The moon was full tonight.
Back when I used to commute to school on the bus, I met a driver who told me the strangest people always come out on a full moon. He was right, for the most part. I had only ridden home with him on two full moons, and both times people that I had never seen ride the fifty-nine bus before boarded. The first full moon, the oddest person was a man who had his face nearly completely covered with facial hair. I shrugged him off and thought he was just another homeless man. The second night there was this crazy old woman that kept shouting profanities from the back of the bus. The driver asked her to be quiet, and she managed to mumble low enough afterwards to not warrant getting kicked off.
The funniest thing was that I never got that driver's name. I talked to him the entire way home everyday, and that was an hour's ride that just flew by. Sadly, the Orange County Transportation Authority forces their drivers to switch routes every four months, and before I knew it, those four months had passed and he was gone. I had never given him my name either. I guess I just unconsciously forced our conversations to stay away from that. Whenever I needed to call him, I always used 'Bud,' or 'Driver.' His name might've been Bud for all I knew.
See, I couldn't give him my name. Even back then, when all my powers were taken away, I knew I couldn't. Names are very powerful words. When someone calls you by your name, you instinctively react and turn your head towards the caller. That kind of power is dangerous in the hands of a wizard.
Yes, a wizard. That's what I was. One of five guarding California from all sorts of baddies. I was the guardian of Orange County. Southern California is so densely populated that it needs three of us: one for Los Angeles County, one for Orange County, and one for the Inland Empire. Despite the title, however, I guarded everything south too, including San Diego. And no, I didn't dress in fancy long robes like what people think wizards wear. Well, the really old ones did, but I just wore a simple coat and jeans. Those robes were used way back when warm clothing material was a bit harder to find. Casting spells made a wizard feel really cold, after all. Something about the law of thermodynamics, heat transfer, and energy transfer.
The Order of the Magi kept all order in the world. They kept mortals separated from the supernatural and appointed guardians to every part of the world to do so.
It was a rule of the Order that all guardians, prior to obtaining such status, must live a decade as a mortal human, stripped of all their powers except in dire emergencies. This was done so that wizards would understand how mortals perceive life. Usually future guardians lived out their decade in the area they were meant to protect under the watchful eye of the current guardian.
It wasn't until after my decade was up that the previous retiring guardian of the OC told me who was really on that bus those two full moon nights. A werewolf and a fortune-teller. Not one of those silly tarot-card fake fortune-tellers, no. A real one. The future came to them randomly, and when they spoke their words were disguised to mortals as random strings of swearing. The werewolf, actually, must have been really old and experienced to contain his transformation so well on a full moon.
But anyway, back to names. Words have meaning behind them, meaning that can bring power. A wizard can cast magic without words, sure, but only if they are good enough at focusing their thought and imagination into what they want. It's far easier to speak a word to define what you want. And we don't need to use fancy Latin either like mortals like to think: English is fine, but older languages have more definition in them since they've been used and given their meaning for a longer time. So we don't need to use Latin, but we do prefer it. Personally, I don't have time to learn all the grammar and syntax of true Latin, so I just use simple Faux Latin that looks like something Google Translate would churn out. Hey, it works fine for me!
Now, a name is very specific. From birth, it's a word that defines you. It is you, who you are, what you are, what you will be. Your name will always call to you. This bond to a person is a property that wizards can focus their will into. Many times, darker mages will learn a person's name to control them.
Dark mages. Warlocks. Necromancers. Call them what you will, but they're all the same. They use magic for nefarious purposes; not to supplement and nourish life, but to dominate and corrupt it.
That was what I was facing tonight.
During my ten year trial, I attended the University of California, Irvine, and pretended to be a student of engineering. It was, quite possibly, the worst four years of my life. The University was built around Aldrich Park, a little piece of nature stuck in the middle for students to enjoy. The University's layout made it very difficult to get lost, thankfully, since I was sort of directionally challenged. It didn't affect me when I had my magic and could just point to a place I wanted to go on a map and teleport there, but it was very annoying when I had to walk and drive everywhere as a regular human. If I ever got lost wandering around the University, I could just find my way to Ring Road, which went around all of the major schools and important buildings in a circular path, and walk along that path until I found where I needed to go.
My old tutor told me there was a lot of concentrated power in Aldrich Park. The University was built around it, and the city of Irvine was built around the University. It was the center, and thus the focal point, of all magical current in the vicinity. I had walked through it many times both when I was mortal and after, and even when my power was taken away I could still feel the power and the feeling in that park.
The park was usually very well lit-up at night, though not as well as it was during my freshmen year. Back then, I vaguely remembered there was a complex number of walkways that winded their way throughout the park. They were removed that year, and replaced with only two perpendicular roads that passed through the park diametrically, supposedly because the old roads messed with the Feng Shui.
Or something like that. The lamps on those two roadways were out tonight, but the moon shone more than enough light to let me see what I needed to see.
And right now, as I stood next to the Langson Library which was right along the edge of the grass, I saw demons being summoned from the center of the park by a dark sorcerer.
He was surrounded by a veil of black mist, but under the full moon it was clearly visible as a void in my vision, though I could see the outline of the sorcerer. I could also see demons, small ones right now, skittering out of the mist and waiting for the sorcerer to complete his ritual of summoning. Still, the ones out of the main mass of fog were touched by tendrils of the black smoke, and I could sense another power in the mist. It was meant to conceal whatever was inside from any wandering mortal eyes, though it was probably not needed at this late hour since the university was practically deserted past midnight.
Despite their reassurances to the contrary, the Order did not always see and control everything. Sometimes things slipped through the cracks. Things like demon summoning sorcerers.
In any case, it was my job now to stop him. There were a lot of demons already, most of them small and crablike from what I could see from the moonlight, but there were far too many of them already for me to just go in there guns blazing.
Speaking of which, I reached my hand down to my waist and reassured myself that my pistol was still securely holstered on my belt. No, I wasn't one of those old-fashioned wizards that carried around a big unwieldy staff. They still existed sure, but they were mostly in Europe. No, I was far too hip for something as quaint as a staff.
Staves were used to help store focus. They could also be used to whack things really hard, but I've never thought that would be useful. A gun could be used as a focus just as well as a staff, and it was a much better weapon, in my opinion. Being able to add enchantments to the bullets was just icing on the cake.
It didn't matter right now though. I had to banish the demons and defeat the sorcerer, but I couldn't do it by destroying the entire park and searing the surrounding buildings. Sure, engulfing the whole place in flames would've been easy and cool, forgive the pun, but I'd get a ton of flack from the Order for such recklessness. I wouldn't have even had to speak a word; I could've just imagined the whole place erupting in leaping fire and willed it into existence. I'd watched enough Michael Bay movies for that.
But I couldn't, so I'd probably have to banish the demons and then face the sorcerer in a good old-fashioned one-on-one duel. The second one I, a full-fledged guardian of the Order, could probably do, but the first was a little more complicated.
Banishing demons isn't as easy as grabbing a Holy Bible and yelling out things like "Begone, spawn of Satan!" Nor is it as easy as splashing them with 'holy water.' Belief is powerful, yes, but there is a limit to what pure belief can do. In either case, I wasn't about to run off to the nearest church to waste time finding either of those things. Time was of the essence, and if I gave this sorcerer too much he might be able to conjure up some really scary demons.
I really had only one practical option. I had to draw a circle around the park.
A circle is a really special shape. I mean it, it has properties no other shapes have. Even when I was studying engineering, mathematics and physics always emphasized how special a circle was. A circle is continuous, smooth, and completes a circuit. I would have to etch a circle around all of the demons, and then I could pour my will and desire to banish them into the circle, and it would force all of them caught inside back into the Underworld.
Easy enough to say, but harder to do. I'd have to draw, or make, a large one around the entire park somehow without being seen by the demons or the sorcerer. A magical veil might've worked against the sorcerer, but the demons could smell right through such a ruse.
No, I'd need help. For a circle this large, I'd have to draw it into the dirt, and twigs or branches would have to complete it where the concrete roadways through the park broke the drawn lines. Laying down the branches would be the easy part: I could cast a breeze upon the trees that were all around the park and direct the falling branches down to where I needed them inconspicuously. The trees were high enough that I could cast the wind spells without alerting the demons. I didn't even need a powerful gust to do it, there were signs all around the park that said, "Caution: Beware of High Winds and Falling Branches" for a reason. Those trees were eager to give up their branches enough, but I needed Sunny to help me draw the rest of the circle in the dirt.
Sunny was my pet dragon. His egg was gifted to me by the previous guardian, and when he hatched he knocked over a bottle of Sunny D, so that was the name I gave him. Sunny D, if you don't know, is just a brand of orange juice. Fitting that the little dragon was also orange, though his underbelly scales were larger and browner. Once he grew up, it turned out that his breath weapon was intense beams of sunlight, like the kind you burn ants with using a magnifying glass, only much stronger. Funny how life works sometimes, right?
He was a small little dragon, about the length of one of my legs. Standard pair of horns and wings, you know the typical western dragon. One of the tricky things he can do with his scales is completely absorb light. No light reflection means he becomes completely invisible. And he can do it without causing any magical ripple that would alert the demons. He could draw the circle with his claws and they'd be none the wiser.
It was a plan then. I whispered, "Guolai, Sunny," and imagined the little dragon appearing before me. Okay, sometimes I used Chinese too. It's a pretty old language too, you know, so it works better than saying, "Come here, Sunny."
There was a ripple in the air. The little dragon's nose poked out of nothing, and then the rest of his snout appeared out of thin air. Then his forearms popped through, and he grabbed at the ground to pull himself out of the portal faster. I offered to help, but he slapped my hand away. Stubborn little dragon, sometimes.
He gave a strong final tug after he was nearly stuck at his legs, and then they popped through along with his tail with enough force to roll himself over twice upside-down.
The little dragon rolled himself upright and shook himself like a wet dog. Then he let out a yawn and pranced around before facing me. "Daddy, it's like two AM, why'd you call for me?"
Well, I've tried to explain to him many times that I wasn't his dad, but he insists on calling me that anyway. Something about hatching imprinting, my old mentor had mentioned. But I digress.
"I need your help, Sunny."
"What do you need me to do?" He was staring at me wide-eyed. He was so damn adorable when he stared at me like that.
"Look over there," I said, "You see those demons?"
He craned his neck over to where I was pointing and said, "Yeah, they look fun. Can I go play with them?"
I shook my head at him. "No, they're bad guys. I need you to help me defeat them."
He sprang up, and his tail swished back and forth. "Ooo, can I go melt them?"
"Aww, why not?"
"There's too many of them for both of us, and we can't go about destroying everything."
The little dragon looked over to the park, then back at me and drooped his head down.
I knelt down and rubbed the top of his muzzle. Then, in the most deep and fatherly voice I could muster, I said, "I need you turn invisible and draw a circle around them in the dirt. Sunny, can you do that?"
He looked up at me again and smiled. "Yeah, I can do that!"
Of course, before I could even react he turned invisible. From his wind displacement, I could tell he was flying towards the park.
I ran over to the Engineering Tower, which I remembered was the tallest building on campus, and forced myself in with a little magic. They left the power on in all the buildings at night, but the elevator needed a pass card to use. I didn't have one, but it took a hex just fine.
So I made my way up to the top of the Tower, and then I looked down at the park. It took me about ten minutes to run over to Engineering, and in that time Sunny had already almost finished scratching in the circle.
I concentrated my thoughts and imagined what I wanted to happen. With my right hand grasping on my pistol and my left held out into the air, I called out, "Aero."
There was a light breeze at first, and then it grew into a still unsuspicious fifteen mile per hour wind. It was enough to knock down some branches, and I'd catch some of the falling ones with my mind and direct them into the missing parts of the circle.
But then I realized I had been too hasty. There was a scream, and I saw the demons start converging on a fallen branch. I figured one of the branches I didn't catch had fallen on Sunny since they were all moving towards one. Crap.
I might've been able to complete the circle before they got to him, but my mind didn't work that way. I just instinctively jumped down to save my little dragon from becoming some minor demon's late-night snack. I barely remembered to even cast an air cushioning spell before hitting the ground and broke my nose because of that.
Yeah, my limbs hurt a little too. I willed the spell a little late, but at least I could still get up. I did, and thank the lucky stars my legs felt alright enough to run.
At least I landed where I wanted to, right next to the suspicious branch. I lifted it and felt the dragon's smooth scales, then grabbed him and pulled him over my shoulders. He was still breathing, luckily, but he didn't say anything so the branch probably knocked him unconscious. It hurt like hell when I lifted him, but thank whatever god existed for adrenaline.
The crab-like demons skittered faster when I saw them, and I started running away. The lights on Ring Road were still on, so if I made it there we'd be mostly safe: the demons wouldn't let themselves be seen by mortals until they had gathered enough numbers to do whatever it was the sorcerer wanted.
Then I felt like banging my head against a wall. I had realized something, something I couldn't believe I hadn't realized the entire four years I had spent at the University. The Ring Road was a damn circle.
My arms were bruised, my nose was leaking blood like a faucet, and I felt like slapping myself for being so oblivious. And then I felt a little giddy, and ran a little faster to get to the road so I could banish the damned hellspawn.
As I expected, they stayed away from the lights that would've broken the concealing power of the mist. Too bad too; if they hadn't they might've clawed me up, escaped and done who knows what until the Order realizes I wasn't sending my reports.
Then I moved a little out of the Ring Road, and focused my will into it. The entire length of the road that I could see started glowing faintly, and with a final shove of power I said, "Exorcise."
Yeah, I know. It was just plain English, but the word was enough to convey what I wanted the circle to do. A ripple of blue light flowed along the road into the park, and I could see the demons that were in my sight get caught by the ripples and disappear.
It was done, then. Now I just had to go in there and face the sorcerer. I'd probably have to capture him and figure out what exactly he was planning, or the Order would throw a fit.
Then my shoulder sent a jolt of pain up my head, and realized I hadn't put Sunny down yet. The little orange dragon was still invisible, so I set him down on the road and started walking towards the park with my pistol drawn.
The mist around him had gone, and I could see the man standing there in his black, generic evil wizard robes.
He faced me and smiled. Not a happy smile, mind you, one of those terrifying clown smiles. Then he said to me, "I expected you would come, guardian. Leave, or be destroyed."
What? Who did this guy think he was? I wasn't about to let some punk little wizard wannabe talk to me like that. I raised my pistol and aimed for his legs.
"So you choose the second," he said, "Then I command you to die, Elrafer Dominic!"
I froze. Not because he had said my name, no. Elrafer Dominic was the name of the previous guardian of Orange County, my old mentor. The fact that this guy knew his name was a terrible breach in Order security.
His eyes grew wide too as he noticed I hadn't collapsed to the ground like he was expecting. He wasn't a very powerful magic user from what I could tell, but a command like that from even a weak magic user could force the name's owner to fall in paralysis.
He knew an Order member's name, so I had to eliminate him now. There would be more trouble if I risked detaining him. So I shot him in the heart.
The bullet flew into him, and he screamed in agony before his flesh seared itself into ashes. That was the bullet enchantment I was talking about. Never had to use it on a person, but it was a nasty sight I didn't really want to see again.
Well, there was nothing left to do then. I was tired and hurt, so I went back to where I put Sunny down and poked him.
"Nyeh," he whined, "Five more minutes, please."
I sighed heavily and knelt down to feel the little dragon. He was alive and happily still himself. The last of the adrenaline rush faded, and my body started aching.
I was overconfident, and a little too reckless. It had hurt Sunny and myself. It was my first real dangerous job, and I nearly screwed it all up by leaping without looking enough, literally and figuratively. I'd remember that for my future encounters with the supernatural.
"Right, let's go home," I said.
Tonight would be a hell of a report to write.