This is a stand-alone story set in the world of Jane Doe. In fact it was this, along with another story that I never got very far with, which became the inspiration for the Jane Doe Universe, and therefore the Jane Doe World.
I’ve always enjoyed being part of my family. Some of the kids at school seem to like nothing more than to moan about their parents and how uncool their are. Not me, I think that my parents are cool.
Of course, there’s a reason that I think they’re so cool. A couple actually. The first is that are really into European martial arts. This means that I get to play with some of the coolest swords, maces, warhammers and battle axes on the market. I’ve even got my own Mongolian recurve bow. The second reason is because they’re mages. That’s okay, you read it right. They’re mages. Magic users. It’s genetic as well. Yeah, I can cast magic. Don’t think of me as a Harry Potter though. My world isn’t anywhere as cool as his.
My world is a lot more dangerous. It’s full of creatures and people who are determined to to do nasty things to each other and normal humans. You are most likely one of those if you’re reading this. A Mundane.
One reason we’re different is because is because we’re descended from a line of warrior mages. The Merlins. King Arthur didn’t have one man called Merlin. He had lots of men called Merlin. They were his bodyguard, his honour guard and they helped his men fight the Fae for control of England. They won. And the Merlins are the heads of the Magical Community in the United Kingdom. They’re top dog. Really I should say we’re top dog. But that wouldn’t really be true.
My mum and dad have tried to keep out of the whole thing, a tradition that that has been passed down the family tree for generations. Our family don’t like the way that the Merlins lord it over the Magical Community, nor how they manipulate Mundane politics. Every country as its own Magical Community, and the upper class of that community makes sure that the country is run the way they want it to be. Merlins, on the whole, aren’t that nice.
Mum and Dad even went and bought an old house in the middle of Dartmoor to get away from everything. Plenty of line-of-sight, no ‘I took a wrong turn can you help’ type things. That doesn’t mean that we’re pushovers though. My dad served as a Major in the Royal Engineers, and went on tour a lot. A lot of our family have been in the military.
The other reason that they stayed in the army long after it became a bad idea to throw fireballs at the enemy (unless it was a ‘special operation’), was because it meant we could move around a lot. No-one would able to do anything when I did weird things. Like when I accidentally burnt down the nursery. Or made Mrs. Sidebottom jump out of the window. That last was a life-changing moment.
It was my first real conscious effort at magic. Mrs. Sidebottom was the most feared and hated teacher in the school. You know the sort. Every school has a teacher that seems to hate children. Why they do a job where they’re surrounded by people they can’t stand I don’t know. I couldn’t bear to be in a job where I was so unhappy.
We all hated her in return. There was something wrong with her. I could never put my finger on it, but I always felt nervous. Scared sometimes. Everyone felt the same. Usually a teacher will have at least one favourite, and one student that they pick on. Not Sidebottom, she picked on everyone.
She was, as Steph Jones put it, “A wart-nosed, cold-hearted, mean-faced bitch.” Steph Jones was the complete opposite; she was gorgeous, the best looking girl in the year. I’d have done anything for her and, as it turned out, I did.
Steph had lost her homework book. Sidebottom was stood in front of her, her greasy grey hair tied back in a scraggy bun, pale green eyes narrowed as she stared at Steph.
“Lost your homework? Really? Or maybe you found it a little too hard. Maybe you’re a little too blonde to do it?” Her voice was really faint, as if she didn’t like to use too much air. Maybe she hated the thought of breathing the same air as us.
No matter how quiet her voice, we could all hear the hatred in her voice. The hatred and the pleasure she took in making Steph cry. My heart felt like it would break as I watched the tears start to roll down her cheeks. Her shoulders started to shake as she tried to hold it in, to hide the pain. It was no use. Sidebottom had seen.
“Watch out kids, better get your coats on, it’s raining!” She whinnied, like a horse and looked around the classroom. A few of the other kids joined in, then more, all too scared of her to do anything else. Steph started to cry even more, scrubbing at her face to wipe the tears away.
There was a sudden pain in my hand, sharp, stabbing. Shocked, I looked down to see that I’d snapped my pen. Shards of Bic stuck out of my palm, the blood just starting to bead around them.
I looked up from my hand and realised that everyone was staring at me, Sidebottom included. No one said anything. They all just stared, Sidebottom included.
“What did you say William?” Her voice had got even quieter. Even Steph was staring at me, tears forgotten as they continued to run down her cheeks.
I honestly couldn’t answer. I didn’t have a clue as to what I had said. It must have been bad though.
“I don’t know.”
My head rocked, vision blurred and I felt something hot on my cheeks. They burned.
“How dare you speak to me like that!” Sidebottom was redder than a lobster, a little bit of spit running out of the corner of her eye. Her hand was raised, the palm as red as her face.
I lifted my hand to my cheek, felt how hot it felt to the touch. Felt how much it had hurt. I looked at how her hand was raised.
She bloody hit me, I thought. Not even my mum had slapped me around the face.
The whole class was sat still, eyes switching between the two of us, sometimes going up to the hand that still hovered in the air. It felt like no one had moved a muscle. They were so still it was like being in Madame Tussaud’s.
“Well?” The question wasn’t rhetorical. I opened my mouth, knowing that anything I said was going to be wrong. “Answer me damn you!” My head rocked again.
She’s hit me. She’s hit me again!
Sidebottom had completely lost it. My head was ringing and everything seemed to be spinning. I could see her mouth moving but there was no sound. Steph’s mouth was moving as well, but I couldn’t hear her either. She turned and ran out of the room, faster than my blurred eyes could follow.
“Everyone hates you. Everyone.” And by everyone, I meant me. By hate I meant I wanted her dead. Nothing would have pleased me more to see her dead at that very moment. She had humiliated the love of my life, and she had slapped me so hard I couldn’t think straight.
“I wish you’d die. Just die.” I looked over at the windows lining the far side of the classroom and Willed with my whole being that she would throw herself out of them.
“Just die!” I screamed those words so hard that my throat hurt.
Without another word, Sidebottom turned and ran full pelt. There was the sudden, shocking sound of glass breaking and then she was gone, taking twelve feet of glass with her.
Did I mention that my head was spinning? I’d fortunately forgotten that we were only on the ground floor. After the smashing, there was a thudding, and then a lot of screaming.
Films make a lot of things look easy and safe, even when the people are doing things that look dangerous and cool. Like jumping through windows. In films they just jump through, do a roll and brush themselves off. In real life, they get cut to ribbons by razor-sharp glass, face plant into the concrete and do a lot of screaming, bleeding and crying. Like Sidebottom.
I didn’t know it at the time but what I had done was placed a Blood Curse. I had taken anger, blood and my Will and merged them into a spell, a Compulsion.
That was our last day at that school. Steph was pulled out by her parents, who were suing the school because of Sidebottom’s bullying, Sidebottom quit before she was sacked, I heard later that she died. She was found in her flat, surrounded by all of her cats. Apparently, before they starved to death, they tried eating her.
I also left the school, although at the time I didn’t realise that was going to happen. As soon as I got home my mum shoved a bag into my hand. “You’re leaving. Get changed out of your uniform. Quickly.”
She didn’t listen to, or answer any of my questions as she bundled me upstairs and started throwing clothes at me.
I’d expected her to be angry, to be bloody furious, but she wasn’t. Looking at her more closely, I could see her eyes were narrowed, her mouth was pinched shut. She was scared! My stomach flipped when I realised this. Parents aren’t supposed to be scared. They’re supposed to be able to deal with anything. I guess for most people it’s only when you become an adult that you realise just how scared other adults and parents can be. I just came to that realisation a lot sooner than more.
“Mum, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean …” The front door crashed open and we both jumped.
“Jennifer! I got your text!” It was my dad. He came pounding up the stairs, feet hammering the stairs like a herd of rabid rhinos.
My bedroom door burst open, dad opening it so fast that the latch came out of the frame. He cursed as his head smacked into the lintel. If I was to say that my dad is big, that would be like saying it hurts when you stub your toe. At six foot eight, he was literally a giant.
“The car’s on its way. ETA 15 minutes. Grab this.” He was sweating, breathing hard, and in his hands he held his old service pistol (Merlins were allowed to carry pistols when they reached adulthood), and his sword. He turned and shouldered off the bag hanging there. It clanked as mum grabbed it. What the hell was going on?
“William, come here.” It was never good news when dad used my full name.
He stroked my face where Sidebottom had hit me. Even though he was gentle it hurt, making me flinch.
“She really hurt you. Not as bad as you hurt her though. You cast a very powerful spell today. An illegal spell under normal circumstances.” He paused to wipe the sweat pouring from his face.
“Sidebottom was a Ghoul, a member of the Hawk clan. The worst there is when it comes to matters of honour and blood feuds.”
“I don’t understand. I didn’t mean it to happen, I was just so ….” There was a loud screech, my ears hurt it was so piercing. It was like claws scraping their way down a blackboard and set my teeth on edge. Was I ever going to get to finish a sentence?
I staggered forward as mum leapt past, hands glowing as she Willed a ward over the remains of my bedroom door. “This will hold them, for a couple of minutes. No more.” She turned to face me, “Get your bow, cover this doorway. Shoot at anything that comes up. Don’t worry about hitting them, just keep them busy.”
She leaned forward and kissed me. Dad ruffled my hair. With that they were gone, mum pulling a shotgun out of the bag dad had given her.
It took me five tries to get the arrow into my bowstring. It was as if I’d never used I’ve before. Getting it onto the string was the least of my problems. My arms were so weak I couldn’t draw it back. The screeching started up again, so loud that I fumbled the arrow. It fell point first, sticking in the floor. I heard mum shouting, then the shotgun boomed twice quickly. Dad’s pistol started to crack, bang-bang, bang-bang.
Pulling the arrow out of the wooden floor, I managed to get it onto the string in three goes. I guess that was some sort of progress. The guns were still firing downstairs, and the screeching had reached a pitch so high that I thought all if the glass in the house would break. That’s why I didn’t turn when I heard my window break.
I did turn when I heard the hissing. If I was some sort of hero I would tell you that I loosed the arrow, the powerful bow punching the arrow through the creature’s skull with the sound of a breaking egg. If I did that I’d be lying. I dropped the damn arrow. Again.
Although I was part of a magical family, I’d had a pretty normal life, so black-ichor dripping, grey-skinned creatures with lank greasy hair that reached to the floor, were not something I had ever come across before. It was pants-wettingly scary. Not many heroes would admit to that.
Claws, at least five centimetres long slowly started to grow from its outstretched fingers. “Tasty. You look, tasty. You hurt my sister boy. Blood for blood.”
When it leapt at me, I did the only thing I could. I back peddled so fast that I lost my balance and fell through the ward, feeling nothing as I did so. Apart from a blinding pain in the back of my head as it hit the landing floor, that is.
The ghoul came straight after me. It was the fastest thing I’ve ever seen. It moved so fast that it actually blurred. That could have been the tears in my eyes, they were blurring everything. My head was throbbing, pulsing with pain where I had hit it.
There was a blinding flash and the ghoul wailed, arcs of lightning playing across its body. My stomach flipped as the smell of its burning flesh filled the air. I scrambled back as it forced its way through the ward, me screaming in fear, it screaming in flesh-crisping, hair-singeing agony.
Step-by-step, claws stretched out, fang-filled mouth stretched open as it screamed, the now-smoking ghoul came towards me, six-toed feet gouging grooves into the wooden flooring. I stared into its three remaining eyes, trying to ignore the goo that was dripping from it’s other three eye sockets. The lightning was still reaching out, lashing across the ghoul’s body, smoke and steam rising each time it hit. Bile-yellow flesh showed where the outer, greyer flesh was starting to peel off. Ghouls were tough, I couldn’t believe how much damage it was taking. Puke forced its way up my throat and into my mouth, dribbling onto my t-shirt. Yet another hero moment. Not.
Fist-sized holes appeared from nowhere, a loud boom sounding before each one. Boom, boom, boom. Every new hole brought another, higher screech. But still kept on coming.
“Get away from my son!” I hadn’t ever heard mum sounding so angry. She stepped past and smashed the stock into its face. Aside from a couple of manly-looking teeth flying across the room, it had no effect.
“Jenn, move!” Mum spun out of the way as my dad’s sword flashed down, splitting the ghoul’s head in half, right down the middle. With a final, wet gurgle, the ghoul fell face down, purple brains slopping onto my jeans. As did more vomit. I was surprised that I had any left.
“Will, are you okay” I managed to tear my eyes away from the dead ghoul and get my stomach under some semblance of control. I looked up at my dad. His face was creased with worry and he looked like some sort of techno-knight.
“I’m fine dad.” I didn’t trust myself to say any more, there was a lump in throat and my vision was starting to blur. My heart was beating so fast it felt as though it was the backing rhythm for a hardcore dance tune.
“Good, good, you’re doing well Will. We’ve got to get ready to move. The cars will be here soon.” I watched as he strode to the hall window and looked outside.
“They’re back. Three more, moving to the front door, get into your room. Jen, stay with him.” With that he was gone, my mum grabbed my ankle and just pulled me back into my room, the dead ghoul slipping aside.
“Mum, I can walk. Mum!” She looked down at me, sweat streaking her face.
She sighed, “Sorry love, sorry.” She Willed again, this time using it to Ward my bedroom window as well. “They shouldn’t have been able to get in through here the first time. They’ll burn if they try it again.” The sound of fighting came from downstairs again. “Stay here!” She jumped over me and pounded down the stairs, her shotgun adding to the sounds of battle that came from downstairs.
As I sat in my room, listening to the fight below, I realised that I had never in my life felt so helpless and so scared as then. I thought I knew everything they were was about magic and weapons use. I’d been allowed to use both in controlled sparring bouts and, in my naivety, had thought that I was good. I’d even come first in some of the competitions that were held now and then. Nothing had prepared me for this. Everything I had done, everything I had achieved had been nothing more than a game, nothing more than basic training to attempt to prepare me for what was happening.
How could anything prepare you for the sight, feel and sound of Ghoul brains slopping onto your jeans? How could training prepare you for the fear that turned all of yours limbs to jelly and made your bladder incapable of holding more than a thimble-full of liquid? How could training prepare you for the sights and sounds of your parents hacking, blasting and Willing sentient beings into chunks of flesh? It couldn’t. Nothing could possibly prepare anyone for the sights and sounds of combat. In no way was this as cool as watching in it a film or playing it on Xbox. My dad had looked like something out of Ryse.
There was another chorus of screeches from outside, although these sounded different. I ran to the window and looked out. Three black vans and Range Rover had skidded to a halt outside of the house. Men in all black were piling out of them, swords and guns in hand. I watched as they moved in three teams towards the house, the ones with the guns leading, weapons tucked into their shoulders and scanning left, right, up and down. One of them spotted me at the window and raised a hand in acknowledgement. I waved back and stepped away from the window as they approached the front door.
COD and Battlefield both let you use flashbangs as part of the game. I had always wondered just how loud and effective they could really be. Let me tell you, they are ear-splitting. Even upstairs my ears were left ringing, everything sounded muted. God only knew what it was like to be in the same room as them. My stomach flipped as I realised that my mum and dad would have been right on the receiving end.
I practically jumped out of my skin when a head popped up over the stair and the flood of relief when I realised it was one of the men brought a tear to my eye. “Don’t come through! It’s warded!” I yelled, stopping him just in time. He shouted over his shoulder, I couldn’t hear what as my ears were still ringing and my mother appeared. She quickly Willed and brought the ward down.
“Come to me Will. Close your eyes and hold my hand. Don’t open them until I tell you, okay?” I nodded and tried to swallow, my mouth as dry as sand. She passed her hand gently over my face, and I closed my eyes, following her lead as she led me down the stairs and through the house. The man had his hand on my shoulder, guiding me firmly but gently. I couldn’t believe how badly downstairs smelt. There was the eggy-tang of gun powder, the rancid stench of burn ghoul flesh, as well as the smell of burnt wood and man-made fibres. The grenades must have caused a right mess.
Finally mum told me to open my eyes. I did, shading them against the suddenly too-bright light. “Get into the Range Rover Will, your dad’s waiting. Quickly now.” I didn’t wait to be told again and jogged over, jumping into the back through the open door. I’d barely managed to get in before my dad was hugging me tight, squeezing so hard that I was sure my ribs were going to break. I gasped for air as he let go and looked into my eyes, holding me by the shoulders.
“I’m so proud of you son. You’ve done well today. Not at school, but here. We’ll talk about school once we’re off.”
He was true to his promise. As the Range Rover raced through the lanes, one of the vans in front and two to the rear, I got the biggest bollocking of my life I’d ever had. I’ve never seen dad so angry. It didn’t help when mum joined in either. I was sandwiched between the both of them as they told me over and over just how “bloody stupid” (dad), “so irresponsible” (mum). I looked up once and saw that the driver was watching all of this in the rear-view mirror. He winked and then looked dead ahead. Knowing that someone felt some sort of pity for me helped.
I mean, there I was, sat in a Range Rover, dead ghoul all over me, not sure how I Willed Sidebottom out of the window in the first place, I was still coming down from the massive adrenaline dump and my parents were busy shouting at me. It was only when I actually started to cry that they relented, and gave me a massive family hug. I crashed after that. I didn’t realise just how tired I was until the car came to a stop and my dad shook me awake.
“Will, wake up buddy. We’re here.” I look past him to see where ‘here’ was. We were just slowing down to go between some gateposts, flanked by two guard-house like buildings. One of them was a sign, ‘The Duke of York’s Royal Military School’.
My brain still foggy after my sleep, I looked at him. “What are we doing here?”
He sighed, slowly shaking his head. I felt mum’s hand on my knee, “This is your new school love. It’s the only place you’ll be safe.”
I must admit that I was still struggling to process this when the door was opened and a man in a smartly-pressed suit stepped up. “William, I’m Lieutenant-Colonel Sharpe Merlin. Welcome. Please follow me.” The next few minutes that passed were a complete blur. Filled with my father filling out forms, my mother telling me “Everything will be fine, we’ll see you during the holidays and exeats”, and Lieutenant-Colonel Sharpe Merlin telling me about the school. Then there was a flurry of hugs, kisses and hair rufflings and my parents were gone.
“Right Wiliam, if you’ll follow Smythe here,” I hadn’t noticed a smartly dressed boy enter the room, “he’ll take you to your dorm, and show you the showers. There will be new clothes ready for you once you’re clean. Dismissed.”
And that, is how I, William Taylor Merlin, aged twelve-and-a-half entered The Duke of York’s Royal Military School. Little did I know it, but I faced some of the greatest and most trying times of my life. Thank God it was co-ed.