Science Fiction & Fantasy

REENTRY by Peter Cawdron

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Fiction

Endor House

Conjure Magazine, Zena Cycle 17

Legends in Profile: Hermes Maleficarum
by Cassandra Elver-Mabinogion

Meet Hermes Maleficarum, the reclusive force behind the multiverse’s biggest publishing house. A mystery generations in the making.

The first thing I notice about Hermes was how unlike the rest of his family he seems. Hermes’ parents, Taliesin and his wife Morgana, were something of a power couple in the magic business, cutting a twin swath like obsidian blades at every fashionable event. But when Hermes first arrived on the scene only two years ago, appearing at the Rubedo Ball in a drab emerald suit and cape, it was without a companion on his arm. The gossip columns have naturally speculated that Hermes prefers the company of the discorporeal, but he waves that away with an utter lack of interest.

Few know the real Hermes. He has lived a secretive life since taking over from his father, paper patriarch Taliesin Maleficarum, whose soul is preserved in one of the many dim libraries in the Endor compound. His ashes were sold to a private collector in another ’verse. Son Hermes is uninterested in questions about his father, and evasive on the subject of his personal life.

“Really,” he says, sipping from the foaming black brew his eyeless assistant has placed on his desk. “Are you here to ask about the business, or about little old me?”

I take a moment and explain to him that as a writer of profiles, the answer is both. The framed cover of Conjure is on the wall just behind him, with the infamous portrait of his father and the story I wrote about the man only a few cycles ago. I choose not to say it, but he catches my gaze and collects his thoughts.

“I’m not seeing anyone at this time,” he says. “I am very focused on taking this company to the next level.”

“The next level” is a phrase we will be hearing an awful lot from people here at Endor House over the next few years. Taliesin and his father Merlin, in fact, the entire line of Maleficarums back to the first, has held to a traditionalist view on books of magic and how they should be distributed in the ’verse.

“My father and his traditional ideas. He knew the worlds were changing, but he refused to change with them. He focused on the big seven, and I understand that. But there’s so much more out there.”

Standing with his silvery eyes downcast into his liquid crystal display, Hermes’ passion is clear. He isn’t as tall as his father, and his famous insistence on wearing peasant clothes makes him seem even smaller. From the crystal, he pulls a cluster of worlds and expands them in the air where they hang and shimmer.

“This ’verse, for example. It has hundreds of magical races in it; thousands, perhaps. The mainstream religion is one of powerful magical disciplines, so they would be a ripe and ready audience. They sustain themselves using basic force-of-will magic, because they’ve never known better. We could make a killing shipping just one or two titles there in the next few cycles; just books on glamour and weaving would change their existence forever. But my father . . .”

At this, Hermes dumps the little light-worlds back into the crystal, sending droplets to spill and form spikes all over the rug. “My father was prejudiced against worlds that had discovered space travel. He claimed it was only a matter of time before they gave up magic in favor of science.”

Hermes is not adept at returning to the path of his thoughts once he has strayed. As he worked to get back to where we had begun, I had time to reflect on Taliesin the Great.

Many would agree with Hermes’ assertion that the man was prejudiced. He did harbor a major distrust of scientific worlds his whole life. I remember more than once he said that magic is nature’s lover, striving always to know her and be as one, while science is like her stalker, recording her actions from a distance and trying to control her.

Hermes is not a romantic like his father. He’s more of a visionary.

He’s pulling more worlds from the well, his dowdy, narrow sleeves turning dark at the cuffs. “Or this world, where they think only dragons have magic. Or this one, where their use is confined to whatever they can get from wands. I plan to expand our reach until there is nowhere in the multiverse we cannot touch.”

I turn my lytchglass seven times, hoping he’ll have matured by then. The Hermes I find at that time is a little softer, a little heavier. The furnishings around his office at Endor House have become more tasteful and less ostentatious. He is, however, still a bachelor.

He greets me with more practice than he had as a young man. There’s another frame for Conjure on his wall, but nothing inside it. I take this to mean that I’ll eventually get this interview finished, but my own protective spell keeps me from seeing anything that intersects with my own fate.

We settle into his deep armchairs and he fixes his small, intelligent eyes on me. As a younger man, he leapt into silences, hurrying to justify himself as if he were on trial. Something in him has settled down, and I tell him so.

“I’ve become more convinced than ever that the hypothesis I formed in childhood was correct.” He holds up one finger, as if to point out his own soaring genius, circling the room above our heads. “I’ve found hundreds more worlds that fit my earlier suspicions. We have begun to publish some of the classics there, with incredible results.”

He stands and shows me a model of a spacecraft from somewhere out in the multiverse. “Imagine you’re the captain of this ship and you encounter peril. For there is peril in the reaches between the stars, just as on the sea. If you are capable of magically protecting your ship, or moving it out of danger, would you ever forgo that power?”

He sets the model down and strides away, coming to one of the shelves holding Endor House’s perennial bestsellers. He takes down a fat brown book, closed with two black toggles.

“So we republish the Grimoire of Goblins as Practical Magic for Starship Protection. And it sells and sells!”

He squares his shoulders as he re-shelves the book. He turns to me, the improved tailoring in his robes suddenly evident in his lithe twisting. “My father was wrong. More than wrong, he was willfully ignorant.”

Of course I cannot view the financial statements he shows me about Endor House, since my spell to slide through time precludes me from investing for my own gain.  But his manner assures me that his strategy has paid off.

“We’re expanding,” he confides breathlessly, pulling more light-and-shadow mini worlds from his liquid crystal. “There are so many worlds where magic is weak, or one-sided. Some where—”

He breaks off, staring at one little green world. I can see satellites whirling around it, so it is clearly a world of science. He scries at it, squinting.

“Hmph,” he says, dropping it back down. “The work never ends. We’re printing more than we ever have. We’ve even . . .” He drops his voice down, whispering like a conspirator. “We’ve even begun to publish books in an electronic format. Science delivers magic for us. Can you imagine?”

He’s looking at me, but he’s asking his father. Over his shoulder, the cover of Conjure seems to wink at us both.

I set my lytchglass for ten cycles, hoping Hermes will have grown up. I’m interrupted in transit by a wedding invitation.

Grown up indeed, Hermes Maleficarum stands resplendent in the groom’s traditional crimson, in a double-breasted frock and fur collar. His bride, chief sorceress at Joy, Inc., and heiress to the pink cauldron of her foremothers that created the world’s most potent love potion, Melody Abraxas joins him in deep sapphire blue, breaking with her storied house’s tradition of appearing always in sacrificial black. A glittering set of publishing and spellcasting celebrities are in attendance, and a camera operated by no one at all (from my point of view) shoots photos for Conjure magazine. I expect I’ll see another magically-concealed cover frame in Hermes’ office.

The great discorporeal authors crowd above the dais in the frank privilege of their station. Mistress Hildegard sheds wisps of incense-smelling essence down over the couple in a traditional blessing of fertility. Anginata the Great has to be captured in a jeweled bottle when she is discovered hexing the couple’s first-born child. I’m sure Taliesin was invited, but I cannot locate paterfamilias among the bodiless guests. The embodied guests dance and cavort, culminating in a live orgiastic manifestation of love itself, leaving everyone lying in the grass with the insistent glow of first love lighting up their veins. It is very fine work, lingering for hours and making the crowd seem younger.

It is the wedding of the century (I am guessing; invitations pour in every day and my lytchglass gets a real workout). I am but a humble reporter, true, but even I am not ill-bred enough to question these two on their wedding day. I wish them every happiness as I swipe a glass of Abraxas Sweet Nostalgia rimmed with a little crystallized optimism. It is every bit as good as they say.

Twelve cycles later, the Maleficarum estate is reborn under Melody’s hands. It has lost all semblance of the home of Hermes’ dour youth and has grown in both style and elegance. The welcome mat sings to me on arrival, gently brushing my shoes. A will-o’-wisp leads me to the study. Melody is there, warm and gracious and dressed like a queen in a will-cloud of diamonds and aquamarines. She hasn’t aged a day.

I can see at once that Hermes has finally relaxed. Six cover frames hang above us on the brightened walls with their golden molding, but none of them hold Taliesin’s grim old face. The new patriarch himself is in maroon, slimming robes that recall his wedding finery. He greets me with real warmth, as though we have been friends all this time. Perhaps we have.

Their young son, Azimuth, is the last one I speak with. I ask him about the future, if he will run Endor House with the fearless ferocity that his father has shown. Shyly, carefully, he shows me his own liquid crystal. It is a smaller version of his father’s, but I can already see the boy’s talent. The contents are so clear they are nearly solid. Though the aperture is small, it contains most of the known multiverse already.

Azimuth reaches in, the stars reflected in his small round glasses. He is unlike his father or mother, appearing more careful and more thoughtful than either of the two showbirds from whom he was made. Gently, he pulls out a string of worlds.

“See these?” Moons and satellites spin, clouds swirl. “These worlds have no magic at all. Only science. Do you know what one good book, say The Fire in the Rose could do for them? If Endor could publish on that world, we could—”

“Leave it be,” Hermes yells at his son loudly enough that the boy quakes where he stands. “There are no worlds without magic. You’re just not skilled enough to find it. I told you. You are too young to understand.”

Azimuth looks over his impoverished world, his face falling. He offers me an apologetic little smile, lowering the worlds like a string of pearls back into the drawer from which they were pilfered.

“Please forgive my father,” Azimuth says in a humble little voice. “He’s a great man, but he is very set in his ways.”

Gentle readers, I have exhausted my lytchglass for this cycle and I must return home. As the years blur past, I look to the chains between fathers and sons. It is tempting to cast Azimuth as his grandsire reborn, or as a mere reaction against his own father. The truth is likely something stranger, something impossible to predict. Bound as I am by my own lifetime, I cannot see any further than Azimuth’s debut, perhaps a few years after that. My own mortal helplessness gives me great sympathy for those worlds without magic that Azimuth alone can see. Perhaps he can send them light for their darkness. Perhaps in some grander place, another child is planning to send us a spark for our own.

To contact the author, please float three primary corvid feathers down the Rune River on a cloudy day.

Meg Elison

Meg Elison

Meg Elison is the author of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Tiptree recommendation, Audie Award finalist and winner of the Philip K. Dick Award. Her sequel, The Book of Etta, was published in February 2017, and the third and final book in the series comes out in April of 2019. She has also been published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Shimmer, McSweeney’s, Catapult, and many other places. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley. You can find her at megelison.com and on Twitter @megelison.