A Smoke Filled Room
The autumn sun blazed through a large window behind the oak desk, heating the room as though it was a hot summer afternoon. The Gherkin's cooling system somehow managed to keep the office comfortable. It had been an unusually hot summer and an even more unusually hot autumn. The man sitting behind the desk gazed upward at the smoke from his cigarette, which slowly billowed higher and disappeared as it reached the vent in the ceiling. He wasn't supposed to be smoking in his office but he didn't really care and he could easily hide his actions. He returned his harsh and observant stare upon the city below. The streets of London were bustling with tourists and their cameras, all stopping just in front of his building in order to snap a postcard-perfect shot of this majestic city on the Thames and this oddly shaped glass building that was now iconic to the city.
He took a deep breath and let his mind wrap around a countless number of thoughts that filled his head. He thought of his recent caseload, his family and the fact that his wife had not said anything about the resumption of his dreadful smoking habit. He knew she disapproved and surely he would hear her complaints soon enough.
He turned around in his chair and extinguished the remnants of the cigarette in a small Tower Bridge shaped ashtray that he had purchased from the shop that sold him the pack of cigarettes. It was chintzy, a prime example of the shoddy rubbish that shops sold tourists eager to have some part of London to take home. His eyes fell upon the new brass nameplate adorning his desk. Picking it up, he fingered each letter engraved on it: Vincent Miretti - Solicitor. Truth be known, he wasn't sure if he wanted a nameplate at all. It was his wife's idea and was a gift from her.
Miretti leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath with an audible exhale; he was utterly bored and did not feel like delving over case files today. He would much prefer to be with his wife instead of stuck in his office. Miretti smiled as he gazed at her picture. Gwenna, or Gwen as she was called, was a brilliant scientist and medical doctor, although he was likely a bit biased in that opinion. She was currently attending a conference in Edinburgh, marking the first time they had been away from each other for quite a while. He stared at the photograph, marveling how the image faithfully captured her vibrant red hair, soft green eyes and a smile so warm that it made his heart beat faster. As he closed his eyes he wished for her speedy return. Vincent never slept well without her; this time was no different as his dreams were marred with the terror that something would happen to her.
A knock on the office door called him back from his thoughts; he rubbed his eyes and beckoned the person to enter. His law clerk, Jones Arnstein, entered with a stack of papers.
"I'm not in the mood for cases today," he said to the young man.
Jones was obviously hard at work. His sandy-brown hair was tossed about and dust clung to his shirt. "Actually these are old files, sir. I was trying to find Mrs. Martin's file because she called again."
"Did you find it?"
"Good. Then what are all those?"
"Well, when I opened that cabinet, I realized it was the wrong one as everything started falling out at me. So I started going through them to see if they were anything we needed or just duplicates of what we have on our computers. I was a little surprised because… well I'm not sure what to make of them honestly."
"Those are probably the more dated client files. Or they were the ones I kept locked away. I know that I am not the tidiest of employers, but there are some things that are kept locked away for a reason."
"These weren't the locked-up ones sir."
"Oh. Well at any rate you know I don't like messing with those things."
The young man nodded slowly. Jones was currently attending university majoring in political science and pre-law. He had already learned much from Miretti and the lawyer couldn't help but smile at his young protégé's progress.
"What are these old things about?" said Vincent as he returned his gaze to the tourists on the street below.
"Well, they are... quite bizarre."
As Miretti turned back to the young man he furrowed his brow and frowned. "How so?"
"Well, one is about a," he fumbled with a file and opened it, "Water magickal who's being terrorized by an Earth magickal and the other was about a werewolf who was fighting for his claim to his father's estate. It said he wasn't allowed access to his father's estate because of his condition."
Vincent nodded. "That was a horrible discrimination case. I'm glad we won it. It opened the doors for many creatures."
Jones nodded slowly and stared at Vincent, waiting for more details. The young man eventually set the files down on the edge of the desk and pulled his iPad from the bag that was slung across him. "Well, all of that was very odd for me because in my history class the other day your name came up."
"My name? In a history class? My god, I'm not that old. Am I?" Vincent reached into his desk and produced a small mirror. "I don't look old."
"Well, in my class they talked about a man named Kriegman and how he threatened the world by using, erm, magick? And they said you're a magick being."
Vincent couldn't help but laugh and Jones blushed. The young man obviously felt as though he was a victim of a cruel prank by his classmates and professor. "'Magick being?' Really? Is that what they called us in the class? In a history class I might add."
Jones' eyes widened and received an affirmative head nod when he asked if it was true. He turned on his iPad and handed it to Vincent. "After the class I may have googled your name and this is what came up, aside from your practice. It says you're very powerful."
Vincent raised an eyebrow as he looked at the news story displayed. "That was about ten years ago. Shut the door," he said. Miretti looked away to gather his thoughts before turning back to face the young man. "If you must know, the correct term is 'magickal'. Magickals are people who possess the power of the ancient realms. There's Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Some possessors of these powers are more powerful than others. Everyone on this planet has, to a degree, some type of power. Earth is the most common. Fire is the rarest." He handed the iPad back to Jones and said, "Yes, Jones, I am one. As I said, there are many people in this world that are magickals. The majority of people these days just never learn how to use what powers they have. Many years ago magicks were more prevalent. Now technology, the hurry of life and loss of community have taken away some of magick's glamor. There's probably magick in your family somewhere, I bet. All the stories I've heard state that the entire universe, and everything in it, came from magick. So tell me, what did you learn about in these old files and by 'googling' my name?"
"Well, I only glanced through the files briefly. Most of them were old case files but a lot of the discovery documents were odd. Some had unusual writings on them and one had obviously been soaked in blood."
Vincent nodded. "That one was when I was a partner and our clerk was a vampire. That didn't last very long."
Jones blinked quickly and sat down, "A va-vampire?"
"Oh come on now, Jones, surely you've heard of vampire attacks on the telly. They talk about it often. Vampires and werewolves are fairly common."
"I don't watch telly, sir. I don't want to pay the license. Anyway I only glanced through them to see what they were. At least through the ones that weren't stuck to each other."
"So you used them as an excuse to come talk to me about what you found on the internet."
Vincent laughed. He smiled broadly, revealing a large shark-like grin and said, "You are too clever, Jones. However, you can't trust everything you read on the internet. Especially on sites with undocumented sources but you know that. Tell me about what you found online. I know you found more than just this old little article about me saving the world."
Jones cleared his throat before speaking, "Well, most of what I found was all very similar. This Kriegman fellow seemed to be quite the threat."
"Yes," Miretti nodded, "he was."
A silence passed between them; obviously Jones was waiting for his employer to elaborate. Instead, Vincent lit another cigarette. Unable to contain his impatience Jones pressed on. "So, what did he do?"
"He tried to destroy the world," Miretti replied. "He was a horrible man. Honestly I'm not surprised he was mentioned in a history class. He terrified many people. He would kidnap people in the middle of the night and literally drain them of their souls.
"Kreigman was not his real name. He changed it because he was a Nazi and he was trying to hide from the people that were looking for him. Rightly so they wanted to make him pay for the crimes he committed against the Jews," he rubbed his temple, looking up at Jones. "Apparently, in one of his post-war experiments, he learned that a magickal's powers could be taken from them. He planned to take as much power as he could and use it to control the magicks of the earth. Needless to say he failed."
"Thanks to you of course."
"I will say I played a part in his demise."
"Everything I've read said you were his demise."
Miretti squinted his eyes as he deeply inhaled his cigarette. "What else did you learn?"
"Well, one website said you, in particular, are pretty powerful. At least in terms of magicks."
The lights in the office flickered and Jones shivered as the temperature seemed to fall. He looked at Miretti, who now seemed nothing more than a silhouette with haunting eyes made of flames. Arnstein closed his own eyes and when he reopened them, everything had returned to normal.
"Well, you are correct. Or should I say that website is? Keep in mind that the Internet is fluid; one can never really trust it. Knowing you as I do, Jones, I'm sure you have other questions."
The young man shrugged his shoulders. "I've only heard stories about people with powers. I never knew anyone who had them."
"I doubt that. You probably just didn't realize it." Miretti studied the young man before him, eyes slightly narrowed. "It's not really something you make known upfront, Jones. I'm still human, just like you. Granted there are some magick-related differences but I still think, feel, hurt, you get the idea. People who wear their magick on their sleeves put themselves in a rather precarious situation. It's not that it's dangerous; it's more like they're advertising their services. It neglects the powers they were given and the last thing any smart magickal would do is neglect their magick."
"What would happen if one did so?"
Miretti smirked and pointed to his eyes. "The irises are flames now; you've noticed I'm sure."
"They intimidated me at first. I wasn't sure what to think. I thought you might have been playing a joke on me."
Vincent laughed. "Well, I didn't advertise my powers; I simply ignored them and I paid a price. The type of magick I have cannot be shoved aside." His mind darted to the moment when the mark was left on him. A heavy feeling came over him as he clearly remembered Gwen lying limp in his arms, and then suddenly breathing heavily as life filled her once again. He shook his head, clearing it just in time to hear Jones' next question.
"So the different types of magicks are elements? Like…"
"Earth, Water, Air, Fire. Simple enough; you find such combinations everywhere: horoscopes, Tarot, religion."
"And you are Fire. That I read on one of the websites."
"Indeed I am."
Jones nodded before looking down at the floor. "One of the websites said you did a horrible thing."
Vincent expression fell. His head rang and his heart pounded in his chest. No, he thought, no one was supposed to ever know about that. He heard Jones speaking but the words sounded distant or like a foreign language. He only returned his attention to Jones when he heard his name repeated several times. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
"Did you do what it said you did?"
"And what was that?"
"That you broke one of the highest laws and brought a person back from the dead?"
Vincent breathed a minor sigh of relief and chuckled briefly. He returned his gaze to Jones and said without hesitation, "Yes."
"How is that even possible?
"When the woman you love with all your heart and soul dies in your arms the only thing you can think of doing is finding a way to bring her back."
"Oh my god. It was Gwen?"
Vincent nodded. "Kriegman murdered her. He ripped a hole through her heart when he realized he wasn't going to get what he wanted from us. He did it in front of me. I caught her as she fell, her brilliant eyes losing their life force as they gazed into mine. I snapped. In my heartache I brought the woman I love back from the dead, and in my rage I killed Kriegman, the details of his death I'm sure have been greatly exaggerated on the Internet. But I had to give the boatman something in return."
Jones looked at him thoughtfully. "As in the river Styx?"
"No as in the rock band Styx. Yes. But I mean all this metaphorically. I called upon the highest of all powers to bring her back. I used my magicks to their fullest to restore her. And now I forever must brandish their mark." He once again pointed to his eyes. "I ignored the full strength of my powers for so long and now I can't."
"So how come we don't hear about magickals much anymore? I mean I found lots of stories dated about eight or ten years ago and earlier than that. But recent stories seemed few and far between."
"I think it's because we're an accepted part of society. You see, when something extreme happens in the magickal world, everyone takes notice. But when petty things happen it's just like any other day. Right now, you mostly only hear about Vampire attacks on the evening news. There's nothing to report other than that and what wrongs people do to each other. The realms are relatively quiet."
"Do you think it's the calm before the storm?"
He looked at Jones curiously and asked what he meant.
"Well, I've had some odd feelings lately. You know, feelings that something isn't right? Haven't you had similar feelings?"
Miretti shrugged. "I have odd feelings quite often, Jones. Sometimes I wonder if I'm paranoid." He shook his head, "Yes, I have had odd feelings lately. You see, Jones, magick made this world and magick can destroy it. I always worry someone else will figure out a way to make that happen."
"This Kriegman figured it out."
He took a deep breath and frowned. "Not really no. I don't know what all you learned in your history class but I might as well tell you what I know. His given name was Helbert Weiss, a native of Berlin. He was a devout Nazi; not only did he hang on to Hitler's every word, but he was an active member in the state religion. He believed, like other party members, that the Aryans were descendants of a higher race of beings, a group of fallen gods that would rise again and create the longest lasting society. And of course he believed that other races were inferior. He helped murder millions of innocent people.
"He had a side hobby, you could say. He was deeply interested in magicks, for he had none. I told you everyone has a bit of magicks in them and that's true. But a vast number of people have powers that are very minimal and they have no idea what to do with them or that they even exist. Anyway through a tortured Air magickal, he learned that one could take over the world by wielding the most powerful magicks alone. He was desperate to find out how. During the Holocaust he rounded up all the Kabbalistic Jews he could find. You see they were the mystics, the ones that, because of their religion, made their powers known. When he learned that he could not have their power, he tossed them aside like rag dolls, sending them into the gas chambers of death camps across Europe.
"He escaped at the end of the war and emerged decades later in Brazil and then France, using a different name of course. In that time, he figured out how to obtain other peoples magicks briefly. He managed to stave off the aging process for a while. He changed his name a few times and finally settled on Bretly Kriegman. I'm sure he always feared he would be discovered and killed before he could harness the full power of the realms. He gained a following; many of his friends were former Nazis themselves and he promised them a chance to let the beloved Reich rise again. He decided to forcefully take the powers of individuals from every realm. And as I stated earlier, he went after me and lost his life."
"I'm sure he still has supporters."
"Of course he does. So does Hitler and he was defeated. Hate is a powerful thing, Jones, and it's why I do what I do." Vincent reclined in his chair and let out a deep sigh. "Right now, though, I feel lost, burned out even. I think, when Gwen gets home, I'm going to take some much-needed time off. That will give you some time off to study." He stood and nodded. "I'm sure there are many fun stories on the Internet. Here are a few to look for." Vincent scribbled a few names on a pad and handed it to the law clerk. "Aimee Myers and Ben Treutle. Two people I know very well. She's a Water magickal and he's a werewolf. I know he has a blog about his life. As for Aimee, she might be harder to find. I do know she published a memoir about growing up at one point. I'm sure it's still out there. It's just a little vignette really."
Jones nodded. "Did Fire really consume you?"
"Enough about me," Vincent replied, waving a dismissive hand as he stood up. "I think I'm going to head out. I can't really concentrate right now. Gwen's at a conference in Edinburgh. I hate it when she goes to those things. I have to pick Sebastian up from school and I need a break from this office. Stay as long as you need to but you're free to go too if you like. I'll see you Monday, maybe. I'll call and let you know if I'm going to be off." He gathered his belongings, a leather messenger bag and a black leather jacket, and started tidying up his desk. "I'm going to be late getting Bastian," he muttered. "Again. Have a good night, Jones."
"Goodnight sir. I'll talk to you soon."
"Call if you need anything." He looked out the window and frowned. The traffic was picking up; cars were already backed up in front of 30 St. Mary Axe.
Vincent hurriedly left his office, upset that he had lost track of time. As he waited on the lift, the event that he thought Jones discovered crept into his mind. That dreadful night consumed his thoughts. He dwelled on it for years after it happened and somehow he managed to push it from his mind after the birth of Sebastian. The fact that Jones brought this up at the same time Vincent started having nightmares about it chilled him to the bone.
Twenty-three years had passed since that fateful night. The mark still burned on his torso. As he stepped on the lift, he zipped up his jacket and bit his lip. Upon closing his eyes, he muttered, "It was an accident. I didn't mean it to happen. I didn't know what I was doing or how to control it. I'm not dangerous. I'm not dangerous. I'm not dangerous."
He took a breath and left the lift as it opened to the garage. His Aston-Martin Vanquish was just steps away and he managed to clear his mind as he climbed into the black car. He promised himself that he would never let his son see this side of him; he must never know what happened years ago.
There were so many horrible events. He was just a teen, discovering his powers, and ran into trouble at a school that specialized in "special magickal cases". The German school was one of only two in the world that specialized in training powerful sorcerers with Fire magicks. He was deemed a top student, but dangerous.
He closed his eyes, gripping the steering wheel as he remembered things he wished he could forget. What would have happened if his father hadn't been so powerful both politically and magickally? His past was turbulent; he felt both angry and concerned that Jones now knew a significant part of it. Only those closest to him knew what really happened.
Vincent rubbed his brow, clearing one incident from his mind only for another to take its place. In his confrontation with Kriegman, Gwen accompanied him in order to help bring the villain down. The man attacked both; Vincent survived, Gwen did not. Full of anger, hatred, and fear, Vincent unleashed the powers he managed to restrain for so long. He brought her back and proceeded to direct all of his rage at Kriegman.
He shook his head once more and vowed not to think on the past anymore. Some things were better left buried and alone. Besides, there was no longer a need for such thoughts and worries.
Nevertheless, he couldn't successfully shake the thoughts from his mind. He had odd dreams, random thoughts and sudden concerns all related to this subject, but why? He decided to not worry about it now and simply pick up his son from school.
He would be free to worry later.