Legend – Chapter 08
“Thank you so much for agreeing to see me on such short notice, Mr. Wood,” Jennifer said.
“No problem,” Jason Wood said, waving her inside his office. “Call me Jason, as long as I can call you Jennifer.” He gave the trademark slightly-lopsided grin that was familiar to just about everyone on Earth by this point and ran his fingers absently through streaky-blond hair. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a psychologist . . . sorry, psychiatrist . . . contact me for a consultation before, and especially not one sending me an NDA as an opening commentary.”
She returned the smile. “I suppose you wouldn’t have, Jason. But I think you’ll understand the reason I insisted on a nondisclosure agreement pretty soon.” She took the most comfortable seat, a large red leather chair in front of Wood’s desk.
“I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty curious ever since. Just don’t tell me you have a Wolf for a client. Been there, done that. So to speak. Twice.”
“Twice?” She remembered the Werewolf Trial, of course, but . . .
“Can’t talk much about the second time.” He offered her coffee, she asked for tea instead. “Yeah, I’m more into tea myself these days. I’ll put the water on.” There was a small nook with a two-burner stove in the corner of the office; from other little indications, she suspected that it was not uncommon for Jason to spend the night in his office. “Anyway, here you are and I’ve got some time that I’ve carved out of all the other urgent-can’t-wait stuff â€“ so what can I do for you?”
“It is about a new client of mine, that much you have right. But it’s not a werewolf, a vampire, or anything like that. My client is Legend.”
Jason’s eyebrow quirked up over one green eye. “That’s . . . interesting. And he’s given you permission to go around talking about this?”
“He’s given me permission to talk to whomever I think I need to so I can understand his problems, as long as I keep his essential secrets.” She got the signed permission out. “He’d already mentioned you in a context that indicated he trusted you and that you knew a lot about . . . well, his kind of people.”
“I don’t know if I’d say I know a lot . . .” he said slowly, taking the paper she extended and glancing over it before handing it back. “But I do probably have a fair amount of information you’re not getting anywhere else. And now I see why Syl told me I should clear a lot of time out.”
“My wife, best friend, best partner, and the one person who I’d trust if she told me I should jump off a cliff, yes.” He smiled. “She’s got . . . very good instincts, let’s say. So, what can I tell you?”
“I don’t really know, yet. What can you tell me that might help me understand Legend and his circumstances? I presume you aren’t privy to his other identity?”
“No, I’m not. I could make some guesses, but I don’t see any reason to do that. Understanding him, though . . .” He scratched his head. “Well, first, he’s pretty much exactly what he seems to be, personality-wise. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, and one of the most . . . clueless, sometimes.”
She nodded. That fit with her first impression, but it was good to get multiple confirmations. “He says, though, that he â€“ and most of the others â€“ is a completely different person when he becomes Legend.”
“Completely? He’s probably exaggerating. Though . . . the changes can be huge. We’re just starting to understand how huge, and the Heroes are just one â€“ admittedly unique and peculiar â€“ manifestation of the Reawakening, and it’s hard to pin down the connections between them all.”
“Do you know anything about how it happened?”
“The Reawakening, or Legend becoming who he is?”
“Um . . . both, I suppose.”
“Legend’s particular story is more for him to tell, though I can say it’s got a lot in common with many of the others.”
“Except he was the first.”
Jason picked up the teakettle, which had started whistling, and poured them each a cup of tea. “Sorry, I’ve just got teabags. Expensive fancy teabags, but bags.” He mixed his tea with lemon; she just added a little sweetener.
“Yes . . . and no, actually,” Jason said finally. “He wasn’t exactly the first empowered person on the planet. On the other hand, he was the first to spontaneously emerge. The others â€“ the Five, to be exact â€“ had been developed pretty deliberately and their powers triggered . . . in a very different place.”
He looked conflicted, then sighed. “Look, I’ll give you the compressed evening news background, because it might help you understand how everything connects . . . and those connections might mean something for Legend or you.”
“To . . . pretty much everything.” He looked distant. “A few years ago . . . well, more than a few now, back when I’d just found out some of the things that went bump in the night weren’t just my imagination or Halloween trick-or-treaters . . . I learned that a lot of our history itself wasn’t true. Oh, not the recent stuff, with “recent” meaning back to probably the Neolithic, but what we thought we knew about the history of mankind. And back then, if I’d told anyone about it, I’d have been putting them at deadly risk, but now, well, a lot of the deadly secrets are pretty much out of the bag.
“A very very long time ago â€“ half a million years â€“ there was a civilization called Atlantaea; the stories that came from ancient Greece and elsewhere were echoes of tales told by the few who knew about it. Atlantaea wasn’t just some super-Greek city, either, it was . . . the biggest interstellar civilization you can imagine, but it started here, and it used magic, not just technology, and spread magic through the stars along with its civilization.
“But they had enemies, one enemy in particular, who didn’t like the way they were going, and carefully, deliberately set up a plan to destroy them â€“ and to seal magic away from the world. And it pretty much worked.”
Her brain had finally caught up with everything he was saying. “Half a million–“
“Yeah, I had the same reaction. But the guy who told me the story had been there.”
She tried to grapple for a moment with the concept of a living being that had survived for so long that the history of Western civilization would be like the matter of a month or two to her, then shook her head. “You aren’t joking.”
“There are times I wish I was. Anyway, I’m not going into details here, you don’t need them, but the source of magic is a sister world of Earth’s and the two have always been connected. Eventually someone figured out how to defeat the ancient enemy and break the seal.
“But of course that meant that about half a million years worth of magic came thundering down the pipe. There was a little delay, but when the big wave hit â€“”
“Yeah. That happened when the connection was re-established and the full force of magic returned to a world that hadn’t had hardly any of it for hundreds of thousands of years â€“ occasional little spurts, like a small overflow from a dam, that kept myth and legend supplied with new life, but mostly nothing. Then the Seal broke and magic didn’t just return, it returned with a vengeance â€“ more concentrated power for any with the talent to use it than Earth had ever had before, twice as much, three times, and it all hit at once.
“And it was at exactly that moment that Legend was born.”
“You mean . . . born? Or transformed?”
“Oh, transformed, awakened, whatever. Jeez, no, he’s not a kindergartener or anything. But when that connection was re-established . . . magic and the powers connected with it are wielded by people’s intentions, their beliefs, their wills, and of course it’s partly dependent on natural talent and such.”
“The powers connected with it?” she asked.
“Thought you’d pick up on that. You’ve heard of lots of new cults springing up. Well, on that sister world there are a lot of gods. And they’re real.”
She blinked. “Gods?”
“Well, that’s what they’re usually called, though someone with the belief that ‘god’ means ‘omnipotence’ wouldn’t call them that. But they’re worshipped on that world, and sometimes they’ve been worshipped here, at least some of them. Some die, some get born, apparently, and there’s a lot of different origins. But there’s one that’s very important to you â€“”
Jason smiled wryly. “Ahh, I see you’ve jumped ahead. No, I’m not. You see, quite a number of the gods are either created by, or at least defined by, their worshippers â€“ their hopes, their dreams, their beliefs â€“ and they manifest for their worshippers in whatever way is most appropriate and effective.
“And the supers â€“”
“Are the modern pantheon, or might be, yes. One of many â€“ there’s old gods reawakening, crossing over from Zarathan â€“ our sister world â€“ maybe new gods created by various cults, who knows. But there’s a lot of similarities, and I think this might be something you need to think about.”
She shook her head. This was the most insane discussion she’d ever had. “A god?”
“If the word bothers you, call him a sufficiently advanced being or something. But his powers, his purpose, they’re tied to magic and the fundamental forces beneath it â€“ and that’s also tied to human beings and our beliefs. I’ve watched a lot of the superhero conflicts, and if you look at them in the cold, cold light of day, they shouldn’t work â€“ in a lot of ways. Yet they do happen exactly the way we see them, and that means something makes the laws of physics and even simplistic rules of tactics take some kind of holiday, and not just in the obvious ways.”
She nodded, forcing herself to try to grasp the implications. “What do you mean? Like the way they can, oh, lift buildings . . .”
“. . . without the building falling apart? Well, that’s one, but it’s one of the obvious ways. I meant more like . . . oh, what’s the term the Jammer once used . . . oh, that’s it. Like the Law of Dramatics had been enacted.”
She understood. “So that’s why he acts that way.”
“That aura of importance? Yes. The cape staying out of the way. And things like the confrontations themselves â€“ just a little too dramatic, yet no one watching them thinks they’re staged â€“ because they’re not. It’s just natural for super-beings to interact that way. We know that’s how they act.”
She felt a chill. “But that means . . . that means a lot of them don’t have any choice.”
“Well . . . yes. They have a lot of choice in some areas, but they can’t choose to act against whatever their defined basic nature is.”
“But . . . there are other things besides . . . the superhero types,” she said. “They aren’t constrained that way.”
“No,” Jason agreed, and he was no longer smiling. “And you’re right; that is a huge potential problem. Maybe a standard super-villain can’t really backshoot a hero with an instantly-fatal weapon except in really rare circumstances, but one of the emerging honest-to-god wizards, or some of the monsters â€“ like, god forbid, the Werewolves, or demons â€“ those donâ€™t have any such limitations. They can use any tactics they want, but the Heroes, or the gods, have to stay true to their essential nature.”
Like . . . a compulsion? Can I think of some of Legend’s behaviors as some kind of offshoot of OCD? But other parts are purely his choice. Did he make himself this way? How much of it is really the original person? How does he deal with the contrast? “Can the . . . don’t know, the human side of the hero . . . can it make choices the hero can’t? Or does the fact that they’re connected make them subject to the same rules?”
Jason looked surprised. “You know . . . I never really thought about that. I’m not sure. I could argue it either way, but I can’t offhand think of anything that gives me a clear answer. I’ll check, if you like. Though you should probably ask that kind of thing more directly.”
“Oh, I will, Jason. But I’d appreciate it if you can see what your own sources say.” She thought a moment. “What happens when this . . . surge of magic subsides? If I understand your explanation, the seal being broken means we’ll always have some magic on this world now, but currently there’s a lot more than normal.”
Jason shrugged. “We don’t know â€“ not me, not any of my sources. The surge itself isn’t going away anytime soon; it’s been building for five hundred thousand years, and like a broken dam the flow will go on for a while. It hasn’t even peaked yet. Before . . . my one friend had to leave, he made a rough guess that the surge won’t die down for at least a thousand years.”
She managed a laugh. “I suppose that means we don’t need to concern ourselves with that part of the problem.”
“No, probably not.”
They talked for a while longer, but Jennifer had what she’d come for â€“ maybe more than she’d come for. But it had given her some insight, crazy though those insights were, into what her patient might be like, what the sources of his problems might be, and â€“ most importantly â€“ what she had to learn about him in order to help.
As she left, she looked up into the clouded sky and wondered whether those that flew above those clouds knew that their powers were also a prison.