Read an Excerpt
For all the readers who asked for another Wizard story.
December 31, 1999
Felicity Grant circled the artifact slowly, studying it from every angle. It resembled nothing so much as a doorway, minus surrounding walls and a door itself. Just a thin frame of some kind of metal, fastened to an oval base that seemed to be made of smooth, polished stone. The metal had a greenish patina.
"It's obviously a gate," she announced with the confidence of the young and untried.
Richard Merlin, who was sitting on the edge of his desk looking through a very old and heavy book, lifted his gaze to his Apprentice. "Thank you," he said dryly.
Felicity had the grace to blush, but kept her chin high. "Well, isn't it?"
His black, curiously brilliant eyes held a slight amusement. "Touch it," he instructed.
She obeyed, and almost immediately jerked her hand away. After a moment, she touched it again, her fingertips resting gently against the metal. "Power," she whispered. "It feels . . . There's almost a heartbeat."
"Yes. After at least a hundred years."
Felicity turned quickly to stare at him. "You said it was uncovered just a few months ago, but couldn't someone else have found itused itin the last century?"
"I think not," Richard replied. "It was discovered in a sealed room within Sinclair's house in London. Until the present owner began to remodel and knocked down a wall, this artifact had been entombed since the turn of the century."
"And they notified you?"
He smiled. "The present owner is on the Council of Elders, and knew very well my interest in Sinclair. He thought I'd be the best person to investigate."
"Did the Elder touch this? Did he feel the power?"
"Of course. His opinion is that this artifact is partially wizard-made."
"But you believe Sinclair built it."
Felicity cast herself into a chair near the artifact and frowned at it. "Well, that doesn't make any sense. John Sinclair was an inventor, yes, even a visionary and an undoubtedly brilliant man ahead of his time, but he wasn't a wizard. Was he?"
"And a hundred years ago," Felicity mused, "it was more or less the way it is now, with people of power hiding their abilities from powerless people. So it isn't likely he knew a wizardor was aware that he knew one."
"According to our records," Merlin said, "Sinclair was never approached by a man or woman of power. He was known to the Council during his time because of his fine intellect and remarkably forward-thinking views, but his power was totally of the mind and quite human. Interesting to us, but hardly something we would have interfered with in any way."
"Then how was this artifact influenced by someone with a wizard's power?"
"That is the puzzle, isn't it?"
Felicity steepled her fingers together and stared at the artifact over them. "Hmmm."
Merlin studied her as she studied the artifact. A young woman with an unusual beauty, she had long hair so fair it was nearly silver, catlike green eyes so vivid they were almost iridescent, and an expression of such life and vitality that even strangers couldn't help but smile at her.
For the past five years, since her eighteenth birthday, she had lived in this house as the Apprentice of Merlin and his wife Serena, both Master Wizards. She'd been a late bloomer as a wizard, coming into her full powers in her late teens rather than years earlier as was the norm, and because of that and her few years training, she was still lacking in control. She was as apt to destroy with her powers as to create, and had to be monitored carefully, especially since those newly unleashed powers were rather remarkable.
If she didn't learn complete control soon, it was possible her own raw ability could destroy her. But both Merlin and Serena believed in her, and they were committed to teaching her.
As he watched, Felicity pulled herself from the chair and went over to a small wooden crate near the artifact. "All this stuff, these books and papers, belonged to Sinclair?"
"They were found with the artifact."
"Then they might tell us if it is a gate, and what he used it foror intended to use it for?"
Merlin nodded. "Possibly, although we won't know until everything is studied. I thought you might wish to be the first to go through the box."
"Yes. Yes, I would." Felicity felt heat rise in her face. She was more than a little disconcerted to realize that her Master was aware of what she had believed was her secret obsession. She'd thought herself able to hide her own feelings from even a Master Wizard. She had been wrong, obviously.
If her blush betrayed her further, Merlin gave no sign of seeing it. His voice was calm with self-possession, which came from an absolute mastery of his incredible powers. "I know you weren't looking forward to the party tonight, so if you'd rather, you may remain here and go through the box."
"Serena won't be upset with me?"
"No, of course not." He closed the book and set it aside on his desk as he got to his feet. "But keep everything here in the study, understand?"
Felicity did understand. This room was insulated, protected by Merlin's own power; like the workroom upstairs, it would contain any uncontrolled surges of energy. "You mean you think something in this box may hold power just as the artifact does?"
"I think it's best to be safe," he said, moving toward the door with easy grace, the deceptively lazy movements almost concealing the astonishing strength that helped make him the most powerful wizard to walk the face of modern-day Earth. "Treat anything you don't understand with respect, Felicity."
Alone in the quiet room, Felicity stood for a moment just gazing toward the wooden crate. Then she drew a breath and went to a particular section of the bookshelves. Most of the shelves were filled with books and scrolls that were literally ancient and virtually pulsed with power, containing as they did the history and wisdom of an ancient and powerful people. But this particular section held more recent books, on subjects other than wizards and wizardry.
The book Felicity chose was clearly well read, a biography of a remarkable man named John Sinclair. Born in London in 1865 to wealthy, unusually learned parents, he had demonstrated his own precociousness by mastering several languages, higher mathematics, and at least three sciences before he reached his teens. By his mid-twenties, he had invented half a dozen gadgets that had made factory production more efficient, had written and published five booksthree of them novels with astoundingly accurate predictions of what the world would be like in the coming centuryand was well known as a passionate and outspoken advocate for reforms designed to improve the lot of the common man.
And woman. A man definitely ahead of his time, he had also championed women's rights, and worked to change both laws and attitudes to give women more rights and freedoms.
Despite thator perhaps because of ithe had never married. His biographer had found evidence of many friendships with women, and a few more intimate relationships, but either John Sinclair had never met the right woman, or his energy and attention had been taken up with his scientific, creative, and political pursuits.
The book Felicity was holding opened naturally to a page that had often held her attention. Her fascination, if she were honest about the matter.
On the left-hand page was a painting of Sinclair at twenty-one; on the right-hand page, a photograph taken of him before his thirty-fifth birthday in 1900. Not long before he vanished without a trace.
The younger Sinclair was smiling, his eyes bright and direct with confidence, almost arrogance. He was dark; his hair was black and his skin unusually swarthy for an Englishman of the last century. Broad shoulders spoke of physical power just beginning, and his relaxed, easy stance indicated an uncommon grace. His hands were beautiful, strong and long-fingered, while his face . . .
Felicity loved his face. It was not conventionally handsome; there was too much strength of character in it for that. His black brows slanted upward toward his temples, flying above eyes a clear, pale gray. His nose was strong and clearly defined, his mouth just hinting at sensitivity in the curve of the fuller lower lip, and his jaw was determined.
It was a face of a brilliant, complex man.
But it was the photograph that had haunted her dreams since she'd first seen it months ago. Taken more than a dozen years after the painting was done, this picture was of a mature man, broad shoulders heavy with physical power realized, still graceful in stance, still confident in attitude.
But there was something different about him. Whereas the painting showed a confident young idealist, this picture was more ambiguous. The confidence was there, yes, but the idealism seemed worn, partially eroded by the years and the inevitable failed attempts to change the things that were wrong in his life and his world.
Still, though his optimism might have taken a bruising, his brilliance was, if anything, stronger and more acute. It burned in his eyes, an intellect so dynamic it had a life all its own. His face was harder, the planes of it smooth, the angles sharp, and that sensitive mouth was held more rigid in a control earned over years.
And the expression on that face . . . It always caught at Felicity's heart and stopped her breath. She had never been able to define it, but it was so subtle and wrenching it drew her back again and again to stare and wonder.
She touched the picture gently, then placed the book back on the shelf. Why did this long-dead man from another time obsess her so? She didn't know.
She turned quickly to see Serena come into the study. Merlin's wife was dressed for an evening party in a beautiful red dress that flattered rather than clashed with her vivid coloring, and only the merest curve to her belly gave evidence of her pregnancy.
"I hear you aren't going to the party," she said with a smile. Her face was so serene it was clear her parents had named her well. Although according to her, it had taken her many years, and a tumultuous relationship with Richard Merlin before they were married, to earn that priceless contentment.
"Richard said I could stay here and go through all this stuff from Sinclair's secret room."
"Seems a quiet way to ring in the new yearand the new millennium," Serena said gently. "But very like you. Are you sure? Your friends will be there."
"I know. I just . . . I don't feel much like a party."
Perceptively, Serena said, "Richard told you about the Council's warning."
Felicity returned to the chair near the artifact, and grimaced. "Yeah. It's their judgment that I've had enough time and training to know how to control my powers, and the fact that I haven't yet been able to do so consistently indicates that it may be an ability I'll never have." She recited the damning words with a coolness she hardly felt. "They've given me six months more. After that . . ." She shrugged. "After that, they step in."
"The most they would do is reduce the level of your powers to bring them within your control. Richard did tell you that?"
"He told me. But, Serena, I don't want to lose any of it. My powers are mine. They make me who I am. If I give up any part of them, then I'm diminished. I'm less than what I was meant to be. How is that fair?"
"It isn't, of course. But the Council has to consider the rights and needs of all wizards, not just one. And if your powers escape your control at a time when neither Richard nor I am there to dampen the results, it could have an effect on all of us, Felicity. You know that."
She knew. But it didn't make the judgment of the Council easier to bear. "Dammit, why can't I find the switch? I imagine Richard always had a finger on his, but you said you didn't find yours until you were older than I am now."
Serena hesitated, then said slowly, "Yes, at a moment of great personal pain and turmoil."
Felicity scowled. "Well, if I don't find mine in the next six months, my moment of great personal pain and turmoil will come when the Council calls me before them to take away part of my powers."
"We'll find a way, Felicity."
"I know you'll try. So will I." She managed a faint smile. "Anyway, that explains why I'm not in the mood for a party, even to ring in the new millennium. I'll make myself a pot of tea and spend the evening trying to figure out if John Sinclair built this and what he intended to use it for. It should occupy my mind."
"He usually does, doesn't he?"
The question had been quite mild, but Felicity felt herself blushing again. Dammit, did everybody know?
With dignity, she said, "He was a fascinating man."
Serena nodded gravely. "Yes. He was."
Felicity tried to think of something else to say, but she was rescued when Merlin stepped into the study, dressed for the evening all in black and looking as handsome as usual.
"Ready to go, love?" His voice was different when he spoke to his wife, lower and softer, and his face and eyes reflected a depth of emotion that even the least observant could define easily. He adored his wife, and he was not in the least self-conscious about it.
Serena turned toward him, her smile changing, her eyes glowing with a matching love, and Felicity felt a stab of pure envy.
"I'm ready, darling." She went to join him.
Felicity sighed. "Have fun, you two."
"Keep this door closed," Merlin reminded automatically.
"Yes, Master." It was only a little bit sarcastic.
Merlin sent her a look, brows slightly raised, but didn't comment. He shut the study door behind him and Serena, and a few moments later the front door quietly closed.
Alone in the silent study, Felicity carefully built a fire in the fireplace and was more relieved than she wanted to admit when she conjured a normal blaze rather than the inferno she had created the last time she'd tried. She fixed herself a pot of tea the old-fashioned way, and then settled down in her chair with the small crate of John Sinclair's papers and books within easy reach.
It was a rainy, fairly miserable night, but as time passed Felicity was less and less aware of the outside world. She sorted the contents of the crate first, stacking books and gathering papers together in a pile. There were several journals, which she reluctantly put aside for later, one surprising and fanciful book on magic, one on electricity, and a final volume that seemed to be a workbook filled with diagrams and notes in John Sinclair's clear and beautiful handwriting.
Most of the sketches and diagrams were beyond her understanding, though she did recognize what looked like an embryonic radio and television, something that might have been a radar, and a primitive computer. The notes made little sense, as they went far beyond her own scientific knowledge, until she found on one page what she slowly realized was the theory of relativity. The date on the page was 1898.
"Wow, John. I think you had the jump on Einstein." She felt an odd little thrill of pride. The famous scientist hadn't advanced his theory until after the turn of the century.
On the following page, scrawled as though it had been a fleeting thought, was the equation E=mc2, a foundation stone in the development of atomic energy, and also credited to Einstein.
She wondered what would have happened if this workbook had been discovered just after Sinclair's disappearance, how history might have been changed. It was a sobering thought.
Felicity was about to put the workbook aside when a slip of paper fell out, and she saw with another jolt a diagram of the artifact just a few feet away from her.
His notes identified it as a portal, and she gathered that his intent was to build a teleportation devicea way of moving instantaneously from one place to another. He had chosen to fashion the frame from beaten copper, thin plates of which were molded around a delicate wooden skeleton, and the stone base was taken from the ruins of Stonehenge.
Felicity blinked. Stonehenge? The base stone must be a fragment that had broken away from one of those huge stones.
Sinclair didn't explain his reasons for choosing such a stone, though Felicity couldn't help wondering if he had believed there was an unusual energy in that ancient place. He wouldn't have been the first, though certainly the first she knew of to try to harness some of that energy.
According to his notes, Sinclair planned to connect his invention to a source of electricity, thus providing it with the power necessary to teleport a person to another place. As far as Felicity could tell, his plans had not advanced to the point of providing some means of determining just where the portal would deliver that person. Was that another reason for the base stone? Had Sinclair believed a traveler would end up at Stonehenge? Perhaps. It made a kind of sense.
Felicity hesitated. It would be, she knew, totally irresponsible of her to experiment with the portal while she was alone. Totally. Merlin would not be happy with her, especially if something went wrong.
But what could go wrong? She was in Merlin's study, safe and protected from even her own wayward powers. And she really wanted to be able to tell her Master Wizard the precise capabilities of the portal when he came home. And nothing was going to go wrong, anyway.
Besides, she really wanted to know if Sinclair's most ambitious invention actually worked.
A small voice in her head reminded her that he had disappeared without a trace, possibly as a result of stepping through a faulty portal, but Felicity didn't let that stop her. She was a wizard, after all. Besides, she had no intention of stepping through the device herself.
Not until she knew if it would work.
She left the study to get what she needed, noting in passing that the grandfather clock in the foyer showed just past eleven-thirty. It would be at least a couple of hours before Merlin and Serena got home. Good. That should be enough time.
She found the set of modified jumper cables right where she'd left them months before, when she'd been conducting a few experiments to better understand the nature of electricity. A wizard could not control what she did not understand, so study was necessary, and electricity was something about which she was still uncertain.
She took the cables to the study and shut the door. It took her a good ten minutes to maneuver the heavy portal close enough to the nearest electrical outlet. Then she carefully fastened the positive and negative clamps into place on the copper part of the portal, following the general ideas in Sinclair's diagram.
"If I blow up the house," she muttered, "Richard will kill me. Worse, the Council will take away a large portion of my powers."
That possibility made her hesitate, but only for a few moments. Curiosity drove her. Keeping her distance from the portal, she cautiously plugged the other end of the cables into the outlet.
There was a sort of swooshing sound, a shower of sparks fell from the copper frame onto the base stone, and a low, vibrant hum filled the room. As she watched, the greenish copper began to glow, not hotly but with a weird radiance.
"Wow." Felicity circled the portal slowly. She thought she could discern a very faint, shimmer in the center of the portal. Excited, she looked around until she found something she could use to perform a little test, and settled on a paperback book she had brought into the room earlier. Standing well back, she tossed it into the center of the portal.
It disintegrated with an angry hiss.
"Yikes. That isn't good." She frowned. "But John would have tested it, too. Surely he would have. Maybe there's too much power. . . ."
The words had barely escaped her lips when she heard the grandfather clock in the foyer chime the hour of midnight. Promptly, all the lights in the study flickered, dimming and then going much too bright.
"Oh, jeezthe Y2K bug strikes." The portal was glowing brighter and brighter. The only thought in her head was that she had to unplug the portal quickly, before the power surges destroyed it. Being a wizard, she instinctively reached her hand out and sent her powers to grab the cables.
As her energy stream flowed through the device, she saw the glowing doorway change, saw the color suddenly turn from green to bright red. The shimmer in the center became a mass of swirling colors, and tendrils of those colors shot out both sides, as if reaching for something.
A tendril touched Felicity's outstretched hand.
The tendril of energy captured her, and within the space of a heartbeat pulled her into the portal.
It was like falling into a black well.