. "Mr. Wong is dead."
Mike dropped the phone as he felt his knees giving way. Jase caught him before Mike could hit the floor. In the back of Jase's mind, Mary's voice lamented, Our problems have only just begun.